I hadn’t even realized the extent of my stress until the shimmering turquoise sea and setting sun were staring me full in the face from my view in the Mexican “palapa” on the beach we’d rented for the week. Now, with the waves before me and the sand beneath me, I could scarcely remember what I’d been so stressed about; I only knew that I had been from the feeling of tension easing from my shoulders and breath filling my lungs to capacity. How had I thought I’d been enjoying the frenetic, harried existence to which I’d grown accustomed? How had I believed the short, staccato gasps had been enough to fill my lungs? I didn’t know what a breath was until this moment, breathing fully and deeply of the salt and the sand and the sun.
The sun and the waves now overwhelmed all my senses, washing over my body and forcing it into submissive silence. All the noise, the constant chatter in my ears, my brain, about the things to do and the lists to buy, the sound of the TV and the constant stream of internet data and incoming texts, was all muted by the lull of water upon sand, the heat of warmth upon skin. It was as if God Himself had commanded me, “Rest. Be. Enjoy.” And in the cacophonous silence of my mind, I obeyed.
Rest. The elusive enemy of the modern age, threatening to the tenuous fibers upon which we build our lives. Achievement and prosperity, these are the paramount values of our western world. Rest is an unwelcome and foreign intruder, reminding us that any loss in momentum will cause the house of cards to fall. But rest is not the only reminder that our lives are built on sinking sand; sickness, job loss, tragedy, divorce, any number of intruders could cause the illusion of stability in our lives to crumble. The truth is that without rest, it will all fall apart, eventually. Life cannot exist in a vacuum. Deprived of oxygen, it may hobble along in a zombie-like state, body technically alive but not actually living. Racing here and there and everywhere, days bleeding one into the next, moments survived but not remembered, that is not living.
My time in the quiet seclusion of Mexican paradise was more than just a “break from life” for me, not merely my time to recharge in order to make it through the grind of the next few years before the next vacation. It was a complete paradigm shift. I met people at my vacation spot who were not simply vacating life – they were living it. While I was spending a week there, they had sold everything they owned to move to Los Chonchos, not simply because of its beautiful location but because it offered a life more worth living. The full, busy, often lucrative lives they had left behind were less fulfilling than the simplicity of a life with limited electricity, few conveniences, and relying on the help of neighbors when in need. I am by no means wealthy, but my life affords me the opportunity to have any need or desire met instantly, in the two hours it takes Amazon to deliver. Life in Chonchos lacked everything – except the most important things. Luxury items and conveniences were hard to come by, but authentic relationships and genuine community were found aplenty. In the simplicity of a life without distractions, I found myself actually alive, fully engaged in life, rather than distracted from it. Every cell in my body felt fully active from the minute we arrived until the time we left.
But as I ultimately made the re-entry into “real life,” watching a movie on the plane to pass the time, I felt the stress begin to take hold once again – the choking breaths, the asphyxiating tension gripping my body like a vice – and I heard a voice in my head scream, “Nooo! This isn’t the life I want!” Every fiber of my being was fighting against what my brain knew to be the inevitable final destination of the plane; stress, busyness, irritability and insomnia would soon be the righteous crusaders in my life, overtaking their weaker counterparts, the peace, tranquility, enjoyment, and timeless existence I had recently come to value so dearly. I wanted to vomit out the unwanted invaders like last night’s bad Chinese.
I don’t know how to reconcile what I experienced in Mexico with the reality of my western life. We can’t sell everything we own and move to Los Chonchos, I know that. But I also know that I want more than this American Dream, more than the big house with a yard (and a mortgage to match), more than the Amazonian conveniences that leave me empty in my fullness, more than being constantly surrounded by people yet completely alone. I don’t know how to get there, but I know I want something more. Now that my lungs know what it is to breath deeply, I cannot subsist on gasping breaths again. There has to be more.