by: Tara Ruttenberg
as he contemplated his footing high up on the rocks, curiosity alight in his focused eyes, i saw him at once as a little boy and as a grown man. and i couldn’t tell if i was looking at him as a young girl or as a woman, stretching my body backwards across a sun-warmed boulder, staring up at the sky between the leaves. i closed my eyes for a moment in sheer gratitude and felt the cool drops on my bare skin before the sound of his splash reached my ears. he came up grinning and i smiled back in acknowledgement before he climbed back up there to do it again.
we were three at the secluded swimming hole, venturing into the natural caves created by the river flowing between two solid cliffs, rock-walking and testing our strength against the current of the rushing waterfall. we were brothers and sister playing in the woods, or we were native hunter-gatherers from a forgotten past, celebrating the gifts of Mother Earth and cleansing ourselves in her waters, or maybe we three were forbidden lovers living out an exotic jungle fantasy - the stuff erotic dreams are made of. in those moments, when the seconds lost themselves in the flow of the falls, we were all of those things and all of those souls all rolled into one, all wrapped up in the same speck of space, the same tick in time. it’s a feeling you can’t express in words, a glimpse of the divine you might experience a few times a year if you’re lucky, maybe a few more if you surf, maybe all the time if you’re a wandering nomad. it’s you and it’s nature and that’s it. and it fills you up like nothing else possibly could. and in a few breaths it’s over: a tingling sensation, a fading memory.
“it was awesome…” we’d say, returning back to the group, showing them a few photos from our mini-adventure. they hadn’t experienced it with us this time, but they knew the feeling. i had seen it in their faces in the sea a few days before, instantly renewed after an exhausting hike, bobbing in the waves, ducking under the whitewater, feeling and being completely present to each other, to the water surrounding their bodies, to the breeze at their cheeks, to the sand at their feet. i think this, more than any other part of the trip, is what brings me the most joy to observe. in those instants i stop being their teacher or their tour guide or their surf buddy. i embody something so wholly unique and wonderfully meaningful: i am the Purveyor of Awesomeness, offering a forum for evoking a sense of oneness and connection to both humankind and nature, getting to share the gifts of this magical land and her beautiful people with strangers i can now call friends. it’s this unwritten unspoken in the job description that i cherish and love the most.
experiences like these connect us so deeply to those we share them with that it becomes almost comical to think that we have only known each other for a few days, since the connection we now share has punctured deep beneath the surface into the spaces where our inner child resides, where our true self reigns and rejoices. we feel closer to one another than we might feel even to some of our oldest friends, roommates we’ve shared all our secrets with, perhaps even partners and certain family members whose roles have become so common in our lives that they seem almost superficial in many ways. the stale commonplace of our daily presence in each other’s lives has grown ordinary as we go through the motions of living near and with one another but rarely take the time to ask the messy questions with the long answers and seek out the transformative experiences that connect our souls. and it’s this loss of connection with those who once knew us best and those with whom we’ve shared the most time that makes it so intriguingly strange to feel ourselves so intimately bound to these new friends whose existence was all but irrelevant to us just days before. these new friendships, while perhaps quite temporary in time and space, indeed make us wonder: maybe it’s not about how long we’ve shared, but about what we’ve shared that determines the depth of our relationships and their potential to help us learn and grow and become. by awakening us to our deepest and truest selves, these new friendships and the shared experiences they embody allow us to remember and renew who we are from the inside out in ways that old relationships and the patterns we’ve fallen into might not.
i contrast this reflection with the way i’ve lived my life in Costa Rica for the past few years, now that the newness has worn off and i’ve made the transition from tourist to resident. nowadays i can’t be bothered to go on the crocodile tour again with friends of friends visiting for the week or have dinner with a cute surfer from Venezuela i meet in the line-up on his last night in town. what would be the point of connecting with someone new only for them to disappear forever the very next day? i’ve become so resolved to placing meaning only in relationships with people whose permanence in my life seems somehow guaranteed that i’ve closed myself off to the potential of fleeting friendships with strangers - the same strangers, i’ve now realized, whose presence may be a divine gift of shared transformation and soul-level connection. now i’m in a panic of regret – have i missed out on half a decade of personal growth and endless depth of oneness with all beings by not engaging with tourists in all of their adventurous and transient glory?
