I am writing this article at the end of a two week vacation on the lovely Hawaiian island, Maui. My wife and I have tried to plan a trip to Hawaii every year for over 25 years now, and have been vacationing at this same small resort on a regular basis for nearly ten of those years. Charron lived in Hawaii for a formative part of her childhood, so for her returning to the islands is a response to some deeper calling. My initial attraction to the Islands was my love, addiction actually, for windsurfing and Maui is considered the “capital of windsurfing” for most of us familiar to the sport. Thus, over the years, we compromised and Maui became our island of choice…a beautiful beach for Charron and plenty of windsurfing opportunities for me. As a result, our little funky resort, in the northwest corner of the island, has become almost like a second home for us. We usually come here about the same time of the year, we often get the same room, eat at the same restaurants, and happily, we often meet some of the same friends we have made over the years who also do what we do. In some ways, I am reminded of my days at church camps when deep friendships were created during the season but when we returned to our respective homes across the country, there was little follow-up interaction. Although today we do occasionally send emails to coordinate returning dates.
This small well run resort is not the Hilton or Ritz Carlton. They do not offer the amenities that most of the larger hotels do on the islands. There is no golf course, no restaurant, no bar, no gift shop, no room service, and no one in cute, Hawaiian outfits to bring you drinks by the poolside.
I believe it is the lack of these amenities and the simple natural setting and facilities that attract the same kind of people each year. And they tend to come back year after year. I share this information so that you might understand why we have such powerful and often intimate conversations with some of these friends who we see only once a year.
I suspect another thing that has bonded us is that we are all aware that we are growing older together. We often find ourselves chuckling over someone’s report that another body part is no longer working properly or there is one more thing that we are no longer capable of doing. For example, I found myself admitting for first time that this was my third trip to Maui when I had not considered windsurfing. I had to accept that it was just one more thing on a growing list that I was letting go. We can talk openly about nearly anything, whether it is health issues, which were major, family issues that were significant, and even dealing with our imminent mortality. But in spite of these concerns, we played, we joked, and we often laughed until we could barely catch a breath. We all seemed to agree that we were some of the most fortunate people alive on earth and we were glad we were together for the moment.
At one point after a long conversation with our friends, I swam out to one of the nearby reefs and did something I frequently do there. I just rolled over on my back, and floated in the warm tropical waters. I learned years ago that if you relax, breathe deeply and let your head be partially submerged, you can float this way indefinitely, at least in salt water. Sometimes I can do that until I am almost asleep and I imagine that I have returned to the womb surrounded by the amniotic fluid of “Mother Nature.”
This time I was not sleepy for I was too overwhelmed with love. As I floated in this massive body of water, looking into some of the most beautiful blue sky in the world, I wondered how I could be so fortunate. I have such good friends; I have experienced such deep love; I know I will never be alone; my body can still be active…the list was just too long to continue to ponder. I was feeling such overwhelming joy and love; I wanted to cry with happiness. I wanted to give thanks. I wanted to repay.
As I continued to float in my imaginary womb, I wondered, “How could I repay for such abundance?” I no longer believe in a God that wants or needs anything from me…not my thanks nor my worship. I do believe in an Infinite Mystery, a constant Presence in all living things that can be experienced just as I was experiencing at that moment. But I wanted to yell at the top of my lungs, “Thank You!” Instead, I just floated quietly, relaxed and still in bliss. Suddenly I realized what I could do. I knew there was an action I could take. It was suddenly so clear that it was as if the words had come from outside of me.
I would dedicate my life to being that Presence as I move through whatever time I have left on this precious planet. I would intentionally try to be that Presence in every action, every relationship…even in my thoughts. I heard myself saying, “I want to be that Presence in everything that I do.”
Later, when I was describing this experience to my beloved wife, it occurred to me that this should be the goal of every spiritual practice, of every religion. I thought a lot about that later in the week as I prepared myself for my trip to Italy next month for an international gathering of religious leaders from dozens of faith traditions (Awakened World 2012). The goal and theme of this conference is to move religious people from enmity to empathy with the hope of fostering evolutionary change in our world instead of religion being a hindrance to positive change.
As I have described this upcoming event to some of my friends I am frequently asked, “Do you think it can really make a difference or it is just going to result in another paper that has no real impact on the world situation?” It is a fair question and when we look at the number of violent conflicts that are going on in the world today in the name of religion, it does cause one to pause. My answer is, of course, what if we don’t keep trying? What then?
I do know that change is happening and it is either going to be good change or sad change. I would like to think that whatever happens, I will know that I tried to influence positive or evolutionary change. Will we be like the dinosaurs and soon cease to exist or will we adapt? Will we become more spiritual and acknowledge our interdependences and interconnectedness, or will we become more divisive, more selfish, more self-centered? It really is the question of our age and I do not know the answer.
What I do know is that I am committed to being that “Presence” I experienced where ever I go, wherever I am, and whatever the situation. I can live with that.