IMAGINE mountains of volcanic ash. Emerald thermal pools, so pure that their vivid greens and blues reflect the towering mountains above. Spider webs straddling neighboring bushes, their translucent threads so fine yet so magnificently intricate in their weavings. Mud pools bubbling, popping, and plopping, fuming beside bursting geysers. Caves so cavernous your floating tube of a seat in the cold water seems to morph into a pew beneath a cathedral’s towering heights.
All of this I was lucky to witness on my visit to New Zealand a few weeks back. Your traveling bucket list may already include this wondrous country. If not, I suggest you add it. Now.
When I travel, I tend to fill with this overwhelming awe at all that surrounds me. This intense desire to absorb every little bit overcomes me; as I scan as many details of my new environment as possible, I fervently hope that I can tuck those very images and their accompanying sensations into the deepest folds of my core, so as to be able to access their light and smell and temperature whenever I wish. I realize, even at this young age, that memories can lose their vividness as time passes—and yet I attempt again and again to receive and deposit all that I can when I travel, not only because of the marvelous nature of the sights, but also because of the inner experiences that have been birthed out of such travels. My experience in New Zealand was no different. In truth, my craving to soak everything up was probably at its strongest, since I knew that I was halfway around the world.
Upon my return to US soil, I felt as if I’d arrived home from two parallel journeys—a beautifully scenic trip on the one hand, and a vast period of inner growth, abbreviated only by the axis of time, on the other. Something about New Zealand’s terrain and people amplified this secondary journey for me. Perhaps, too, it was the large span of the trip (two weeks), or its timing (its intersection with the New Year), or the act of spending the majority of my waking hours with my family, who reminds me both of where I’ve been and where I am, and then inevitably nudges me towards considering how I’d like to continue to grow. But even in acknowledging all of this, I cannot deny the power that a trip’s sights and sounds and colors have over one’s self-reflective capacity.
I’m always so fascinated by the ways our external environments can shape our internal worlds. Just the other day, actually, I felt this wave of calm wash over me when I was several blocks away from Central Park; despite being surrounded by apartment buildings and shops and New Yorkers bustling to and from the train, the sheer proximity of trees and rocks and grass buoyed my drained spirits. If even the knowledge of a nearby park could bring comfort to a nature lover like me in that moment, how much greater of an effect can a mountain staring you in the face, or a shimmering emerald lake, or a volcano with steam rising from its slopes, have? As I ask this question, I must also present this query: how often do you and a glimmer of your environment take a good look at each other? How active are your eyes? How open is your vision?
In New Zealand, I recognized how constricted my vision has become. Of course I look around at the seas of people who fill the streets and subway platforms; I notice, too, how much further I must walk to reach my door when the bitter cold strikes. But how much more time do I spend with my eyes glued to my phone’s screen and with my eyes not entirely open, as if curtains have been drawn, containing me in a room where I rehash schedules and choices and opportunities and superfluous matters again and again?
Knowing that I may never make it back to New Zealand (though I sincerely hope against that, now that I’ve been), my interactions with the people and land there became intimate, purposeful, and full of presence; this distinctly altered way with the world broke open my senses, particularly my vision. It was as if I could consume the mysterious yet potent energy of the mountains and the wistful character of the trees lining the roads we cruised along. All of this absorbed energy—most especially by way of my eyes—triggered a churning within my mind and heart. Countless questions seeking answers arose and tumbled over each other inside of me. Contradictions between ideas clashed, and confusion struck as I lost track of what was antiquated—having risen out of past experiences and necessitated release—and what was truthfully of me, not composed from some judgment or projection of what ought to be.
My drishti, my gaze in New Zealand seemed purified by the beauty of the country’s natural surroundings and its people’s seemingly simple, grounded, joy-filled way of life. As my eyes drew in such unspoiled sights, my core self began to crave similar clarity and simplicity. This reflective mode, spawned by my adventures abroad and its resulting cravings, has followed me back to my city life; yet with a smattering of goals and fewer answers than I’d hoped, I’ve found myself tossed back into the stream, trying not to be entirely overcome by the current. In spite of the grand propositions I returned with, I’ve fallen largely—but not entirely—back to where I began, because I’ve realized that in trying to find answers, I’ve been seeking a perfect balance, which, rooted in the unreachable notion of perfection, cannot be. Even the way I attempted to soak up all of my trip’s moments seems based in this desire to have it all, in one perfectly wrapped box.
And so, as I sit here, still with missing pieces to answers and with even more questions than when I began, I wonder about our relationship with our vision. In a beautiful restorative yoga class I took this last week, we were encouraged to cover our eyes with eye pillows in Savasana, in an effort to close out all light, all hints that could lead to outward vision and stimulation. There was such power in that, especially in the midst of the quiet of winter. So I wonder, then, if just a simple (but really not so simple) awareness of our eyes’ activity could secure vibrancy in our everyday lives, enhancing our present moments just as much as those mountains and lakes and caves that stole my attention and imagination miles away from where I sit now. Just as our eyes continually launch from one journey to the next, so too does that information from all that we see enter us, churn within us, and propel us forward—forward being a relative term of course. Forward as onwards, past where we are, to the next moment in which we’ll hopefully be present, with open eyes and ears and hearts and minds, where we’ll be ready to be carried to the next moment and the next, probably without answers but with even more questions that can incite curiosity and excitement within us for all that is to come.
- Liz Beres
P.S. A little anecdote that I wanted to share, just because of the sheer serendipity of it all: I sometimes brainstorm for my posts and write pieces of them while in transit. Parts of this post came to be underground, and in one particular moment, in setting aside my notebook to transfer from one train to another, I walked up the steps at Herald Square to hear a Beatles classic, “In My Life”, being played and sung. I couldn’t help but stop and smile, knowing that that very song connected perfectly to what I was learning and hoping to share in my post. So here are the lyrics I walked straight into. More food for thought thanks to John and Paul and George and Ringo!
There are places I remember All my life, though some have changed Some forever not for better Some have gone and some remain All these places had their moments With lovers and friends I still can recall Some are dead and some are living In my life I've loved them all
Photography by Liz Beres.