Another day begins on my favourite slice of paradise; otherwise known as Gili Air – So much of The Banyan Tree was written on this special little mound of white sand that protrudes out of the Lombok Strait with grace. Adorned with coconut trees and banana plants, she smiles a golden smile back at the imposing silhouette of Mount Rinjani ; the crown of Lombock, seen from across the bay.
As always it takes me a while to readjust to mini island life, after stepping off the fast boat from Padangbai on mainland Bali. The habitual polite word of ‘Suksama’ (Balinese for thank you) slips from my tongue far too easily for the first day or so, until enough of the locals put the word ‘Tampiasih’ (the Lombokian equivalent) into my mouth and bring it once again to the forefront of my daily vocabulary.
Irwan, the friendly manager of my preferred place to stay, kindly brings my habitual banana pancake along with the best coffee he can muster without a decent coffee machine; but all is imperfectly perfect as my neighbour Sarah can be seen walking through the lush garden. We had become accustomed to meeting for breakfast most mornings, enjoying coffee conversations of life and how to live it.
She looks a little nervous as she makes her way to the table sat beneath the overhead canopy of banana plants and exotic birds. It was a look I recognised all too well as she pulled her chair out and reached for the breakfast menu. She resembled someone with a mind that had travelled too far into the fresh new day, subsequently losing herself in an ocean of ‘should-be-doings’; as she planned her whole day from the comfort of her neighbouring rustic hut.
I ask her if she is ok, as I watch her nervous body language; brought about by over thinking and planning. She starts to talk about an imagined, imminent Tsunami…
“What would we do out here on this small island?” She asks with a pale look of fear in her eyes.
“I would rather be wiped out by an epic tidal wave in the tropics; then dying under a bus whilst crossing Oxford Street in the heart of London.” I reply with a smirk.
We sit there for a while laughing together at the imagined disaster…Before long her body language changes once again, as her need to plan her whole day pushes the panic button deep within her mind.
Momentarily she smiles as she successfully manages to source some powdered creamer for her coffee from a passing member of staff. The sachet of supplied condensed milk is quickly tossed aside as she goes about stirring the powder into her average coffee (sorry Irwan). As for me, I sit there in fascination of this beautiful woman reflecting back to me the way I used to be.
We laugh at random things happening in the small gardens surrounding the dining area as our Lombok coffee slowing diminishes into a tick slush at the bottom of our odd coloured mugs.
Suddenly Sarah hits me with her extensive list of things to do today. Snorkelling, bike riding and walking around the island are just a few of her intended things to do in the following eight hours before our arranged meeting at sunset to enjoy a Gin & tonic or two on the beach.
I ask her to stop in a compassionate voice, as I don’t like what her relentless planning is doing to her body.
“What do you mean?” She asks with a look of confusion.
“What would you like to do in the next hour?” I ask politely.
Sarah pauses for a while and takes a deep breath; as though surrendering to the idea of picking just one ‘doing thing’ from her extensive wish list. I guess her once fast moving corporate lifestyle had trained her to be a planner in her career, but somehow it had merged into her private down-time.
“I want to walk around the island, taking pictures as I dip in and out of the ocean.” She replied with a smile before continuing; raising her voice as she did so.
“Oh! I think I’m beginning to see what you mean.” She added as I begin to speak…
“Yeah Sarah…Just live hour to hour and see where your day takes you…I guarantee you by 2pm you will have changed your mind, rendering all of that planning useless and a waste of time and energy. Do you know what I mean?”
I tear out a specific chapter of The Banyan Tree that seemed to be written just for her in that moment.
“Here! Read this after an hour of walking.” I murmur in a compassionate tone as I witnessed how ready she was to try to introduce the changes that took me so long to manifest in my own relentless life of ‘should be doings’.
Six hours later, I make my way to sunset point on the western strip of the island. I decided to go earlier than usual due to the cloudless sky. I knew if I arrived too late, all of the neon coloured beanbags set before the ocean would be taken. Half an hour drifts by effortlessly as the sun makes it way closer to the surface of the ocean causing a golden glow on the water.
Suddenly I hear an excited voice approach from behind.
I had never heard Sarah swear in the time that we sat together in conversation. At that moment I didn’t even recognise the voice as her’s as I turned my head in a startled fashion to greet her beautiful smile and excitement.
“I’ve had an amazing day.” She adds as she hugs me before taking the beanbag I had kept occupied with my daypack and camera.
She went on to explain that she had stopped to drink a watermelon juice half way around the island; and decided to read the portion of The Banyan Tree I had given her whilst swinging in a hammock.
“I cried in a way I have never cried before – Really I was sad at my stupidity of not seeing things so clearly before…But please don’t be sad; I’ve done nothing but laugh since.” She added playfully as our drinks arrived.
“I ended up taking a random right-turn into the centre of the island and met this young girl who was keen to practise her English with me – She went on to invite me to a small settlement to meet her mother and cousins – I spent the whole afternoon there…It was a humbling experience to see how they lived; and it made me think…A lot. I realised I’ve been in a rush my whole adult life; and your chapter showed me how to peacefully drift into the NOW.”
Experiencing Sarah’s freedom-filled smile in that moment and throughout dinner made the journey of writing The Banyan Tree worthwhile. To see someone who is willing to learn and grow transform before you very own eyes is an amazing experience….
I heard from Sarah just before christmas 2016 as she wished me a happy birthday. She informed me that her life seems to flow effortlessly since that day; and she constantly reminds herself of the lesson she had learnt from living in small increments of time rather than her miserable but safe life of planning.
Stay tuned for the launch of The Banyan Tree…..