In my mid twenties, from 2003 to 2009, I lived in Kuwait at the height of the U.S. military operations. It was an amazing opportunity, both personally and professionally, and opened my eyes to the world in ways that I had never contemplated. Newly divorced and eager to have an adventure, I took the leap, accepting a contracting job with the U.S. Army. Nevertheless, it was scary to venture off alone into the epicenter of a United States-Middle East conflict. Like so many Americans, I had preconceived ideas about the culture. Some proved to be true, others not so true. In my recently published book Life In My Hands, Healing Myself, Healing Others, I provide more details about my life in Kuwait City working for the military. For now, here are the three biggest life lessons I learned from living in the Middle East:
Growth begins where your comfort zone ends. Leaving a safe place is scary, but don’t underestimate the growth you will experience from jumping into something new. Being in a foreign country, immersing yourself in a culture so different from your own, can’t help but lead to change and growth.
Simple daily interactions – enjoying the cuisine, having conversations with locals, driving through different neighborhoods, and taking in entertainment – can expand your horizons. Appreciating the culture – fashions, customs, language – while falling into the local rhythms of life can provide a priceless education.
Shops open and close at different times, traffic patterns follow the local customs, and, as a result, new surroundings create personal rituals in order to experience and take full advantage of what the city has to offer. I remember rearranging my activities during Ramadan. Fewer shops were open and those that were had less staff. The regular hustle and bustle of the city was reduced. This forced me to stop and enjoy the downtime and live slower. Toward the end of the month, I was invited to take part in a breaking fast feast that reminded me of gathering with my own family at Thanksgiving.
As people were peacefully going through life, they were willing to answer my questions. Many of the ideas and fears that I started out turned out not to represent my experience of living in the Middle East. I would have never have known that had I not pushed through my discomfort and dared to take on this adventure.
Exposure to new things forces us to move outside of our known truths.Growth only happens when we have the courage to stand in the unknown zone for a while and figure out that we are okay, even if we don’t understand the system or the way things happen – yet.
Being non-judgmental leads to a richer life. There are differences in cultures, and that isn’t good or bad, it just is. We aren’t meant to be all the same, but we are meant to be equal. Diversity is everywhere; it’s what makes the world a high definition color instead of black and white. I forced myself to be neutral as much as possible and withhold my interpretation of certain things (that interpretation was my biased framing to begin with). Keeping an open mind allowed me to have a wonderful experience. We’re all different and that’s okay. It’s possible to coexist peacefully, respect local customs, and still be who we are, without trying to force everyone and everything to fit into one cultural framework.
I began to realize that my judgment was often fueled by fear. Once I realized that, it became easier to be less judgmental of the foreign world I was living in. As a result, I was able to make real connections with people who had much different upbringings and life experiences than I had.
Ultimately I discovered that even with all our difference, we are all humans and want the same things. We all experience love, anger, sadness and fear regardless of what culture we are born into. Everyone is seeking these connections and love in their lives. I learned to connect with people on that level and made amazing life long friendships with people from all over the planet.
All we really have are the connections we make with others. Even those that we will never see again, leave their mark. Sometimes their leaving created heartbreak. We survive and learn to move on and appreciate the memories. We carry what we learn from them with us.
The money and many of the material things I collected from my time in the Middle East are long gone. What’s left are my priceless friendships and memories that will be with me forever. The life changing relationships, professional and personal, helped to develop my outlook on life, to learn compassion and understanding, and see that goodness in humanity is alive and well, especially in the Middle East. The people I connected with in all the foreign countries where I’ve lived have been my university; my priceless educational life experience.
Photo of Kuwait City landscape from a speed boat from Bigstock.
Darcy Hotchkiss is the author of Life in My Hands – Healing Myself, Healing Others.
We all know when we are feeling a little “off” our game, when things don’t seem to be going our way. Maybe our energy levels are low because we are spread too thin. We’re running from one holiday event to another while shopping to get those last minute presents. By the time we’re through, we collapse with a holiday hangover that lasts well into January. When our energy is depleted, we may find it difficult to regain our balance and, as a result, we end up getting sick.
