shiawase / シークワーサー

such infinite crystalline waters
I bathed my troubles in them and they emerged anew

still present, transformed 
refracted through the sea and my soul, ready to begin again 
as lessons

– Umi no shiawase by  Alice 

On several occasions I have had good intentions to attempt solo travel. I am an impulsive planner when it comes to discovering new destinations, always booking flights on the spot when I find good deals or jumping on trains to places unknown, and it can be difficult to coordinate these spur-of-the-moment schedules with friends. Each time though, I have happily had friends join along the way, like when I went to Vietnam over Golden Week or climbed Mt Fuji last summer. Or sometimes I go to a place arranging to stay with a CouchSurfing host and they end up being really easy to get along with so we spend the entire trip together, like when I visited Portland a few years ago (shout out to the wonderful Kuenzi sisters!).

This time, I booked a flight to Okinawa over a holiday weekend and found myself alone on a beautiful tropical island where the locals are friendly and have a life expectancy among the highest in the world. I started in Naha, the capital city of Okinawa prefecture, and made my way north up the Western coast to Onna, Nago, and Motobu.

I felt a sense of peace and stillness; away from the noise of emails, conversations, and city life. I felt I could really breathe, meditate, and be alone with my thoughts; no one to entertain but myself. I relished the freedom to go at my own pace, to learn the local bus routes, and chat with strangers in my limited Japanese. The day I flew back I had meals with friends in Tokyo and while it felt nourishing to my soul to bask in the warmth of their companionship, the peace I found in solitude was a familiar feeling that I cherish.

Several years ago, I was in a dark place. For a host of reasons, I had difficulty getting out of bed, finding joy in the things that once made me happy, and interacting with friends and loved ones. Depression feels so personal, and yet, a lack of community or even self-rejection of existing community is what further entrenches this feeling of disconnectedness. I have come away from this experience with a deep empathy for myself and others who have gone through feelings of helplessness. But at the time, I did what many unhappy people do, which was to retreat into myself.

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IMG_8610img_8617.jpgIMG_8513It took me a year and even longer to recover from this mindset and its aftershocks. When I first made the choice to take steps to change my mental perspective, I began to read voraciously alone in my room. I didn’t feel that I could really create anything of value in that state of mind, so I just consumed stories and words. Slowly, as I felt light energy returning, I felt more comfortable venturing outside my house. I began wandering to new neighborhoods by myself, visiting art exhibitions, or taking the train to a different part of town just to visit a particular cafe or ice cream shop. This time allowed me to reflect on myself, free of any distractions and external expectations, to consider each feeling and thought. What were triggers for my sadness? What were my deep intentions? What did I want to feel and how could I manifest the state of mind where I could attract these feelings? How could I honor the people in my life who were no longer with me without wallowing in anger at forces beyond my control? Distance, drifting apart, and the dearly departed; these were all factors that contributed to my sadness. The loss of important relationships and imminently facing a future full of uncertainty. Perhaps this sounds familiar to you.

During this time I worked at a non-profit and participated in a 200 hour yoga teacher training where many of my class mates were also going through life upheavals or major transitions. The process of learning the asanas and alignments of muscles and bones coupled with intimate revelations from these people helped me to see my vulnerability as strength and to take steps to look deep within myself. Most importantly, I gradually shed the layers of resentment I held close, which had calcified to a hard mass of negative feelings, drowning out all the usual gratitude and joy for life I have. While this journey might have similar elements to others, I believe the process of recovery is necessarily individual. For me, the important steps were to forgive other people, let go of things I could not change and allow myself to feel sadness but manage its reactions, and to above all else, forgive myself for stumbling.

From a social perspective, it may seem like that year was a stagnant waste of youthful productivity and opportunity. But to me, it was a necessary time to really learn to understand my adult self and the many factors that have contributed to who I am today. These tools will stay with me through whatever changes I will face so that I may maintain a self-awareness of my core values and motivations. I learned to change my distorted perspective of anxiety and loneliness into strength, to find magic in solitude, and acquire an intimate knowledge of self.

I feel confident that I’ve reached a space where I am truly comfortable with myself though I am not content to remain as I am in this moment. As Whitman said, we each are large, and contain multitudes, and it is my intention to continue challenging myself to examine these dynamic pieces of self. Sometimes we need the gentle reminder of waves flowing over our bodies, of stillness and seclusion, as a chance to consider all that we are.

Shiawase (幸せ) means a moment when circumstances come together to produce a feeling of fortune, or a sense of deep and long term happiness, and シークワーサー or shikuwasa is an Okinawan (and Taiwanese) citrus fruit. Its bright rind and sweetly tart flavor serve as a memory for me of childhood and now, adult joy.

So thank you to the ocean, and thank you to Okinawa for giving me space to connect deeply with myself.IMG_8529.jpgIMG_8647xo your friend alice

Location: Naha City // Onna Village (Moon Beach, Tiger Beach, Cape Manzamo, Seaside Park Nabee Beach) // Nago Pineapple Park // Churaumi Aquarium, Ocean Expo Park, Motobu, Okinawa

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