One of the facets I love about travelling is the rare glimpse of clarity and perspective briefly available upon re-entry into my ‘normal life’. Whether travelling to new vistas, or inner journeying during retreats that stretch the mind and heart, or even the journey of debilitating illness, each of these journeys sloooows things down. Upon returning to ‘normal’ or habitual life, out dated habits stare back at me, exposed like a wide-eyed skinny dipper who can’t find their clothes on the beach.
Last week my journey was to to the ocean, sailing in pristine waters off the coast of a world heritage island, where whale song can be heard by the naked ear from inside the boat or with my head just barely underwater. No internet access. No manmade structures in sight besides the boats we were sailing on.
There life is slowed down to the pace of nature, turning tides, water lapping against the hull, sunsets and sunrises heralding changes in quality of light and sound. My sense of smell becomes acute, minute changes in wind direction change the flavour of the moment. Sensitivities are amplified.
I grew up in 1960’s America where speed was king. Faster was better: washing machines spun like magic, rock and roll rhythms twirled past Frank Sinatra, and everyone loved superman; (faster than a speeding bullet…), 747’s graced the friendly skies, and telephones ridiculed telegrams.
I liked to eat slow. I liked to move slow. I deliberated things for long, melancholic periods of time. I felt what was said, and what wasn’t. ‘You’re too sensitive’ and ‘Hurry up‘ became my internalised mantras. I hurried up. I shut down my sensitivities. I abandoned my body. I retreated behind a heavy internal door.
Then we moved from the city to a small beautiful Caribbean island. I found that birds and fish and donkeys and sailboats moved at my pace. Even beauracracy moved at that pace! I have gravitated to natural environments as residences ever since then. To slow down is to listen and truly hear.
How did Indigenous peoples of this earth know which plants were medicine and which were poison? How did the precise science of acupuncture meridians and points get discovered? How did the Polynesian sailors predict the weather and the distance to land? How did Indigenous people actually create weather changes?
Once upon a time people only moved as fast as a horse could gallop, or as fast as we could pedal a bicycle, or before that, as fast as we could run (and some indigenous people could run very fast for long distances), or as fast as the wind could take our sails, but none of these modes of transport would have us passing by the earth’s surface faster than about 30 km/hr. And what we could encounter in a day in terms of variety of scenery and images was limited to how far we could physically travel.
To slooow down allows me to stay in relationship to the elements, to hear the trees, to notice the breathing sands, to experience knowledge from nature and finally, to receive myself. At the pace of nature I can still feel the stardust sprinkling on me even under the daytime blue blanket of sky. I can begin to converse with the elements, beginning with gratitude. I can slow to the pace of a tree root winding it’s way through rocky soil, and still hear the leaves rustling at the top of the branches. I realise I am a part, a very small part, of something greater, older, more vast, and self sustaining. I make less assumptions. I tune into my breath, my organs, muscle, blood and bone. I am more alert and more at peace. I belong here.
Today I can see umpteen worlds simultaneously on my screen. I can fly in a plane for half a day and not even know where I have traversed. I can interact with thousands of people and businesses in several minutes on my computer. So I take myself off to nature to sloooow down. And when I return to the carousel of life I am more patient, less pressured by the heartless hurry, and more willing to hear, see and live what is important in my life.
As my dear friend said while sailing last week, ‘Out here you don’t have to meditate, the nature meditates you.’