As I waded into the Indian Ocean on the southern province of Sri Lanka, the subtle twinge of the Pacific provided a refreshing change to the warmth of the Arabian Sea which I had experienced on the southwest coast of India just one day earlier. Everything seemed to move more slowly, softly and predictable here, including the waves.
I sat that first morning at the outdoor restaurant beneath my booking.com guest house sipping warm cardamom milk tea and indulging my senses in the lush surroundings. The aroma of burning sandalwood incense hung in the dewy air from the overnight rainfall, while an array of tropical colored flowers — magenta, ruby red and lilac — tickled my vision as they danced in the soft breeze. A traditional and filling Sri Lankan breakfast of coconut sambar, two roti pancakes and dahl was presented alongside bright yellow daisies, picked fresh each morning by the hotel owner's mother and placed in small clay vases atop each table.
Although she spoke no English, I knew the old woman was proud and supportive of her grown son, Lala, for maintaining a tidy and thriving restaurant and hotel business. Her warm smile and embrace every time I saw her, as well as the hard work she did in helping to maintain the property by sweeping the floors and clearing the plates, said it all.
I chose to walk a bit ahead of Greg on the beach at sunset that night, honoring my need for some alone-time after two months of travel and before leading a 10-day yoga retreat in Bali. I entered a pool that was shielded from the waves by a reef and lifted the bottom of my dress to submerge my legs into the cool salt water; that embrace from Mother Nature always an instant reminder to myself of my true nature. Meanwhile, Greg had begun a conversation on the beach with some locals who offered him two puffs of their ganja. In keeping with the slow pace of the island, we agreed to meet them the following evening to purchase two joints at only $3 USD each.
I decided to go crazy at dinner and order a Coke served in an authentic glass bottle. Upon touching my lips to the cold, small opening of glass, I was instantly transported to the sweet childhood memory of my twin sister and I plopping belly-first onto our godmother’s bed after a full day of digging clams in Ipswich, MA to watch cable TV, special sugary drink in hand.
The last guided tour that I agreed to go on was Lala’s private tour of Weligama and Galle, a historic colonial seaside fort lost in time on the west coast of Sri Lanka. At the tea factory some workers skinned cinnamon bark in order to get to the tender core. Cinnamon, Sri Lanka’s chief export, means “the bride around whom they danced” in Sinhalese. I suspect that is where the spiraling sticks acquire their name.
I followed a petite man with a smile revealing four teeth through his spice garden near Cinnamon Island. He proudly picked and rubbed together pieces of cardamom, ceylon, clove, nutmeg, tiger balm, lemongrass, turmeric, ginger, cacao, and vanilla between his fingers, offering each of their natural fragrances up to our noses as though they were very rare pieces of gold. And they were.
I arrived home ecstatic about talking down the price of my new 14-karat gold ring to a little more than half of what I was originally quoted at the Gem Museum. The fact that my favorite stone, moonstone, was presented in that rare gold setting was a sure sign that I had to have it. Moonstone holds all the magnificence of who we are inside of it — the dancing hues of blue and purple within the semicircle opalescent pearl a representation of the wonder and playfulness within each one of us.
That night at sunset I sat crouched on a rock mesmerized at our 37-year old Buddhist marijuana dealer prepare the mixture of Indian kush and nicotine from a European cigarette. I appreciate the laxity of the Buddhist tradition — one can meditate at any time, visit temple any day of the week, and choose whether or not to praise gods or goddesses. Although the Buddha is seen by Hindus as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, his teachings on suffering and non-attachment remind even the gods of their impermanence.
Despite my several valiant attempts to inhale the smooth smoke, my body seemed to reject the concoction. I suppose the starry-filled sky and the sound of lapping waves would have to do for that night. The residue of salt from a few days frolicking in the ocean with no shower stung as I rubbed my eyes. Upon opening them, the reality that I had managed to successfully "skip" winter at home was once again confirmed.
I tucked my chin into my shoulder to wipe off the coconut I ate for breakfast, its sweet contents dripping everywhere, and lingered in the smell of my sun-soaked skin. The surfers cut and swerved in the distant waves — a sight I chose to stay extra-long that day to enjoy after my solo morning yoga and meditation practice by the water. My transfixed gaze upon the surfers was noticed by a native heading in from the early morning's swell, Priya, who asked me why I wasn’t out there. He listened as I explained my traumatic experience in the water a little over one year ago and then suggested we check out some cool spots that morning in Weligama on his motorbike. I found myself asking if we could bring his surfboard, and he obliged. At this point I felt like a pro at riding on the back of motorcycles in foreign countries with strangers, and with surfboard tucked under one arm, we were off.
The waves at Ram’s beach were spaced out and clean compared to those at Coconut Point. I kicked off my sandals before my mind had the chance to convince me out of it and hopped upon the 5’8’’ board into the sea. I kept in mind what Priya instructed about riding a short board: “Feet together, tip (of the board) up, abs in tight for balance.” It served me well as I paddled fearlessly into the white water, practicing my first-ever duck dives. There was an ease and felt-sense of control on that short board that I never experienced on my long board, and I liked it. A while later I emerged back on the beach with a warrior-like spirit. Despite the fact that I did not catch any waves, I paddled. And I was healing.
As I hinted at in my previous blogs, I have undergone a growth process this year unparalleled to anything I have experienced thus far in my 27-year-old life. And if I had to summarize what I am learning, it is that we can be most afraid of the strongest parts of who we are. I always knew myself as a highly independent and confident woman, but came to know another side of her that was also incredibly brave and emotionally strong at her core. Instead of reacting out of a place of fear to this largely uncharted part of who I am, I have been able to sit with my own growth, see it for what it is, and choose my response.
As I walked the familiar path back to my air-conditioned room that morning, the densely warm air carried the magic of my recent feat. I marveled at my own perseverance under the coolness of a shower and unrepentantly flopped back into bed at 12:30p.m. Not five minutes later, the pleasantry of my emerging tan against a bed of crisply white linens sent me into a deep, perfect sleep.