“The Island Where People Forget to Die.” That’s the title of a NY Times article my brother Sam sent me several weeks ago. I began reading it on my iphone and, though I had to squint like crazy to make out the itty-bitty type, I devoured the whole enchanting story as if my life depended on it. Maybe it does.
Every now and then—once in five or ten years—I get such a huge hit from something that happens to me I know I’ve got to act on it. Sometimes I realize right away what I’m supposed to do and sometimes I haven’t a clue. But the electric current shooting through the heart and soul of me leaves no doubt that the wake-up call ball has landed in my court. It happened big-time when I met Ilana Rubenfeld and it happened even bigger-time when I first laid eyes on Bapuji.
What did I do with those electric moments? In Ilana’s case, I signed up for two frigid, punishing years of her Rubenfeld Synergy Method (RSM) certification training north of Toronto. With Bapuji, it was easier. Whenever I heard he’d be emerging from his silence and I could get away, I hopped in the car for the hour-plus drive to Kripalu. There, I simply settled down to bask in his love and light. And am I ever glad I listened to those two very different siren calls!
Though I didn’t know why I needed to act, the attraction was so great at least I knew what I had to do. In the case of the island where people forget to die, I am baffled—about why it grabbed me so hard, and what the hell I’m supposed to do about it. Move to Greece? Really?
Yes, it’s a Greek island, called Ikaria, that I’ve lately fallen in love with. It’s named after the mythological figure Icarus, whom I compare myself to in Bare Naked at the Reality Dance. Donning wax and feather wings made by his father Daedalus, Icarus flew so close to the sun his wings melted. He fell to the sea and drowned, near the island that bears his name and calls to me.
I’m moved by this fable because I’ve long had a fear, which feels strangely well-founded, that were I to aim for the metaphorical sun—success on the grand scale perhaps?—my wings, too, might be scorched. And, like Icarus, I could plunge to my death. (Talk about fear of success!)
I know it sounds melodramatic. But here’s what I think. Ikaria and its down-to-earth communal lifestyle is calling to me because it represents the antithesis of the ambition that drove Icarus—and can drive me, and maybe you, too—to overextend our reach and burn out while we’re attempting to soar. Deep down where I really live, I’m dying to give Icarus up for Ikaria!
Icarus was what today we’d call a go-getter—trying to fly high all by himself. According to the Times article, the residents of my beautiful island have no such prima donna tendencies. There’s so little they need to go get: the medicinal herbs for their afternoon tea, grapes for their evening wine and, of course, fish from the sea and vegetables from the gardens they tend to daily. Thanks to gardening, walking the hills, plus the herb tea, wine and fresh food—and especially the sharing of it all with friends—Ikarians live remarkably long lives. (They also take lots of naps!)
But their longevity is not what got my attention. Right now, I don’t care how long I live. What had my arm hairs standing on end was the extraordinary attraction I felt for the quality of their lives—at the deepest level of my being. I want to live the rest of my life with the graceful simplicity that marks that Greek island lifestyle. No, it’s more than a matter of want. It feels as if I’ve got to live like that—or else! And I can’t help thinking you might want to live that way too.
It’s true I’m of an age where I’m winding down. So my first thought about this powerful inner call was that the appeal of Ikarians’ gentle ways may be a “stage of life” thing. Old people have to slow down, so here we go. But the more I think about it, and look around at the people in my life—of all ages and stages—the more I wonder if my age and stage is what this is about.
As a longtime yoga teacher, life coach and sister seeker, I’ve kept a keen eye on the stress levels experienced by nearly everyone I know. I notice the loss of sleep, the pills taken, the tears shed. I often hear the phrase “I just don’t have time,” in reference to doing something the speaker wants to do. So it seems to me that, whether we know it or not, most of us are longing to live in a profoundly more relaxed and collaborative way than almost all of us do. (Sure, I’ve met those diehard New Yorkers who insist they’d die without the mega-stimulation, but I’m just sayin’….)
All but the most conscious among us can get caught up in the exploding craziness passing for modern American life. It’s hard not to. And most of us seem to think we don’t have a choice. But that’s a lie. The truth is those of us privileged enough to be reading these words do have a choice. The question is whether we are willing to face down the fear of exercising it.
So here’s another, parting, question for you, posed by Trond during one of our deep talks the other day: Where would you like to wake up tomorrow morning?
At first blush, it’s a deceptively simple inquiry. Because it’s not just about the geographical place we’d like to live (or think we would), though that can be important. But taking it deeper, Trond’s question gets to how we want to live our lives and with whom. What and who really juices us?
Are you where you want to be, and, if not, where would you like to wake up tomorrow morning? And equally important, why? To answer such questions it may help to remember, as vividly as we can, when and where we’ve felt most alive, present, engaged, useful—whatever our values are. I’ll have more to say on this, too, but in the meantime—for the good of us all—please add your personal perspective.
For further illumination and inspiration perhaps, here’s the link to the Ikaria article Sam sent me: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/28/magazine/the-island-where-people-forget-to-die.html?src=me&ref=general