Maintaining balance, keeping ourselves in alignment, requires sticking to habits that promote our emotional and physical health even during the most stressful of times. The holidays present us with many opportunities to celebrate with gatherings that tempt us with alcohol and sugary treats. Family gatherings, while often fun, may include drama that can inflict lasting damage.
So what can we do? Here are some helpful tips to prevent energy drain and maintain personal alignment.
Mindfulness: I begin each day with fifteen minutes of quiet contemplation, disconnected from electronic devices and social media. This activity has no objective, other than being present in mind and body with no tasks or distractions. Taking these fifteen minutes daily allows me to be aware of my energy levels and emotions. Rather than operating on autopilot, I am able to hear what my body needs. When we don’t listen to our bodies, we are out of alignment and may end up getting sick.
Mindful alignment is the keystone to emotional and physical well being. We are less likely to binge on food and spirits, run ourselves into exhaustion, and get sucked into arguments with family members.
Healthfulness: It’s easy to get caught up in the festivities and forget what our bodies need to maintain alignment and, therefore, good health. I have a hard time turning down my uncle’s nearly famous peanut butter fudge, or the extra eggnog. After all, it’s only once a year, right? To head off any unwanted pounds, bellyaches, or illness I do five simple things:
- I start my day with a half a cup of warm lemon water (one half of a fresh lemon squeezed in warm spring water). It’s the first thing I put into my body each day, especially if I know there will be treats to enjoy. Lemon is acidic (ph below 7) outside the body in its natural state, but once your body metabolizes it – it has an alkalizing effect on the body, critical for fighting things like cancer. Cancer cells thrive in acidic environments where illness can manifest. The warm lemon drink also jump starts digestion.
- Stay hydrated. I consume two liters of water a day, even during the winter when, because of the cold weather, we might not feel like drinking as much water. Dehydration often leads to illness and fatigue. When I’m hydrated, I think better, my energy levels are better, and I sleep better.
- Rest more. We tend to be busier during this season so taking more time to rest is beneficial to maintain energy levels and help the body stay healthy. Instead of an extra cup of coffee, I choose rest. You don’t have to actually sleep to get rest. Just taking 10 to 15 minutes to lie down and close your eyes before a big night, out can help recharge your batteries. Additionally, on the nights when there isn’t much going on, I make an effort to get to bed earlier. My body thanks me for the extra sleep.
- Portion control. It is possible to enjoy rich and delicious foods during the holiday without going “all in.” Just watch portions. When I’m with friends, we often get one or two desserts to share. In some restaurants, portions are so big that we can order one and split it with a salad. Another trick? Eat before you get to that party and then graze lightly while there. This prevents the next day food hangover and extra pounds.
- Move more. The body is made to move, but our comfort zone is to hibernate during the winter months. It’s hard to get motivated when the weather is cold. However, I do feel better if I move more. Walking around the block, taking the parking space further away, or even walking on a treadmill is helpful. Movement helps get the blood flowing and good blood flow aids our overall health.
Emotional balance: When we’re disconnected from what our bodies need, maintaining emotional balance can be tough. That’s why we might find it hard to deal with that relative who always knows how to push buttons. We’ve all experienced those uncomfortable moments when tensions rise between family members. If we are rested and not feeling depleted, it’s easier to see it coming and avoid an emotional holiday blow out. Remember, you don’t have to go get pulled into arguments. Find a way to walk away.
When we are mindful, healthful, and emotionally balanced we are better able to respond positively, no matter the situation. Staying in alignment with our good health during the holiday season takes awareness and dedication. If we take care of ourselves first, we will be able to take care of others.
Let’s keep our holidays memorable instead of regrettable!
Darcy Hotchkiss is the author of Life in My Hands – Healing Myself, Healing Others.