I love noticing the subtle effects on my consciousness when I arrive in Nosara. Sometimes they’re not the ones I expect.
This is the Nicoya Peninsula, after all, one of the world’s five Blue Zones, where life expectancy is longer than anywhere else on earth. Freshly arrived from congestion-filled cities, we want the sea and air to begin cleansing away our stress and toxins, pronto. Maybe we’ve got a week here, maybe 10 days – we need each moment to yield a tangible payload of relaxation and healing.
Of, course, the body has its own ideas. It always does – that’s part of the lesson taught by this peaceful corner of the world. Although this is my third time in Nosara, I always need a day or three to adjust to the warm temperatures, to the new compliment of microbes — even to walking around without socks. (My pink city toes recoil every time they touch a stray leaf. Thanks, Canadian winter.)
I remember the morning I realized something had finally shifted. I woke and looked at the clock: 5:23 am. Normally, I need to be dragged from my bed in Toronto at 9:00am, but on this day I was preternaturally awake. I sat outside and watched the opalescent dawn creep into our yard. I had no earthly idea what to do with myself.
Meanwhile, my partner Jeff, a man who has trouble sleeping at the best of times, had for the past three days been sweetly slumbering 9-12 hours a night, oblivious to my early stirrings. What was going on?
Part of what we learn in a special place like Nosara is to listen more closely to the body’s quiet voice. The one we’ve spent years drowning out with coffee, screens, social media, and socks. Bit by bit, we re-align the mind’s frantic excursions with the body’s felt experience. And the body, in turn, attunes more to nature’s external rhythms of light and temperature. So the chirping chorus of birds and earlier sunrise was telling me it was time to get up. Meanwhile, Jeff’s body was telling him he was sleep-deprived, and his mind had the space to finally listen.
This is one of the underlying draws of this special place. It’s not just the sun and surf – it’s the way our bifurcated selves feel more whole. Since the Ancient Greeks, Western culture has prided itself on dominating body and emotions with the mind. That is part of what is making us chronically sick.
Here, my mind seems to listen to my body rather than the other way around. Ignoring my body’s need for restful sleep in favour of yet another late night of answering email seems obviously perverse. As I relax, the whole body-mind system entrains to the rhythms of nature all around, the tides and moon and sun, my inside in harmony with outside, not insulated from it.
My name is Sarah Barmak. I’m one of two writers-in-residence here at The Harmony Hotel, happily here for a few weeks in late Feb through March. The other is my fiancé, Jeff Warren, the aforementioned slumberer and, as an author of a book on consciousness and also a meditation teacher, may have a few common-sense things to say about the mind and body.
JEFF: I like what you wrote, although I think I was asleep when you did.
SARAH: You twitch and grunt in your sleep like a beach dog.
JEFF: It’s funny, if you spoke to a neuroscientist about this, you would get mostly bemusement at any notion of a separation between mind and body. Cartesian dualism is seen as an outdated and pernicious fiction that needs to be overcome. And yet, there are few things truer in our direct experience. Although the separation of mind and body may be a kind of folk construct, only someone who is hopelessly lost in their head would actually not notice that there are at least two different but interconnected systems operating in our experience. The Israeli psychologist Daniel Kahneman argued something like this in his mega-bestseller, Thinking, Fast and Slow.
SARAH: I write about the same thing in my book, Closer: Notes From the Orgasmic Frontier of Female Sexuality. Only the context is slightly different, since that book’s subject is sex. When comes to female sexuality, women’s bodies and minds often get two different signals.
JEFF: Evolutionary psychologists, with their modular view of the brain, argue we have dozens of competing systems, some with clashing agendas.
But anyway, my point is, if you never notice that the mind can have a different agenda in the body, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble. As a meditation teacher, I work with a lot of poor souls who can’t actually stop their looping and compulsive thought tracks. Their bodies are crying out for peace, for connection, but the mind is so desperately trying to secure itself that it no longer knows how to let go.
SARAH: I know how they feel. It’s always hard to know what to do when yoga teachers say, “Let your thoughts go.”
JEFF: What they mean is “Let your thoughts come and go.” You don’t want to stop them – you just don’t want to be owned by them. You want the ability to get perspective around your greatest neurotic hits.
SARAH: Well, I see the bigger part of health as no longer fighting with yourself. In your words, bringing as many of these systems as possible into alignment.
JEFF: Yes me too. Mind-body-world all flowing together, part of a seamless whole. That’s the contemplative ideal, anyway. It can happen this way, but it takes time. There is a curious delay between mind and body. The mind gets an idea – a new habit it wants to form – but the body is slow to follow. And, once the body does get into a habit, it is slow to change.
SARAH: This is a very egg-heady start to our blog. Everyone, the point is: chilling on a beach and listening to your heart is good for you. Time to take a yoga class, my love.
JEFF: Or surf.
Jeff Warren is a writer and meditation instructor. He is the author of The Head Trip, a travel guide to sleeping, dreaming and meditation that many critics enjoyed, although his mother thought it was too long. Jeff is teaching his acclaimed 7-part meditation course, The Way of the Consciousness Explorer, at Harmony Healing Centre in March, Wednesdays from 3:00pm-5:00pm and Saturdays from 1:00pm to 3:00pm.