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.”

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Who said this would be easy????

As you might imagine, the phrase,“I’m moving to the Virgin Islands!” comes up often these days.

“Great! Piece of cake!” is not, however, the usual response. In fact, this is the one response I haven’t heard.  Is moving to the Caribbean easy?  Not so much.  Wonderful?  Yes.  Exciting?  Absolutely!   And, along with all of the wonderful excitement is a surprising amount of… pain.

I don’t know about you, but I hadn’t drawn a line between the word columns in my head associating ‘paradise’ with ‘pain.’  Joy, happiness, abundance, unspoiled beauty….these are the words that first came to mind.  I even anticipated ‘challenging’ and ‘discomfort’ (i.e. “you’re going to feel a slight pinch.”); however, when conceiving Project Paradise, ‘pain’ wasn’t one of the contingencies.

But I’m not IN paradise yet.  As it, and my husband, patiently wait for me to join them, I’m still in the process of getting from here to there.  And what feels like a dull ache has been with me since I put the first pair of pumps in the box labeled “Donate.”

Some days, the process seems endless.  Since we’re selling, donating, or gifting at least 95% of our earthly belongings, it’s not the actual packing that’s difficult; it’s the sifting.  Consider that when you self-fund a 3000+ mile relocation, and more than half of those miles are open ocean, you end up taking very little with you and letting go of everything else.  And deciding what 5% to keep is a lot like sifting through a mountain of sand, one grain at a time. (“Like grains of sand through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives,” says a deep voice in my head.)

Put another way, it’s a bit like having your life flash before your eyes, only in really, really s..l..o..w, agonizing motion.  At the end of each day, I feel like I’ve attended a funeral…emotionally drained, with a lightness of being that comes with finality and closure.

Before I continue, I can hear some of you groaning, “Is she really complaining about moving to the Caribbean?  Giving up a pair of shoes? Are you kidding me right now?”  (And the rest of you are smiling and laughing because schadenfreude delights you. You’re welcome.)

Believe me, I get how absurd it sounds.  But don’t give up on me yet, because if the whole idea of ‘paradise’ turns out to be a crock, and I’ve just made the biggest mistake of my life, don’t you want to know? At least so you can save yourself and trade it in for a better dream?

I’ll admit to griping a bit.  At the same time, I’m doing it with a sense of gratitude (there should be a word for this).   And I’m willing to bet that griping is exactly what you would be doing if you were in my shoes.  And that is part of the point, wouldn’t you agree?  A chance for you to walk through the experience and figure out where reality matches the dream, and where it doesn’t?

So, true, this part of the journey isn’t easy. We all know it as a ‘transition,’ and, if we’re very fortunate, we are blessed with many.  And we all know that loss often goes hand-in-hand with transitions, which is why we rarely consciously sign up for them.  Instead, we usually come barreling up on them at 100 miles per hour with our eye on the prize.  Soon, we realize we will have to empty our hands of something we hold dear before we are able to pick up something new.

While this particular leg of the journey is turning out to be miles longer than it looked on the map, it is the road I chose.  So even on the day I was pummeled by the gut-grabbing news that our beloved cat’s health is probably too fragile to make the journey with us, I was able to re-center myself in a place of gratitude and acceptance for “what is.”

“Is it all worth it?” someone recently asked.

“Absolutely!”  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Ever thought about moving to paradise?

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to leave it all behind, move to a tropical island, and live your dream?  Well, we have, too.  Now my husband and I are in the middle of relocating to the Caribbean. You know…. turquoise water, white sand beaches, palm trees, perpetual summer…..yes, there!

You may be thinking, “Who really does that?”  Of course, everyone is in love with the idea….but it’s nearly a violation of a sacred trust to actually do it.

Sure, like most of you, we’re aware that their are plenty of reasons for leaving well enough alone.  We were happy, living in a beautiful city along the front range of Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. Good jobs, majestic mountains, four seasons, 300+ days of sunshine, good friends and family. Life was good!

Admittedly, our decision may not have been rational… it’s something other… a decision informed by things like dreams, intuition, instinct, and “callings.”

So, if you’re also in love with the idea of moving to paradise, or you’re one of those special people who believes in dreams coming true, then you’re in the right place to explore the possibility without all the mess and fuss.

I’ll save you the trouble of quitting your job and having your friends and family question your sanity. I’ve already left my job (with all of the mixed emotions you might imagine) and defended my mental health, and Project Paradise is full speed ahead.

Please, stick around!  I invite you to join me on the journey. I’ll do all the heavy lifting, and you can try it on, risk-free, and find out if the reality is anything like you imagine it.   I can’t promise that it will be, but I can promise you a true life story unfolding in real-time… a candid recounting of my experience leaving a conventional American life to explore the possibilities on a tropical island and ‘living the dream’ with the love of my life!

Come on, let’s order up a round of rum punch and have some island fun!

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