"The years teach much which the days never knew."
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Throughout the week, I’ve been hosted by the Four Seasons in Maui for a travel article about their Unforgettable Events series. They invited me to participate in a yoga retreat with the wonderful Kathryn Budig, whose lighthearted teaching style makes the extremely challenging very attainable and simple, where students walk away feeling stronger and more confident than ever. At the end of it, I began to believe that I could genuinely do any asana and that my body knows how, it’s just a matter of remembering and retraining my brain to believe it, too.
Kathryn mentioned that she’s going to New Zealand next week to teach a retreat and asked if I could come — both Australia and New Zealand have been on my list of places to visit forever. Luckily, I have friends in that part of the world who I met during my year as an editor in Shanghai, and my mind began to create possibility into reality. Yet, because of a few lingering commitments and time constraints, I wasn’t sure if this would be the right thing to do.
I also didn’t know if I was falling back into old habits of running away from things rather than reaching towards something, so I decided to take a break from researching flights and coordinating logistics abroad to ask the Universe for a bit of guidance.
I walked down to the little snack shack on the stone pathway between the hotel and the public beach to borrow a snorkel set. Carrying my gear in hand, I kicked off my flip-flops on the amber-colored sand and made my way towards the breathtakingly clear cerulean water. The waves were a bit cold at first dip, but I soon felt warmed by the midday sun. I put my fins on, rinsed out the mask, blew out any lingering water in the hose, and then started swimming out into open water where whales were surfacing in the near distance.
The feeling of streaming through the water, of moving arms and limbs in a synchronous dance, of experiencing weightlessness and being enveloped all at once made my heart leap with joy. I love that when swimming, the outside world — the one that my brain inhabits to the max until its brimming over my consciousness — is no longer relevant, because I’m now submerged in a carefree blue bubble that focuses all my energy on the simple notion of sink or swim.
After what I thought was just a few minutes, I found that I was much farther out than I thought, the fins propelling me ahead in simple support. The coral beneath me ranged in color from neutral to neon and housed curious marine creatures that would either ignore me or dart and hide upon the shadow of light that my body created in the gently rocking waves.
As I swam, I listened to my own breath pulling in and drawing out. Just the day prior, we had taken an outrigger canoe where whales were breaching before us, leaping out of the sky, playfully flipping their fins, then diving down with a wondrous wave of their tales. The guides encouraged us to plop into the water to cool down and I did just as they suggested — the water was a warm blue too inviting not to. They reminded me that if I stayed underwater, I could hear the whales calling to each other. I held onto the edge of the outrigger and pushed myself down. At first, there was nothing, so I resurfaced.
“I don’t hear anything,” I told them.
“Just give it a moment. At first, you usually don’t hear anything, but if you wait a little bit, you’ll hear it — and then you’ll always be able to.”
I immersed myself again. I waited. And then suddenly, there it was, all around me! The sound of moaning, of clicks and calls, a whole sea symphony playing in a natural orchestration. I let go of the outrigger and popped back up, excitedly.
“I heard it!” I exclaimed. I looked at my yoga retreat companions and told them they needed to dunk their heads in to hear it, too.
This time, while snorkeling, my breath took over as the loudest sound around. I paused and remembered why I had decided to take a swim, so I asked the Universe for guidance about whether or not I should take this trip to New Zealand or wait. After all, when Kathryn was asked if she’s ever been to India before, she said that it was definitely on her list, but that her heart wasn’t yet being called there. It was the same as how I felt about going to Oz & NZ — I want to, but it wasn’t at the forefront of something I needed to do right now. Rather, it was more the opportunity to train more with such a great teacher that I was craving.
I waited. Floated facedown. And there it was, my answer. A white-tipped shark weaved close to the sand to my right, moving in a stealthy motion away from my gaze. I paused, letting it sink in exactly what I was seeing. Then, a bit of fear set in.
“White tips, white tips,” I was thinking to myself, recalling what I had been told about which sharks are safe and which are more aggressive. And, after quickly deducing this shark fell into the latter category, I slowly kicked away, both mesmerized by the sight of a shark and slightly alarmed at the same time. I was all alone this afternoon, there wasn’t another soul in the water around me when I popped my head above the surface to see if anyone else was seeing what I was.
Almost immediately, I had my answer: “Slow down, stop moving around, and look what amazing things you’ll see.”
Just to be sure, after I put a hearty distance between the shark and myself, remembering my yogic breathing so as to reduce the smell of fear I was sure I was emitting, I stopped swimming and once again, paused. Sure enough, right below me, I caught sight of an eel, and then a long narrow green fish with a trumpet nose that I had never seen before. The less motion I made, the more Mother Nature revealed herself to me.
I began to paddle my way back towards shore, feeling calmer and clearer. I would pause now and again, and each time, express gratitude for all that I was seeing. We were scheduled for a 2.30pm yoga chat, and when I got out of the water, I picked up my watch — 2.30 on the dot. Turns out, I was right on time, even without wearing a watch, without knowing where I was going, and without knowing what the answer to my question would be when I first paddled out.