This is the story of a perfect night. It’s also a story of acceptance, or at least the process of it. It was our third night (out of nine) on T’ouranou, the beautiful boat that our friends Rhonda and Rhiannon invited us to sleep, eat, and dance on as we sailed through
the Aegean sea, visiting tiny Greek islands, fighting sea sickness, and learning to respect the will of the wind. The group consisted of friends that were ultimately brought together in some way or another through our master’s program as well as myself and my best friend, Simran (who was a new-comer to the group but clicked instantly with everyone). Rhiannon was our fearless and knowledgable captain. She had planned to show us the smaller, less touristy Greek islands and the wind had stranded us on the first island, Milos, for two days. Although the water was rough and we hadn’t yet left the island, we were so content. There were many cats that still needed to be doted on and more pastries that deserved to be savored on Milos before we headed out for the next island.
Rhiannon and Rhonda had told us about a beautiful limestone beach (Sarakiniko Beach) and suggested we head over to swim, roast dinner on a fire, and witness that night’s full moon. Unfortunately, two members of our crew were unable to join as there was a miscommunication, but we brought them in our hearts. It was only a short walk (roughly 50 mins) to the less windy, Northern coast opposite the tiny town where we were docked, Adamantas. We were stunned by the beauty of this beach and as us humans say: words or pictures won’t do it justice. We arrived with enough daylight to explore the beach, swimming with the fishies, jumping off of a limestone cliff that seemed like the end of the earth into the pure blue sea (cheering each other on as we braved the descent), getting lost in an interconnected system of carved caves which smelled like piss but were otherwise a surreal delight.
At some point during this time, I started noticing the familiar physical sensations and mental loops of anxiety creeping into my experience. As usual when this happens, an initial reaction is to think: Please no one notice, please no one notice. So I kept quiet and tried to let another part of myself engage with the others and enjoy the night.
As the sun set, we began to roast dinner on the fire and waited for the moon to make her presence. The beach quieted down and many of the others left, leaving just our little group huddled up against a tall, stark white cliff. Rhiannon talked about the Neolithic Period and how it is believed that early humans at that time often stayed in tight-knit groups of roughly a dozen people.
This group of people would sometimes be the only ones they would encounter throughout their entire lives. She made parallels between the human experience at that time and our own on T’ouranou. We discussed this idea. This boat, this adventure that we had all dedicated ourselves to gave us this special bond, made our friendships grow in a unique way over a short period of time, forced us to build a community that would otherwise not be possible in the “real world” where we have to schedule intimate meet-ups around dentist appointments and learn to juggle them with a vast network of other friends and acquaintances.
We saw the moon’s light begin to emanate over the edge of the white canyon. We could tell the moon would be in sight soon and Rhonda told us about a tradition in Japan in which they clap upon seeing the full moon. This idea filled us with delight and we began clapping, one at a time as the moon came into each of our views, until she radiantly exposed herself to all of us and we broke out in an applause. Who knew something as simple as clapping at the full moon could feel so magical, fun, and right. A few of us walked up the hill to get a better view. By then, the limestone canyon was so bright, flashlights seemed absurd. My best friend, Simran, and I stood at the top of the hill alone. We hugged as we looked at the giant cheese in the sky, and without words I could almost feel her say: I see you. I love you. I’m here. She asked if I was ok and I told her in a few words that I was feeling anxious. I didn’t think the others suspected that I was going through anything (at least my anxious mind hoped more than anything to fly under the radar), and at that moment, it felt both good and scary to let someone know, to say it out loud. Not to discuss it, not to have a shrink session or a cry, but just to acknowledge it as fact.
After walking back down and enjoying the fire for a while longer, a few of us decided to strip off all of our clothes and experience the bioluminescent algae in the water that was still warm from the long-gone sun. The algae glowed around our toes and fingers as we agitated the water and laughed like children. We still had a perfect view of our new applauded friend both in the sky and reflecting off the water and she helped us see through the clear water to the bottom where she danced. I remember being so anxious. Staring at the fire. Arching my neck toward the moon. Swimming freely and bare through clear water. Through all of it. And I remember being so angry at myself, thinking: This is the perfect night, why are you so ungrateful? Why are you ruining this for yourself? Just be here NOW. Breath.
Just. Be. Happy.
And any other positive thinking slogan I have consumed over the years. But another thing I have learned in reading about anxiety and (slowly) through personal experience is that fighting yourself can sometimes only strengthen your panic. Of course it’s useful to employ strategies to calm yourself down and it is crucial to have a wide range of these strategies at your disposal when feeling anxious, but guess what: Sometimes it’s ok to admit you don’t have complete control. Sometimes it’s ok to be in a beautiful place with beautiful people and know that you are making lifelong memories and still feel like shit. Patterns of anxiety and unhealthy thoughts are like strong currents that pull us under, and sometimes fighting those currents only leaves our limbs so tired that we are unable to swim to shore. I had to tell myself that feeling anxious during a beautiful moment doesn’t make me ungrateful and it’s these kinds of judgements and unwillingness to accept what is that creates this sense of ungratefulness and rejection of the moment. There is great power in knowing that we have control over our own attitudes, thought patterns, and even our own physiology, but I would argue that there is also great power in saying: This is where I am. It hurts. It’s scary. It’s happening. And, damn, the moon is still so bright and beautiful.