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An Island in Every Life

There is, or should be, an island in every life. A place where your real life stops and another one takes over. 

Visualization techniques often include imagining a place where you can relax and be happy. When one is really stressed, it is even more stressful to try and imagine such a place. One struggles and becomes more tense. Then, one berates oneself for the struggle and the tension. These are replaced by self-pity—why must I be so stressed that I cannot think of a ‘happy place’? Finally, the self-pity is replaced by resentment. And the visualization technique has been utterly counter-productive. Some people drink or use drugs to lead them to that happy place. I cannot imagine what either feels like, but I know that the comedown from that high is difficult.

The island I am advocating is a different kind of escape. Let me tell you about my island.

I chanced upon my island at a time when things were really hard for me. I might have expected a resting place and a place to gather a few exotic samples, but what I received far exceeded that. 

When I am on my island, I am surrounded by warmth. People are charming. I am charming. The conversation sparkles and all wits are quick. All movement is slow and time stops still. The breeze is constant, if heavy with the scent of sea-salt and fish. The sun is balmy, never cruel. And in the moments that the fans stop moving and the sight of everyone sweating profusely messes up this idyllic picture, you can hear your heart beat. You know you are alive. 

On my island, I am a quick-witted, charming woman who by and large, says the right thing at the right time. I am not clumsy and I am not entirely clueless. More importantly, as small as my island is and as fleeting as is my time on it, my heart seems to expand with much love when I am there. Every emotion is more intense and every minute more precious in that fullness. I know, I know, without a doubt, that I am alive, every part of me. And I know that I can live forever in that single minute. 

I am kind and I am generous. I am expressive and I am articulate. And yet, on my island, I remember how to be gauche and awkward and speechless, because I am awed, and I am shy, and I am swept off my feet. I know my lines and I recognize my cues. I can be wide-eyed, and I can be shrewd. And when the time comes, I can also surrender. Without consequences. On my island, it is safe to be alive. 

It is not so much my island that I love, as who I am on that island. I reinvent myself and yet, I am who I most essentially am. Indeed, the more I become that person that I love being, the more myself I am. And the more I love who I am—on and off the island. And that love is my island. Not a place, not a person, not a state—it is that gift of loving the me I see in the clear lagoon waters of my island that I treasure the most. 

And I am not a set of qualities and attributes. I am the things I say, the way I look, the way I look at things, the feelings I feel and the thoughts I think. On my island, all these are wonderful. Their wonderful-ness is reflected in the eyes of the wonderful people around me and what I see in their eyes is what my own eyes are reading—as in a mirror. I look, I turn, I look, I pat my hair, adjust my glasses, peer at my eye make-up and I see reflected my own self-love, "Yes," sigh, "I am wonderful."

Not vanity, not ego, not pride. Just a loving acceptance of my self. As it is. And the celebration that is that acceptance. 

I treasure my island. And return to it, again and again and again, in search of myself and that moment of self-love.

Every life should have an island. A place, a relationship, a context, a dress or a day-dream that provides a safe space for that self-love. And if you are lucky, and you treasure your island enough, the chasm between your island life on the one hand and your real life on the other, will one day disappear. You will find your island self is the one that lives your real life, and that the magic of your island life dusts the dross of your every ordinary day. But until that day, every life should have an island. 

Swarna Rajagopalan
East Lansing, 9-16-2000