I awoke in a hammock to the drawn out lashings of the ocean against the craggy coastline of the Caribbean sea. The sky was a peculiar shade of navy, but a muffled glow of mandarin pushed through at the horizon. I fumbled with my makeshift cocoon and peeked at my watch from beneath squinted eyes—5:45am.
The sun had not yet poked its luminescence from below the skyline and, at this time of the morning, the earth was completely abandoned – like it was mine, and the sun would appear for me that day, and for me alone.
I crawled out from my bundle, onto my feet, and drew a deep breath into my lungs. A small misting of sea water struck my face and I took steps toward the sawtoothed boulders that lined the shore. Crawling my way to the furthest, most jagged point, and overlooking the deep blue expanse of sea and sky, I perched myself atop the uneven stone cliff. I sat, for 90 minutes, somewhere close to consciousness but not yet fully awake, and allowed the rising sun to swathe my face in its flaxen warmth.
For an hour and a half I sat. And I did nothing.
The need for an empty space, a pause, is something we have all felt in our bones; it’s the rest in a piece of music that gives it resonance and shape.Pico Iyer
This was a far cry from the commotion of New York, a city occupied by agitation. I had just left its disquietude two weeks earlier, and I was in a particularly capricious state. After six months in NYC, a city which I have grown to love, it had worn on me. Having turned down my dream job in New York, and leaving myself completely wide open to the unknown, I was overwhelmed, and the volatile sting of December’s air had sent me spiraling into a state of anxiety.
I would be desperately sad to go, but I knew in my bones that it was time. I needed warmth, and I needed adventure.
As the bulky doors of the fuselage slid open, a dense humidity filled the cabin and that indescribable smell of the tropics occupied my nostrils. My early-morning flight meant that I had only slept for about 20 minutes the night before, so my exit onto the tarmac was more indicative of a drunken hobble than a grand swagger.
I fumbled my way into the bright yellow of a Colombian taxicab and rode 15 minutes past the dilapidated houses and ragged coastline into the old city of Cartagena. Arriving at my hostel in a stupor, I hit the sheets of my hostel dorm bed, and for the next two days, I slept.
Choosing to ignore the city of Cartagena almost entirely (I knew I would be returning in two weeks), I set off early in the morning to catch an eastbound bus to the beaches of Tayrona National Park. Immediately upon my arrival, I sprawled out on my towel atop the soft yellow sand of the expansive beach. For the rest of the afternoon, I gazed at the puffy white clouds above. I had nowhere to go, and without any cell service or wifi, I had absolutely nothing to do.
At first I felt anxious. New York City had somehow convinced me that my time was wasted if I wasn’t being productive. And on this beach, I was accomplishing nothing. Something had happened to the person who once valued their time for what it was—theirs. It was no longer worth something greater than a banknote, and it was, in many ways, the opposite of everything I’ve ever stood for.
With no computer access and no way off this beach, I made the decision to reclaim my “wasted time” and turn it back into what it always should have been: mine. And do you know what I did with that time?
Absolutely nothing. I sat. Slept. Thought. Stared. Breathed.
The following day, in the hours after that gloriously evocative sunrise, I did exactly the same thing; I rested. Laid down. Ate lunch. Read a book.
Pico Iyer’s new text, The Art of Stillness, was a poignantly relevant read on that day. At a time when I was having trouble taking a personal inventory and finding a balance between travel, life, and work, what I needed was a reminder that, as Iyer says, sometimes, “making a living and making a life sometimes point in opposite directions.” I had gotten so caught up in work that I had forgotten to just enjoy life. And I forgot that enjoying didn’t necessarily mean doing. Sometimes the greatest thrills come from doing absolutely nothing at all.
Going nowhere is the grand adventure that makes sense of everywhere else. […] It isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so that you can see the world more clearly and love it more deeply.
My time in New York was both eye-opening and grounding. I forged some beautiful relationships with many types of people, but especially in the winter months, I felt that I had lost some of my love for the world around me. I was so caught up in the daily hustle of the city that I never took the time to step away and think much of what it meant and what it was all for.
Here, though, on the beaches of Colombia, I was forced into repose. It is in this way that traveling compels us to take a different perspective on the world and to ponder, with intensity, our own reality. It creates a backdrop for our lives on which we can overlay our own experiences, as we seek greater understanding and appreciation.
Stepping back from the world for three days helped me to find a new point of reference. I remembered how important my time and my happiness were. I recalled what it was like to simply relax. To just enjoy the world.
Too often we get so caught up in the constant barrage of emails, text messages, social media, regular media, work, and other commitments, that we forget how simple and enjoyable life can to be. To survive, we need food, water, and shelter. Beyond that, Facebook, emails, deadlines, beer, relationships, even our jobs, are just distractions.
Half the confusion in the world comes from not knowing how little we need.Admiral Richard E. Byrd
We can’t have noise without silence. We can’t have fun if we’re never bored. We can’t be busy and never put into perspective what all this “busy” is really for. We can’t travel and never reflect on what it all really means.
Slowing down doesn’t mean stopping entirely. It just means finding the time or place where we can sit, do nothing, and reflect. Especially in this day and age, when our lives are filled with more distractions than ever before, the need to slow down for a moment or two has never been more imperative.
So, step back, slow down, disconnect, and take a moment or two for yourself. The fact is, you may very well need it more than you realize. I know I sure did.
