Embracing Change

by Sheila Volweider

The transition from living and working in the United States to traveling and living full-time in Central America was substantial in many different ways. The intense emotions involved with bidding farewell to friends, family, familiar surroundings and nearly all possessions made the last few weeks challenging indeed!

Traveling in Costa Rica and Panama for a few months provided opportunities to meet people from other countries, especially Canadians and Europeans. Since the 2016 elections had just occurred, they frequently brought up politics in the USA. Being away from the United States, I found my social media sites increasingly important for me to feel connected. I succumbed to voicing my political opinions frequently and reposted provocatively insulting and satirical posts to emphasize my points.

Meanwhile, the “other” side was posting away with the same type of cannon fodder but with opposing views. Feeling frustrated or infuriated when I would read that material, it had not yet dawned on me that I was being as divisive and negative as they were. And I was not changing anyone’s mind.

Upon a subsequent visit back to the United States, I had access to TV and realized how completely dominant and crazy the political news cycles were. I felt exhausted by it all. (Since we don’t have a TV in Panama I had relied on the Internet to stay informed.)

It took a tremendous effort to step back and take a wider view and a deeper look at myself and my actions. Reading the publication, Trump and a Post-Truth World, by Ken Wilber was especially helpful to me in self-evaluating my own motivations and actions. When I realized I was contributing to the divide, I consciously reduced my politically leaning postings. I also worked on writing more informational and less inflammatory posts. This proved to be difficult.

As I met other expats living here in Panama, I learned they responded to politics as differently from each other as people in the states do. Some absolutely avoided it like the plague while others intensely represented one side or the other.

It was interesting to me that despite very different political leanings, I found common ground and made a number of new friends due to the fact we were all ex-pats with a similar sense of adventure and a shared enchantment with our current surroundings.

I also appreciated seeing how the Panamanian locals and gringos connected, despite the differences in their culture and language.

I am now cultivating my skills at better understanding different perspectives instead of writing them off as incomprehensibly idiotic. I am also working on being less reactive while trying to better listen to and understand other viewpoints while looking for common ground. In doing so, I hope I am doing my part in healing the divide.

An Origin Story


Two years ago today was a Sunday. We were frantically throwing out stuff we had collected during our twenty years living in the farmhouse a few miles southwest of Haven, Kansas, a small agricultural community. We were working on our fourth dumpster; each had been 8 feet wide, 8 feet high, and 22 feet long. Sheila saw this as a freeing experience while Rick saw it alternatively as exuberating and gut wrenching. 

We had started out months ago with carefully packing and documenting the contents of every box we would keep in the storage unit and thoughtfully deciding if a particular item should go to the unit; be given to family, friends, or the local thrift store; or be tossed in the dumpster. Now we were in a frenzy, throwing stuff in any box we could find or, more preferably, into the dumpster. We still had many things left in our two-story home; an outbuilding originally designed to shelter several tractors, implements, and supplies; a large old barn; and a carriage house, the size of a one-car garage. A few months earlier these buildings, except for the barn, were loaded to near capacity. 

About nine-months before, after returning from a brief Thailand vacation, we mutually decided to retire from our conventional working lives, unload most of what kept us attached to a particular place, and move on to new adventures. Although we were stepping away from our careers and the community we had lived in for 20 years, we both had a strong desire to continue to serve others in some form. 

We imagined being able to use all of our combined life experience, including Sheila’s work with youth and adults suffering from severe and often chronic mental health problems, teaching management skills to well-functioning adults in the corporate world, and helping both average and delayed learners in the academic world. She had directed a community mental health center program designed to support chronically mentally ill persons obtain and hold on to jobs in the community, worked as a para-educator at all grade levels in the public school system with behaviorally disordered, speech and language challenged, and learning disabled kids. She also facilitated group training to advance interpersonal and management skills for large corporations and social work agencies.

Rick’s career began as director of psychological services for developmental disability services at the state of Arizona, Phoenix division. He then worked in public and private group practices as a clinical psychologist for about 20 years, starting and conducting a solo private practice during the last 11 years of full-time work. Rick specialized in working with youth and adults with behavioral and academic difficulties, including those diagnosed with ADHD, oppositional-defiant, learning, and anxiety disorders. He increasingly realized the importance of various relationships in the lives of his individual clients and worked to bring them into the therapeutic process in some way. This included immediate and extended family as well as societal systems, especially the schools. He much enjoyed the teaching and writing opportunities that have presented themselves during his career.

We left the states on December 1, 2016, arriving in San Jose, Costa Rica in the hot, late afternoon. We stayed in San Jose for ten days, getting acquainted with Latin American life in general and more specifically with the delightful proprietor of our Airbnb lodging, as we organized and made reservations for our first month’s adventures. During that first month, we generally enjoyed every experience, both those expected and unexpected, and both the delightful and challenging ones.  

As we continued to travel, we began to wonder why nearly all of our experiences with others were delightful and often meaningful, even when (or maybe especially when) exterior circumstances were not going as planned.  In contrast, a number of our new friends did not share the same consistency of positive interactions with others, especially when things got tough.  

Over some time, we began to see that our shared beliefs or assumptions about the world and other people, along with a number of skills we had picked up from both our professional and private lives made all the difference in both our perceptions and the actual situations we found ourselves in.

Rick has always believed that every single experience in his life has led him to this moment for a reason. And if he can’t find some God-sent or cosmological reason; he will find or invent one. Sheila sees her life as one long and sometimes meandering learning curve filled with new and unexpected adventures every day. 

The idea of using our combined experiences—those gained through parenting two girls (now amazing women in their late 20s), living both in large cities and a small rural community, our various education and training, our careers, relationships with our extended family, and our ever-morphing relationship with each other—to serve others continued to brew as we travelled. 

About two months into our travels, still considering how almost all of our experiences with others had been meaningful and gratifying, a phrase came to mind. We had been doing our best to bring out the best in others.  In doing so, we were usually bringing out the best in ourselves.

The idea for our book was born.