I was so lucky recently to spend a week in Puerto Rico with a couple of friends. None of us has been able to travel much in a few years for obvious reasons, and we all live in places with severe winter; cold, dark, and isolating, even before Covid. It's unsettling to visit colonized places as colonizers; I feel so grateful to participate in the sheer beauty and nourishment of such a landscape, and then to benefit from any remaining culture, what an unearned privilege. Such a juicy place is the epitome of warmth, and not just temperature; the deep heating balm of pure engagement and connection.
Each of us noticed our nagging symptoms (which perhaps we attribute a bit too much to "controllables" like food) effortlessly vanished for the week. Turns out I'm not "an anxious person" who just hasn't found the right pill; I just live in a culture that normalizes and benefits from the neurotic productiveness of chronic anxiety. No need for the multitude of herbs, drugs, supplements and strategies to attend to chronic discomfort.
As a practitioner I am humbled to realize again and again, the grandmaster root of disharmony, oh right, STRESS. In younger years I bought what our elders said; "well vacation isn't real, stress is just part of life, get back to work." Of course there's a tiny bit of wisdom in there, in that escape is just that, and life is indeed full of suffering.
However. Every time I have been so lucky to visit places ripe with color, friendliness, and basic ease, I wonder why in the North, we prioritize deprivation, hard work, and every person for herself over almost all else. And then inevitably swing like a pendulum over to indulgence and escape to mitigate the pain of this muted existence. Yes we need to get through these winters. But I'm pretty sure that value hierarchy and resulting reactions to such repression are killing us. As always I don't want to create a binary; there are a zillion reasons to love beautiful Vermont. It offers a Big Yin of quiet spaciousness, an opportunity to explore the inner landscape, the value of limits, and the hardiness and connection that IS engendered by making it through these winters together year after year. My hope is that this solidarity will only increase in the face of climate crisis, scary politics and novel viruses.
But one poignant realization we three wise women discussed might sum up these reflections, and it's about the root of loneliness, which is very likely the root of much illness. Whether around people, with symptoms, busy, working hard, or none of that, loneliness is actually so much about the squashing of our passionate heart. And this is what's allowed in tropical places and on vacation; you can feel your heart melt and expand the moment you lie in warm sand, float in cerulean water, have a sweet eye-to-eye chat with a disarmingly friendly stranger, gaze upon a hibiscus flower, taste the salty sea on your own lips, or hear music that makes it impossible to stand still.
As usual I don’t have answers, no "Ten Tips for stoking the fires of your passionate heart."
But I do hope that by sharing such experience, I'm creating a moment of warmth and connection that, though it's no tropical birdsong or sun on anyone's cold toes, it is a reminder to, as Mary Oliver says, "let the soft animal of your body love what it loves (Wild Geese)." This won’t immediately decolonize the world or end the war machine, but it is just as important as eating right, checking things off the list, and working hard. In fact trying to live outside our bodies is a daily death, and don't we all deserve to be alive every day, with full warm hearts, as long as we are still breathing?! Maybe being less at war with ourselves, a little less aggressive in such a basic human way, could matter. I’m sure up for trying!