[quote]The point of gathering stillness is not to enrich the sanctuary or mountaintop but to bring that calm into the motion, the commotion of the world. -Pico Iyer[/quote]
Did you like this? I personally recommend Pico Iyer’s new text, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere. This short book, published by TED, is travel writing with a new perspective. Maybe your next adventure should be to nowhere.
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Love this post, Jeremy! It’s so true. I’ve started trying to not go on social media at all on Sundays, which actually isn’t so hard nowadays with all the scheduling apps and such 🙂 For travel it can also be hard to not feel like you’re not doing/seeing enough, instead of just doing what your body and mind tell you and going at your own pace.
I find that it’s really easy to get caught up in work, especially since we work for ourselves. Making a conscious effort to take time off is so vital to our wellbeing!
Great piece Jeremy.
Slowing down is what I feel everyone is best to experience during travel (and life as well!).
It’s easy to spot the stressed, tired, anxious traveller amongst the pack – the one clutching to a tablet, fumbling with a map, attempting to check of a long list of ‘must see’ places. By the end of it, what have they really ‘seen’?
The other frequent observation I make is those young, wide-eyed adventure seekers who put all their faith (and pennies) into the dreaded ‘guided tour’ experience. Sure, sometimes they are OK, but it baffles me why many young people (defined as under 30) choose to fill their precious down time with a ‘see half the world in 20 days’ style of trip? I for one, don’t see the point in this style of forced exhaustion. May as well stay in the rat race back home!
Love your philosophy. I think there is real value in taking the time to absorb the experience to it’s full potential, not rush around to see as much as you can in as little time possible. Staying at home on the couch is cheaper…
Jason Townsend – http://www.kickstartacause.com
Thank you very much for this article. It is a good reminder that we don’t have to get caught in the daily routine. We should take a step back from time to time to see the beauty of the world. And sometimes we forget about it.
Enjoy your travels:-)
Amazing piece, very inspiring. I am about to be out of my work in several weeks and people have been asking me so many times what I was planning on doing, and it became very difficult to word it properly. I guess I will just point them to this post. Thanks a lot, you definitely made my day !
Just tell them you’re slowing down 🙂 Good luck!
Beautifully written article! I grew up in New York and spent so much of my life in NYC, including my college years and while I was working in the corporate world and I became totally jaded by the city. It can be a wonderful place, but the constant motion made me an agitated person, constantly busy and never taking a second to step back. I totally agree with everything you said in this piece and love all the quotes you interjected, they’re so powerful and pertinent. I just quit my job to travel and am now backpacking in Europe, which can be super fast paced as well, but even just being out of New York has had an effect on my attitude. I’m free now to just relax, go when I want to go, and stay when I want to stay. It’s a beautiful thing.
Keep it up 🙂
Hi Heather! It’s really interesting to hear your experience–I think a lot of people in NYC feel the same way, but I’m not sure many ever get the chance to step outside of themselves and notice. I, like you, became agitated there, and as much as I love the city, I’m not convinced it’s the place for me.
I hope you’re having an amazing time in Europe. Keep me posted!
I thought I’m one of those “weird slow travelers”… It’s always good to look around well, take cultural immersions, interact with locals and so on. If you rush it, you miss out on a lot.
Beach walks and viewpoints for enjoying the skyline are among my favourites.
Nope, being a slow traveler doesn’t make you weird. Especially if you’re traveling often, it’s really nice to take it easy and just enjoy some quiet time.
You’re right: A lot of what we spend our time doing is really just a series of distractions. I just spent a week without any internet (except a cell signal) and didn’t miss being unplugged from my email at all. More importantly, I don’t think anyone noticed.
That’s the funny part–we’re so caught up in what we’re doing that we end up thinking our presence is required and more important than it actually is. Take a few days off, and that all gets put into perspective.
This is my pet subject! People think they have to spend lots of money on posh retreats or spa breaks but in reality it’s the moving to a much slower timescale that really makes the difference. The biggest challenge is keeping it in your life when you return. I live in London and it’s very much like New York, in that everyone is busy, and in fact almost judged by their busyness. Seeing to be idle is not appreciated!
Quiet time can be the noisiest time of your life, until you embrace the serenity. Great post, Jeremy.
Yes! And it’s so easy to avoid it these days, but we have to.
I like the idea of slowing down and disconnecting and actually think of “taking an adventure to nowhere”, great idea, so important as we sometimes forget about this with so much change happening around when travelling continously.. Thank you for your inspiration Jeremy!
It’s kind of a strange concept, but actually makes a lot of sense when you think about it!
Such a beautiful post! The most important thing in the world is to be able to enjoy the silence and nature, be able to step out from your busy life and appreciate the surroundings… Thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙂
I just hope more people will take the time to do so!
Great post, mate! Once I slowed down my travels, I felt more comfortable and less stressed out. I spoke more to locals and felt way better!
Especially when it comes to traveling, it’s really nice to just relax and enjoy, rather than moving cities every other day!
great post – and love the photos
It’s funny even with a very laid back location that I lived in like East Hawaii, it can be quite hectic at times, but it is nice to really enjoy the ocean and just looking out at the sky for a long time.
I think We have to disconnect many times during the year!
Thanks Jeremy for sharing this post.
Slowing down is so important, I must say that I find it hard to disconnect on holiday but I’m trying to get better at it!