and the most irrational part of all is that when i start feeling stuck or i notice life and relationships getting stale, my go-to solution is to take a trip somewhere, go off the map for a few days, become a tourist again myself, surf some new waves, strike up some unique conversation with some unfamiliar faces. i have to leave town to find fresh experiences to feed my soul. could it really be that everything i’m looking for when i take off to somewheresville is actually right there in front of me – in the smile of any and every tourist on the street?
and that’s just one side of it; it actually gets even more embarrassingly simple (or bafflingly common, depending on how we look at it). in all of my seeking outside, jumping from place to place to such an extreme that i have been able to see and visit so many different places and friends (experiences i still wouldn’t trade for all the tea in china), i have consequently and quite effectively prevented the need for deepening any friendships with the people i already know in the places i call home. i’ll give fifty cheek kisses at the local surf contest every Saturday afternoon, many to people i see all the time but whose names i don’t even know and whose life story i’ve definitely never dared to learn, yet i can count the number of close relationships i have in this town on one hand. so not only am i seeking depth and connection by travelling to faraway lands to engage with strangers when i have a plethora of said strangers in the form of tourists in my very own reality, i also shy away from the potential to connect on a deeper level with the people i have shared a common community and lifestyle with since i was 19 years old. what the hell is going on here?
is it that i assume i know everything there is to know about these people because we’ve lived on and surfed the same stretch of shoreline for the past 7 or 8 years? am i too lazy to make a new friend or too content in my teeny tiny bubble of everyday life that it doesn’t even cross my mind to invite someone new over for dinner or find out what makes someone tick? or are we too far past the point-of-no-return acquaintance-ship that we can’t entertain an updated version of our mostly comfortable distant relationship? or do we take what we’ve heard through the grapevine about each other at face value, making a quick judgment on who we choose to engage with and who we cast by the wayside without even getting to know one another? am i alone in asking myself these questions, or are we all thinking and doing the very same thing every time our neighbor comes home and we barely acknowledge each other’s presence? or when we can’t find anything good to say after the how-are-yous are exchanged, effectively signaling the end-all-be-all of our every conversation? why do we even go through the pleasantries?
is it perhaps that our lack of shared past prevents our deeper connection in the present, thereby limiting any possibility for true depth of friendship? or are we just too hesitant to even go there? or have our lives in tropical paradise grown so routinely mundane that we forget to create the experiences that will help deepen our relationships and renew our oneness with nature, self and others? is it not enough that we share this irreplaceably unique moment in time in such a small geographic space that we might wish to seek some semblance of closeness to those around us? why is it sometimes easier to develop a deep connection with someone you’ve never met than to deepen the connections with those you’ve known for years?
why is it, that in seeking experiences of oneness, we often feel the need to leave our present reality in search of something new and different? when perhaps, if we look a little closer, try a little harder and open ourselves a little further, we might just find what we’re looking for in the people and places we constantly escape on our endless journey to finding our truest selves. and while complete strangers can quickly become friends through shared joys and tribulations, long-lasting depth in relationships takes a little more oomph and commitment, requiring us to renew and strengthen our existing friendships, maybe through inquisitive, thought-provoking conversations or shared experiences that challenge us to grow and evolve as people. if this type of deep connection is what many of us are seeking, how do we get there from here? can we find ways to connect with each other so that we might connect with ourselves a little more in the process? and at the same time, can we connect with ourselves enough that we are able to take those important first steps to finally reach out to those around us, fostering a shared sense of community as a result? and in that sense, can we all be the Purveyors of Awesomeness for ourselves and one another?
...i like to believe we can.