09 Dec 2013

savala island, fiji

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There’s a scene in the movie Psycho where Janet Leigh’s character makes small talk with Anthony Perkins. Perkins asks, Where are you going? I didn’t mean to pry, to which she responds, I’m looking for a private island. After a time, after the rain has receded and the parlor where they make this exchange is cold and damp, he says, You know what I think? I think that we’re all in our private traps, clamped in them, and none of us can ever get out. We scratch and, and claw, but only at the air, only at each other. And for all of it, we never budge an inch.

I think about this scene often. I think about Perkins’ eyes, wide and black, his face merely a mask, a ruse, obscuring something darker. A daguerreotype of a seething. In the film, he moves as we imagine a bird would — calculating, sharp and violent — and I think about how we are sometimes content in being comfortably uncomfortably. We accept our lot as it is; we leave comments on blog posts coveting the things we want, the things our eyes see. We have our excuses filed away and logged, pulled out like sheets of looseleaf paper at the ready. We say we have these obligations; we blame our fear of pursuing something other on time.

It seems to me that nobody ever has time.

Really? We have time watching and live-tweeting those television shows. We have all the time in the world anesthetizing ourselves over a meal we conveniently call brunch, but really it’s a means to mask getting drunk during the day. We make time for our disquiet because it’s familiar. We can navigate it. But imagine if we made time, if we made it our business to experience our own private island, albeit for a day.

Today I spent the day on an island the size of a New York City block. When we arrived, it took me all but five minutes to walk the perimeter of it — we were literally miles from civilization. Seven hours on an island without a book, a task, or something to occupy my time. It’s a strange thing, this time, how we try to make such efficient use of it. We’re machines that way, I think. And this puts me to thinking of the opening scene in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, and then I settle into the fact that it’s okay to be alone. It’s okay to settle with yourself, in your thoughts. It’s perfectly fine to be as you are.

So I passed the day sleeping under a hut fashioned out of coconut leaves and trees. I sampled local barbeque. I kayaked out into the ocean against some pretty rough current that had me scared for a bit, but then I returned to my breath and everything was set to rights. The shoreline came into view. I swam in salty water and made small talk with the two people who live on the island, and I envied them their quiet. Only for a minute. And then I suddenly became grateful because I’ve spent this year, perhaps so many years too late (!!!) making time. Trading in handbags never worn for experiences. Making less to feel more. Focusing on the content of my character rather than how my jeans fit.

Admittedly, this is hard as I live in New York, and it’s a city that isn’t always kind. I used to know a woman who said to me once (after I had gained a little weight), nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. I think about the woman now, and how she’s frightened of her own solitude. How she’s the master purveyor of things, and instead of thinking something negative (which is so very easy to do), I silently send her the strength that she will one day find her own private island.

This is the yoga, I think. Cultivating experience that you wish onto, and bring to, others. This is the work, and it’s constant.

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1 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos from your wonderful vacation.
    I live in Haifa, Israel, by the Mediterranean sea and can see it from my window and it takes only 5 minutes to get to the beach but I guess I don’t appreciate it as much as I should. When I read your post it made me realize how much we should appreciate nature. Thank you !
    Michal

    Posted on 12.9.13 · Reply to comment

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  • Do the thing that chills you down to the bone. I keep saying this like it’s a sermon, a song, and it’s taken me to places I couldn’t have ever imagined.
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I moved to Los Angeles nearly three years because I need to get lost, uncomfortably so, so I could find myself, scrubbed and renewed. And these three years have been some of the hardest I’ve known, but also humbling, exhilarating, and clarifying. In my search for quiet and calm, I could finally hear myself. And when you hear, you start to listen to what you want versus what the world tells you to want. And that’s when the magic happens.
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This year, I made a point of serving women and the marginalized. I got tired of making white men richer; the rest of us deserve the sky too. And in that work, I got further clarity on what else I wanted. I wanted to work with women my age to help them define their second acts. Moving from success to significance, now that we’re more conscious of the fact that we have fewer years ahead of us. Morbid, I know, but recognizing time as the most valuable thing we have has a way of making us surgical about our wants.
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Today, I closed on a project with a peer and good friend. She’s a successful entrepreneur who wanted to reshape her business to be more of a purpose-driven one. I feel humbled that she trusted me with her vulnerability. She told me she was buying clarity and perspective. I gave her that and a framework. Before I left, she hugged me and told me she had a plan. That the road ahead was clear, structured and achievable. And damn that felt good.
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My teacher once told me the mark of an advanced practitioner is not the yogi kicking up into handstand. That’s ego. Rather, it’s the yogi who goes to a basics class to relearn the poses as if she’s encountered them for the first time. That’s the practice. The work.
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  • Do the thing that chills you down to the bone. I’ve been thinking about time a lot, as well as ambition.
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When I was young, I was hungry. I was aggressive and relentlessly ambitious to the point of being myopic. I had to prove something to the world, myself, perhaps my mother, and I needed to collect these totems or the signifiers of success.
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But there comes a point when you shift from desiring success to significance. The shift is imperceptible, but it happens because you start to be aware of time and the fact that you have fewer years ahead than behind. That realization is potent and frightening because death takes it all, strips us of ourselves and we return to that from which we’ve come. We can’t cart along our trophies and bank accounts and handbags to the afterlife. Those things have been reduced to dust and they no longer have any meaning.
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You start thinking about time and its value. Am I squandering it? Investing in it? Living it? Breathing through it.
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I’m frightened of death and the irony that I wanted to take my own life two years ago doesn’t escape me. I don’t have faith that could hold my hand and guide me through and out of the dark. I simply believe there’s nothing and this life is the one true thing I know of.
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Suddenly success morphs into significance because you start to do the math and wonder what you’ve done in this one beautiful life that will leave its mark. Maybe we’ll all be forgotten. Maybe we’ll leave indelible prints that linger. I don’t know.
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I sat down with a peer today and she trusted me as a marketer, and as someone at her level who could lend perspective. She has the tools, it’s just a matter of me being her guide and telling her that she alone can grant herself permission to shift her business and change her life.
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  • My mother had died a year ago and this wasn’t about her. My pain exceeded her. I was in new terrain — a dark country to which I’d emigrated yet it was foreign to me. This wasn’t like the darkness of before, this was a fresh hurt. A ground that had given way beneath my feet and the fall felt bottomless. There existed no end to it. There was only the enormity of the hurt and its persistence. I woke to it. I carried the weight of it. I fell asleep to it. Even now I couldn’t meet my friend in the day because the light had become an assault.
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You don’t understand, I said. This is constant. Again with the blank stare. The discomfort and confusion. I had created a ripple, a disturbance in one place. I was no longer the fun friend who cracked jokes and entertained her for years. I had become something other.
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Have you thought about going back to yoga? she asked, signaling for the check. This is just a slump. You’ll snap out of it. You’ll see.
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