When “getting away from it all” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

Just across the hallway from my B&B room here at Researcher’s Rest in Arusha, Tanzania, Ben’s office, where the router lives, is full of gear. It’s jammed against the wall. His office faces out towards the walkway where yesterday I filmed Mitch McConnell taking a stroll towards the driveway.

Okay, Okay, it was a tortoise. I had a hard time telling the difference. Still.

Researcher’s Rest is a lovely home built by two British women in 1996. They have since left, and Ben took over the management of it. The house is pretty much as they left it with all the dishes, books, furniture and dogs still in place. The grounds are lovely and quiet, which is in stark contrast to the bustling neighborhood. Arusha is Tourist Central for Tanzania, and one of the primary spots for those of us who love to see African animals, head off for safaris, and are getting ready to climb the great Kilimanjaro is this small B &B. The quiet grounds are ideal for tired bodies and those of us who need to sleep off our exertions.

Ben came here many years ago, to a veritable Paradise. He fell in love with Tanzania, its people, offerings, problems and all the rest. It’s easy. When you wake up early, you are serenaded by the most lovely birdsong, the temperatures are sweet, and the promise of safari excitement is very close by. No wonder he loves it.

He still had to work. He built a thriving business, E-Trip Africa, which has a well-deserved reputation for safety and excellence on the mountain and where they operate in Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda and the off-shore islands. I I’ve been out with his company four times and will likely be back next year.

I love Paradise. Like Ben. But also like Ben, I have to work. It’s just 4:30 am and I am up typing. While I’ve taken some time to relax with the resident aging dogs, I have to produce. That is, if I want to hang out in Paradise, at least part of the time.

So is it really Paradise if I’m working? Am I really getting away from it all if my computer’s still connected to the Internet?

Type Paradise into Unsplash and what you get are pristine sugarsand beaches, gorgeous waters, waving palms.

The implication is endless sweet days, Mai Tais by the pool or beach, empty hours by the hundreds to do whatever you want. Lazy long weeks and months and years.

Some would call that Paradise. A lot of folks who call themselves digital nomads have set up shop in Ubud, Indonesia, to do just that. However, even though the exchange rate is very favorable for the dollar, they still have to work. So by definition, if you still have to work in Ubud, a so-called island Paradise, is it still Paradise? And if you lose your home-based clients, and your outside income dries up, and you suddenly have to bus tables or clean hotel rooms for the local currency (kindly, I’ve had to do that), is it still Paradise, just because there are beaches and palm trees nearby?

Or did Paradise just get transformed into everyday drudgery?

In a place of perfect beaches, warm temps and no work I’d be bored to tears. The idea of doing little more than float the pool on your plastic donut in the blazing sun, cold drink in hand, would be awful for me.

As it would many of us.

But as with so many other things, it depends.

Part of the problem with “getting away from it all” is that the very places that millions of folks consider the perfect place to do that turn into teeming masses of tourists trying to “get away from it all.”

And of course, they “brought it all” with them. Turning Paradise- and here I might point to large parts of Bali in particular- into an unholy, stressful mess. Bali’s not alone. This is true everywhere the travel brochures edit out the crowds and show you flat-out fabulous spots, which are not only increasingly rare, but more and more of us have the money to go visit them. Good luck finding a postage-stamp-sized spot on the beach.

So, what and where, precisely, is Paradise?

First, if you love what you do, and I most certainly do, then work for me is an extension of my joy. Writing is who I am. It’s quite impossible for me to have an entire day when I’m not composing another article or thinking about angles to present ideas to my readers. It’s an absolute delight to write, and the feedback I get from my many readers keeps me focused and producing. While those articles are indeed labor, this is by definition a labor of love.

That is part of Paradise, as I see it.

If you’re imprisoned by school debt or medical costs or the density of a heavy mortgage, you’re unlikely to be as unfettered as I am and be able to traipse off and work where you wish. Still, I gotta work, like most folks. Travel can be very expensive, especially when you take into account that when you allow for the exchange rate, what you pay for food and souvenirs is often about what you’d pay at home. Even where it appears that exchange is terrific.

If you get a thousand x to a dollar, that may seem great, but if an item of clothing is tens of thousands of those x, suddenly you realize that you’re paying not only what you’d pay at home but also a luxury tax on top of it.

Second, if you experience work of any kind as a burden, then work by definition is an affront to your idea of Paradise. That may well be because you haven’t sorted out what you love to do. In Ben’s case, starting a safari business here is an extension of who he is. It’s also brutally hard work at times. The Tanzanian government can make white operators miserable, taxing them to death and with Byzantine rules and regulations. No matter where you live, if you work you still have to deal with the paperwork for your right to earn funds which pay for everything you have. Yet, he loves it enough so that the prices he has to pay to be able to do this are, well, part of the price you pay.

Ultimately, unless you’re independently wealthy or have a pension that has some heft to it, you and I still have to haul our own weight.

Even if you can afford to occasionally get away from it all to a place that appears to be Paradise, you aren’t away from it all if you pack your business and the attendant stresses right into the backpack with you.

