This is not news exactly, but you really do take yourself with you. I won’t go so far as to say being on vacation is hard work – that’s pretty much blasphemous, especially to anyone who might be reading this in Vermont. But a restless mind will happily skip across time zones and temperate zones.
We are in Vieques for the week, along with our friend Phil and my parents, seven of us in all sharing a cozy house in an even cozier neighborhood – it’s like the shtetl of the Caribbean, everyone in everyone else’s business, with the butcher and the baker and all but the candlestick maker within a stone’s throw. And of course the roosters and the dogs and the chickens and the lizards and the roving news.
It’s our sixth time here, which always amazes me. How can it be that my children are growing up coming here? We grew up spending two weeks in the Adirondacks every summer. Winters brought a weekend in New York City visiting grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
And this brings me exactly, perfectly to my point, if I have one. Within five minutes of sitting down to write, I managed to circle around to questions of money, a heady topic these days. It’s like the pelicans we watched hunting prey yesterday high above the Atlantic, diving down for the kill. My mind is the pelican. Wherever you go, there you are.
This morning, I watched Aviva and Pearl stroll down the beach together, Pearl in her long white turtle t-shirt, Aviva in her shades and sun hat. They looked like two old ladies, like friends. This morning, I practiced yoga with my mom at the Hix Island House. It would be a difficult setting to top: an open air concrete pavilion, a wild horse wandering past now and then, bougainvillea exploding in pink and orange bursts, flamboyan trees, a constant cooling breeze. Bliss.
And yet. Restless mind. No easier to practice here really than anywhere, no less the impulse to leave halfway through class, no quieter the mind. Funny, I just corrected a typo there: “No quiter the mind.” No quitter, the mind. The mind just doesn’t like to quit, does it. You take yourself with you.
Practicing this morning, I was distracted, unaccustomed to the teacher’s style and sequencing. I noticed how strong the urge was to fix my life. As if it was broken, as if I had to respond to an urgent call, 911 figure everything out right away, immediately, in one fell swoop, stab the prey, the pelican again.
I noticed too how my mind wanted to narrate, weave together parts of my life, tell stories, point out connections; how aspects of this island remind me of times spent living in Tucson and Mexico, high desert places where I have felt connected and alive and right. How very different my life is now. Busy, restless, windy, gale force thoughts knocking me right off balance.
I stayed, of course, since staying is all there is to do. What are the alternatives? To run? To desert? To abandon? No. But to begin again, to keep beginning again without constantly starting from scratch. What am I even talking about? Bear with me; there is something here, something to do with slowing down, showing up, being still. The usual suspects.
The yoga teacher kept directing our attention to the place between the heart and the throat, deep towards the back. She spoke of it later, after class, as a place where the compassion and love of the heart can move towards our throat, our voice, our calling, but without forcing the voice, without pushing. This made a kind of sense to me, that there can be an in-between place, a gentle, deep, gestating place, not yet ready to speak, to appear, to emerge.
I am always trying to emerge, the mind insisting that I definitely better address EVERYTHING RIGHT AWAY. The forcing never gets me anywhere, whereas the pause, the space between heart and throat, this was just where I could stay, however reluctantly, with some gentleness.
Ah, to not be urgent, overwhelmed, exhausted, or restless. Is this the goal? Or is it simply to be able to experience these states without being them, becoming them? To observe and notice, to be the watcher, to find some center in the whirlpool with nothing to fix and nothing to figure.
I need to remember to come back here. Not here, mind you, but here, to this place, the other one I take with me wherever I go. It takes so much practice. But this place, this gentle, slow, deeper one, it is infinitely patient in a way the mind may never be, even in Vieques. And that sounds like a souvenir worth bringing home.