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2013-02-22 15:05



The place we end up going on vacation is a tiny island called Gili Meno, located off the coast of Lombok, which is the next stop east of Bali in the great, sprawling Indonesian archipelago. I'd been to Gili Meno before, and I wanted to show it to Felipe, who had never been there.

The island of Gili Meno is one of the most important places in the world to me. I came here by myself two years ago when I was in Bali for the first time. I was on that magazine as-signment, writing about Yoga vacations, and I'd just finished two weeks of mightily restorative Yoga classes. But I had decided to extend my stay in Indonesia after the assignment was up, since I was already all the way over here in Asia. What I wanted to do, actually, was to find someplace very remote and give myself a ten-day retreat of absolute solitude and absolute si-lence.

When I look back at the four years that elapsed between my marriage starting to fall apart and the day I was finally divorced and free, I see a detailed chronicle of total pain. And the moment when I came to this tiny island all by myself was the very worst of that entire dark journey. The bottom of the pain and the middle of it. My unhappy mind was a battlefield of conflicted demons. As I made my decision to spend ten days alone and in silence in the middle of exactly nowhere, I told all my warring and confused parts the same thing: "We're all here together now, guys, all alone. And we're going to have to work out some kind of deal for how to get along, or else everybody is going to die together, sooner or later."

Which may sound firm and confident, but I must admit this, as well—that sailing over to that quiet island all alone, I was never more terrified in my life. I hadn't even brought any books to read, nothing to distract me. Just me and my mind, about to face each other on an empty field. I remember that my legs were visibly shaking with fear. Then I quoted to myself one of my favorite lines ever from my Guru: "Fear—who cares?" and I disembarked alone.

I rented myself a little cabin on the beach for a few dollars a day and I shut my mouth and vowed not to open it again until something inside me had changed. Gili Meno Island was my ultimate truth and reconciliation hearing. I had chosen the right place to do this—that much was clear. The island itself is tiny, pristine, sandy, blue water, palm trees. It's a perfect circle with a single path that goes around it, and you can walk the whole circumference in about an hour. It's located almost exactly on the equator, and so there's a changelessness about its daily cycles. The sun comes up on one side of the island at about 6:30 in the morning and goes down on the other side at around 6:30 PM, every day of the year. The place is inhabited by a small handful of Muslim fishermen and their families. There is no spot on this island from which you cannot hear the ocean. There are no motorized vehicles here. Electricity comes from a generator, and for only a few hours in the evenings. It's the quietest place I've ever been.

Every morning I walked the circumference of the island at sunrise, and walked it again at sunset. The rest of the time, I just sat and watched. Watched my thoughts, watched my emo-tions, watched the fishermen. The Yogic sages say that all the pain of a human life is caused by words, as is all the joy. We create words to define our experience and those words bring attendant emotions that jerk us around like dogs on a leash. We get seduced by our own mantras (I'm a failure . . . I'm lonely . . . I'm a failure . . . I'm lonely . . .) and we become monu-ments to them. To stop talking for a while, then, is to attempt to strip away the power of words, to stop choking ourselves with words, to liberate ourselves from our suffocating man-tras.

It took me a while to drop into true silence. Even after I'd stopped talking, I found that I was still humming with language. My organs and muscles of speech—brain, throat, chest, back of the neck—vibrated with the residual effects of talking long after I'd stopped making sounds. My head shimmied in a reverb of words, the way an indoor swimming pool seems to echo interminably with sounds and shouts, even after the kindergartners have left for the day. It took a surprisingly long time for all this pulsation of speech to fall away, for the whirling noises to settle. Maybe it took about three days.








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