St. John is on my mind these days. I am trying to stay as connected as possible from afar, supporting my friends the best I can as they work on their recovery from Irma. I cannot stop thinking of those beautiful islands and other hurricane-ravaged communities.
Weathering the Storm
I was fortunate enough to visit the U.S. Virgin Islands last year to celebrate a milestone birthday. If I’m being honest, I wasn’t in a great place (emotionally) before I boarded that plane. My life had been going so well and everything was on track until suddenly one day… it wasn’t. It felt like everything was falling apart and I woke up every morning feeling blah.
Instead of allowing myself to go through the normal (and important!) healing process, I adopted a bad habit of blaming everyone else for how I felt. It was my parents’ separation; the company I worked for closing; my father’s illness; my friend’s death; my landlord selling the home I loved so much; my boyfriend falling out of love with me: it was all their fault.
Of course, it is wildly important to allow ourselves an ample grieving period to accept the difficult things in our lives. But I wasn’t using my time to heal or process. Instead, I began clinging to that deep sadness like it was all I had left.
This went on for a long time, waking up with that blah feeling. Something finally changed when I spent two weeks on an island in the Caribbean Sea. (The luxury of this is not lost on me: I spent months and months scraping by to save money, and I am beyond grateful for the friends who made the opportunity a reality.) The welcoming community and epic viewpoints were touchstones of a great vacation, sure, but something else changed in me on that trip.
A “Paradise” State of Mind
How often do we go on vacation and think “I wish I could live here,” before reminding ourselves that a place like that isn’t “real life?” Well, I learned that the people who live in those places are real people who work hard, feel all the emotions humans feel, while following an instinct that tells them it’s possible to live in a tropical paradise.
Of course, everyone’s version of paradise is not the same. For some, it’s arctic climates, for others, it is the tropics, or somewhere in between. But I’m not talking about location: I’m talking about attitude.
There are people who seem to be living in paradise every day, regardless of location. They are the people who listen to their instincts that buzz in their bones. You know the feeling? That feeling you get when you are doing something that makes you truly, completely happy?
We can all learn to trust our instincts towards happiness. For me, a more positive lifestyle began with baby steps, such as taking the time in those quiet moments as the sun rises to drink my coffee in my pajamas. Small things like this eventually grew into larger life changes, like closing the book on toxic relationships and surrounding myself with people who make feel valued and loved, people who make me want to be a better person.
Finding a “paradise state of mind” is easier for some than others, and it is something some people may battle with their entire lives. If you are struggling with beginning your journey into a more positive lifestyle, here are some small steps that may help improve the energy around you:
- Himalayan salt lamps are said to improve mood and concentration (among other things);
- Yoga is known to promote strength, awareness, and harmony in mind and body;
- Nature, even a simple walk in the park, can help to improve our mental health and sense of relaxation;
- While self-care is very important, giving back to others and donating your time to a good cause can help bring a sense of belonging and reduce isolation;
- A conscientious diet. Everyone’s body is different, so do some research into the foods you enjoy and see which ones may be helping or harming your serotonin and energy levels
Celebrating What Remains – Reclaiming Paradise
Life will change and challenges will arise. Some of us will have to weather severe storms (physical and metaphorical), but if I’ve learned anything from my island friends, it is that we do not have to cling to the residuals of hardship forever. Although landscapes and lifestyles have changed forever, and there is no way I can truly understand the devastation these islanders face, I can keep the lessons I learned with me. We can remember what we’ve loved and rebuild, or we can create a new version of paradise.
There is a long road to recovery ahead for many communities, and every little bit helps. Please consider giving what you can to support these relief efforts.
Beth Ann Miller is a writer, professor, and youth mentor residing in Kittery, Maine. She loves teaching writing at New Hampshire Institute of Art and is excited to begin her new position there as Administrative Director of the MFA Program this fall. Her writing is often influenced by her travels and the people she meets along the way. She believes that everyone has got an incredible story to tell if you take the time to listen.
Efforts that my island friends support: