One of my favorite places in the world is Kona, Hawaii. Located on the west coast of the Big Island, it is about as far away from the concrete jungles of Waikiki, Honolulu, or San Francisco as you can get. Many people describe Kona a little slice of Heaven, and that really isn’t very far from the truth. It is the perfect place for a vacation, a place to get away and recharge your batteries.
I see it as something more than that, though. When I look at the island lifestyle, I see a world that is the epitome of a wellness-based existence.
Start with the location. The weather doesn’t get much better anywhere, and this leads to equal time outdoors as well as in. Most people eat on their lanais, just as an example. There is something about eating breakfast surrounded by flaming ginger plants and shaded by palm trees that makes just about anything taste better. Throw in a glowing red sun as it drops into the Pacific each evening, and you have nature’s own dinner show. This is the only place I know where people pull over to the side of the road to watch the sunset and applaud when the last splash of color dips below the horizon. I don’t think you could find a better example of living fully in the moment if you tried.
Of course, it is easy to romanticize life on an island especially if you don’t live here full time. There are challenges to living in an isolated space. I think that is why native Hawaiians, as well as those who now call the island home, have an amazingly strong social support network. Ohana is the Hawaiian word for family, and it doesn’t only extend to blood relatives. It encompasses the community, a place where people look out for each other, supporting each other in times of need. People come together for celebration as well as support. It’s not unusual to see gatherings of twenty, thirty, or more on Sunday afternoons, getting together to barbecue under the banyan trees, talk story, and surf or boogie board along the beaches off the main road. It’s not a holiday or special occasion. Just an afternoon that is made to be enjoyed with family and friends. Again, a time to live in the moment.
People joke about island time, but it is very true. Time, and how a person spends it, is viewed very differently here. Things run more slowly. It’s not that people don’t work here, or don’t work hard. Actually, just the opposite is true. I know several people who have two or three jobs. It’s necessary when tourism and agriculture are the main industries, and there isn’t a lot of opportunity in a down market. The same is true on the mainland, but the difference is perspective. Work doesn’t overwhelm people or run their lives. People here respect their work, but they also respect themselves and their families. No matter how much they work, they always make time to watch that perfect sunset. The only people who are tied to their iphones and blackberries are the tourists as they reply to the office emails and snap pictures to post on Facebook. Locals are happy to savor the moment as it happens without needing to capture it for posterity.
A big part of wellness deals with transcendence–with a sense of spirituality. I’m not speaking in religious terms, although many people find spirituality within organized religion. I’m talking about feeling connected to something bigger, something outside of yourself. Hawaiians have always maintained a balance with, and a respect for, the natural environment. Hawaiians have a strong connection to their physical world. They recognize their place within it, and have a respect for their history and culture as well.
It’s very easy to feel connected to something bigger while you sit on the lava rocks at the edge of the Pacific ocean. To watch and feel the spray of the waves as they crash near your feet. I always have a lot to do while I’m here. Having a home on an island requires a lot of maintenance when you aren’t there full time. But I always find time during the day to sit by the rocks and watch the waves. I like to say that the sound of the waves massages my soul. I really feel that is true. People who visit us here are always surprised at how much time can pass while they just sit and watch the water. I always tell them that it is one of the most important things they can do for themselves while they are here. Live fully in the moment without distraction.
Living mindfully–in the moment–is not always an easy thing to do, especially on the mainland. But the culture of island life promotes it, without even trying. More than the bags of Kona coffee or plumeria sticks ” guaranteed to grow in any climate”, it’s that feeling of living in the moment that I always try to capture and bring back with me. It’s the best souvenir there is, and guaranteed to last forever and “grow in any climate”–if you let it.