What do you do when you hate living in paradise?

Many people refer to our brief existence on this planet as “Earth School.” Well, if the world is a school, then I live in the middle of the playground!  Right here in tropical paradise. And the island I live on is my homeroom teacher. And she can be a real B!^@#.

What many tried to tell me before I moved here is true. Island living can feel like a crash program in becoming humanly whole. And many come to it only to be chewed up and spit back out.

In my third month on-island, I was getting chewed up pretty badly. I was in the worst part of the culture shock continuum. Everything felt, tasted, smelled, looked and sounded ‘wrong’ to me. Everything, including driving, had to be done differently than I was used to, and it was guaranteed to be more difficult, less convenient, and/or unnecessarily inefficient.  Paradise has many ills. Most are the same as exist on the mainland, but at significantly higher rates — crime, corruption, poverty, racism, Dengue fever, incest, domestic violence, etc. Oddly, I think it might have been the discovery that Amazon wouldn’t deliver anything other than books and software to the island that threw me into the pit of “rock bottom” here on The Rock.

It was that same evening my husband brought a colleague home for dinner.  It was my first time meeting Jim, but my emotions had run amok and I just couldn’t be bothered to hide them. Not my ideal way to make a first impression, but I didn’t care.

Jim turned out to be a compassionate soul. Having once been in similar shoes, and subsequently spending many happy years here, he said the words that made me even less happy to be here:

“You will never change the island. The island will change you.”

These words would haunt me for weeks.

I was speechless. I didn’t much care for the first part. Every ounce of my ego was geared to control my circumstances and environment. I’m hard-wired for victory, and I had set up the island as my adversary.

At the same time, I was intrigued by the second part. After all, isn’t that why I purged my life down to the bare bones and came down to this God-forsaken so-called paradise in the first place? Wasn’t it I who yearned to live “closer to the bone?” Wasn’t “life as an adventure” my intention?

I wanted all of those things. And…I didn’t want to be here. But the real stunner was realizing I didn’t want to go back to the States either. I felt desperate and trapped “between the devil and the deep blue sea.”  In that moment of grace that often feels like letting go of the end of your rope, I chose surrender.

Surrendering to the Sea - Lindquist Beach, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands

The next day, I signified my turning point by baptizing myself in the turquoise bathwater of the Caribbean Sea. As it turned out, it was an initiation into the world of play.

On her blog, Brene Brown talks about what constitutes play.  She quotes play researcher (and husband?) Stuart Brown who lists time spent without purpose as one of the essential properties of play.  I have come to agree with him. That day at the beach, I reconnected with all those “feel good” emotions children come by so easily.  I remembered what it feels like to be free, timeless, and present. I found that pursuing joy with no goal or agenda will lead you to that place inside that is your calm center. Your inner island sanctuary.

For me, playing is like following a trail of breadcrumbs left by an other (my higher self? Great Spirit?) It can constitute any activity that comes from a sense of inner desire and blind curiosity.  I return to it, guiltless, again and again because I’m rewarded with serendipitous surprises of epiphany and innovation. Play is sacred and necessary. It’s how I grow.  It’s a journey of connection, and it keeps me true, centered, and joyful!

I have been living in paradise for thirteen months now (joyfully for at least the last seven) and have since graduated with honors in the art of spending time without purpose. As it turns out, play is a doorway. My friend Jim pointed me toward it, and I had to choose to enter.

Crossing it’s threshold has led me to discover countless blessings and gifts. It was through that doorway that I began unleashing my deepest levels of creativity and started my own business. It was through that doorway that I embodied the truth that, in the words of Joseph Campbell:

“We cannot cure the world of sorrows, but we can choose to live in joy.”

Bird Cage

It’s not the “art” that makes

the artist insane

It’s the mundane

that is the bane

of her existence.

The trick is transformation;

jumping over the fence of the mind

into the imagination.

For it is not being over there

that makes her crazy.

It is knowing, long before she leaps,

that she’ll have to break her own heart

just a little bit each time she

returns to the world of the everyday;

breathless, paint splattered,

the last word still dripping wet

off the end of the pen.

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