When you spend your time in a lonely paradise, you have no choice but to merge with the quiet beauty of not only the place, but of your thoughts and insecurities. When you spend time alone, you have to go deeper inside the workings of your mind.
A few nights ago at the Lonely Beach it was meant to be the same as all other nights here. I’d work in the restaurant without walls with my coworkers, and then at 9 pm when the kitchen closed, we’d play games and relax for the evening as the guests found their way back to their bungalows in the darkness. Instead, the local Khmer kitchen staff told us that there was a party happening in the village 45 minutes away, and we were invited.
I desperately wanted to sleep. I didn’t get enough of it the night before. The village is a 45 minute walk through the jungle, and it was pitch black out. Not to mention we’d have to make the journey back in the darkness after midnight. Already I felt my usual doubts creeping in. But my Ukrainian friend told me that this was an experience I couldn’t miss. That’s what I needed to hear. After all, these are the days of saying yes more often to opportunities that I won’t be able to recreate so easily in the future.
So we got ready and left, a group of 11 trekking through the jungle on route to a Khmer island party. We encountered cows on the path that were blocking our way. One of the locals accompanying us threw coconuts in their direction until they ran into the bushes. Their glowing eyes watched us from the trees as we carried onward.
We approached the village as stray dogs barked and howled to get us away from their property. Eventually we made it to the village to find something interesting- that the locals were drunk at 10:30pm and the party was already finished. A group of Khmer men sat in a circle on the floor with loud music playing- this seemed to be the after-party. Our group danced anyway and obliged them for a beer. They kept making sure our drinks weren’t empty. I don’t even know if they knew who we were.
This part of the night was fun. But I'd set my expectations high and now there was no party at all. Though there’s always a silver lining, and sometimes it comes quickly.
As we left the village, the rain started to come down lightly. We started the hike back with flashlights in hand, talking more to each other this time now that we had some alcohol in our systems. With 20 minutes to go through the dark jungle, the rain started to pour heavily. We picked up the pace and walked as fast as we could. As we got closer and closer to Lonely Beach we started to run through the flooding pathways. Finally we made it back to the safety of the closed restaurant, laughing as we looked out to the storm. This was just the beginning of the night. We took off our wet clothes and ran back into the rain, down the dark paths, and stumbled towards the beach where we jumped into the sea.
A group of 8 of us now, swimming in the pouring rain with the glowing plankton illuminating all around us. I felt so alive. Once again, the bioluminescent plankton re-enforced the beauty of the darkness and of my own imagination. It was an evening not to forget.
Two days later and I hit a low in paradise. My travel partner and I start having disagreements, the weather is hot, and my technology is failing me in this place powered by solar power and no Wi-Fi. I feel guilty for not writing. I’m tired of the same food day in and day out. Nice guests that we spent time with in the rain with the glowing plankton have now left for good.
I need to spend time figuring out what’s happening to my state of mind, so I head out to the sea to float on my back. I’ve been doing these floating meditations in the sea since I got here. What a soothing way to calm my irritable mind. I just float with my ears submerged in the water, head tilted back so that water covers my eyes, and I listen to the sounds of my breathing underwater. No movement is needed; the body stays afloat with the gentle rhythm of the breath.
I pull my head out of the water after what feels like 15 minutes and keep my eyes closed. My ears recalibrate and adjust to the sounds of the trees and the water and the bugs and birds. Then I slowly open my eyes and see the beauty of the horizon.
I’m getting better at pulling myself out of bad states of mind. When I feel worried or irritated, I can sit with my thoughts, observe them, and try to clear the negative ones instead of suppressing them. I can bring myself to calmness by absorbing the beauty of the nature around me. There is no reason to hold tension and stress here. This is a safe place.
In a few days I’ll be saying goodbye to this island that has been my home for a month. It’s been both challenging and refreshing to slow down so much. This is perhaps the most important type of challenge to explore- one that brings me inwards to the places I tried to avoid. We can trick ourselves into thinking everything is perfect, or we can spend time with the discomfort and lean into it. One bad day out of thirty in paradise isn’t a bad ratio. I just need to remember that there are always ways to get back on track. And yes, the environment can certainly help with that.
What place engages your deepest thinking?