This weekend I celebrated my first month of living in the Maldives. After the initial wide-eyed exploration and bustle of setting up the shop, the excitement of arriving and the relief of slowing down finally gave in to an inevitable anxiety. The full and successful life on which I had prided myself had been stalled by this new beginning. Stranger still, I had chosen it. In the momentum of the move I had failed to realise that forfeiting busy city life also meant letting go of the buzz of being constantly in motion.
I was trying to slot my old life, filled with fast-paced meetings and packed weekends, into this new one. I had wanted to come here to slow down, to reconnect with myself, to gain perspective, and to grow as a person. Now I was here I couldn’t ignore the creeping sense of fear that I felt of becoming quiet and still.
I had never considered meditation. When I pictured it, I imagined the memoir Eat, Pray, Love – the ultimate experience of self-discovery, and one that has always appealed for obvious reasons, but a literal world away from my chaotic city lifestyle. After meeting Soneva’s resident meditation teacher, he invited me to his class. ‘It’ll be transformative,’ he said, so I decided to give it a try.
The next day, sitting cross-legged on the mat in the treehouse elevated in the jungle canopy, all I could hear were the clacking fruit bats around me, and the breeze passing through the trees. My eyes closed, and I tried to close my mind with them, counting gradually to ten over and over again until my thoughts found their way towards something like silence.
But before long, all I could feel were the pins and needles in my feet. With every cry of the fruit bat, my thoughts stirred, and I made a mental note to google how fruit bats make that noise (through their nose). Interrupted, my conscious mind was fully awake again. Meditation clearly wasn’t my thing. How on earth did other people do it? How did so many profess to the profound difference it makes to their lives, when I could barely do fifteen seconds without being distracted?
My second attempt at meditation, later in the class, proved more fruitful. Once I accepted my stray thoughts, without feeling like a failure, sitting on the mat was no longer uncomfortable, but peaceful. The fruit bats were no longer a distraction, but helped to transport me into the unconscious part of my mind, towards oblivion. I left the session feeling more grounded and tranquil.
And then something unexpected happened. As I prepared to return to the bookshop for the evening, I was overwhelmed by creativity. Ideas flowed through me and I couldn’t contain my imagination, which played like a symphony before me.
‘Is this normal?’ I asked the meditation leader later that evening, when I had the chance to catch up with him. ‘Oh yes,’ he smiled, ‘just you wait.’
Alongside meditation, I’ve also begun to practice yoga almost daily. Initially, my understanding of yoga was solidified by images of bending, supple bodies held in acrobatic positions for alarmingly long periods. Previously, I’d huffed and puffed my way through classes, the antithesis of the graceful yogis moving fluidly around me. But now I’ve learned yoga is not about flexibility or endurance, but enjoyment. Like my meditation experience, I leave every yoga practice with my mood transformed: simultaneously calm and energetic, peaceful and inspired.
Like many living in a large city, in London I had been behaving as though I myself was an island: an isolated, independent body so rarely in touch with my surroundings. Now the opposite it true. Ironically, living on an actual island prompts you to look outward. ‘No man is an island entire of itself,’ John Donne wrote, and this is nowhere more true than on this paradise in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
Suddenly the mind, body, spirit section of the bookshop, the section I had traditionally avoided, feels so much more relevant to my journey here at Soneva Fushi. Rather than trying to contort my rushing city lifestyle into the languid island life I now lead, I am learning how to slow down.
Here’s three of the best books that are now helping to me adjust into a quieter, more outward-looking life on the island:
Strength in Stillness by Bob Roth
Bob Roth is one of the most experienced meditation coaches in the world, having worked with some of the highest achieving individuals in their fields, from CEOs of FTSE 100 companies, to celebrities such as Hugh Jackman, Russell Brand and Oprah Winfrey. Straight-talking and unpretentious, Strength in Stillness talks the reader through the practice and science behind meditation with intrigue and style.
Alone Time by Stephanie Rosenbloom
By travelling alone to four different cities – Paris, Istanbul, Florence and New York – Stephanie Rosenbloom explores the value of connecting with yourself. Her aim, she says, is not to master the cities she visits, but to master her mind. Drawing on artists, writers and philosophers, and her own experience; this is a travel memoir with mindfulness at its heart.
The Nature Fix by Florence Williams
As more people now live in urban environments than rural ones, nature has come to be seen as a luxury rather than a necessity. But why do we feel so much calmer, more together, healthier and happier when in the natural world? Florence William’s book investigates the science behind humanity’s relationship with nature, and inspires us to reconnect with the great outdoors.