Is Paradise all it’s cracked up to be? Is life really all that easy?

In the hilarious and darkly violent movie In Order of Disappearance (a Norwegian film about retribution) two not-so-bright Albanian drug thugs are talking about other countries’ quality of life. In places along the equator, one guy claims, “all you have to do is eat a banana.” There. Problem solved.

Um, well, sort of. That banana may be on someone else’s plantation, just as the millions of pineapples that line the road in rural Kenya belong to Del Monte. Might not want to make a habit of nicking fruit that someone else owns.

Besides. Just eating a banana once in a while doesn’t pay the rent or put the kids through school.

Except, clearly, if you want to stay in Indonesia, pay for a decent place to live and have food and go to the yoga classes, you have to produce something for somebody along the way, something for which they will pay you enough so that you can subsidize your lifestyle. You still have to pay taxes to somebody. In many countries you also have to hire locals, and manage a staff to justify your stay there. That’s quite common for those of us who want to be ex-pats (please see this book by Tim Leffel) have to jump through a few hoops to make that happen. If you don’t have some kind of income, you’re going to be scrambling to pay for that banana.

So is it still Paradise if you have to do all that and a whole lot more?

Today’s America was born in part out of Calvinist beliefs, and out of that sprang a work ethic that still dogs us today: you work your heart out, then you retire, after which you sit in a rocking chair and untangle fish line to keep your mind engaged until you die. Which is usually in a very short time. Because not having a purpose of some kind is a killer for many of us.

Yet we keep getting told that retirement means we can move to and live in Paradise and spend our final days and years playing golf, or bridge, or puttering around shopping.

Sounds like hell to me.

But that’s just me, and that’s because Paradise, by my definition, is a way of being, other than simply a place.

Having been born and raised in a state that many consider Paradise, Florida, I am no big fan of heat, humidity and long endless beaches. I like them, some, but these days I am having the results of those long days in the sun carved out of my skin. Those scars and dots have left me looking like a Dalmatian. I eschew the sun unless I’m out doing something epic, and even then I slather on the SPF. I much prefer an environment of dry or cooler air, high country and crashing waves that no fool would want to swim into. My kind of spot.

On top of that I just can’t sit for hours and days. Even here, I have worked all day every day during my break between the safaris and heading out to scuba dive on Mafia Island, off the coast of Tanzania.

It’s not just that I like my work. I need to work, because what I do touches lives. It’s not just income, and then by definition it becomes drudgery. I can see how what I do has impact, and how the things I write about and speak about move people. My stated life purpose, since 1985, is to Move People’s Lives. I can’t do that by doing nothing. I can only do that by living my passion out loud. Finding ways to put Paradise into my very being.

For me that is part of what Paradise means. This article in Psychology Today speaks for me. I need that purpose, which is one of the four legs of life’s stool which keeps us steady and happy (the other three legs are the right food, lots of movement and a loving community).

If you buy into the notion of heaven, well, look. To me, heaven sounds like one heck of a busy place (I was tempted to say hell of a busy place, but somehow that doesn’t quite track). God’s got his hands full with Sherri’s SAT tests, the birth of your first child, Sean’s asking for a Beamer, opposing sides of the same war are trying to convince Him to help them win, there’s the World Cup and the Super Bowl and all those bets in Vegas. It just never ends. The angels and saints are being pulled in eight billion different directions all the time, everyone’s praying, everyone’s kids and goats and sheep and foals and ant colonies needs looking after, and by the way a tsunami wave just appeared on the horizon so kindly, wouldja mind pointing me towards a boat? And that’s just Earth. There’s the rest of the entire Universe to look after as well, with all those dying stars and forming planets and new life and and and. And all those required heavenly appearances at the Intergalactic Commission on Keeping Earthlings from Trashing the Rest of the Known Universe (read, our Paradise).

Heaven doesn’t appear to be the place to go for a vacay.

He built it, now He has to manage it. Sounds familiar. My guess is that with all that work, He’s quite happy to conscript all of us into service once we’re assigned our personalized cloud.

If anything, given how stressful the place appears to be, I’d delay arrival in Heaven for as long as possible. But that’s just me.

I wonder if it ever occurs to anyone if God (and the saints and the angels and everyone else in that massive operation) have a place to go for R & R. Is there heavenly place for God to put His tired toes into sugar sand? Hang out under the waving palms? Get a tan for crying out loud (again, I almost said for Christ’s sake, but He’s already been down that road once) And if all those angels fit onto the head of a pin, is it as crowded as the Japanese rail system, and do the male angels pinch the female angels on their heavenly butts like they do in Tokyo, or is there room for them to throw down a towel and enjoy the bright sunshine while they take a break from watching over your newborn?

You get my drift.

It’d be a terrific Cosmic Joke (and entirely possible, just saying) if you and I get to the Pearly Gates, and the inimitable Saint Peter asks us, “So, how was your vacation in Paradise?,” meaning, our life on Earth, because now the really tough work starts up here.

Photo by Nghia Le on Unsplash

Holy shit Batman.

Getting away from it all, escaping the rat race, all those seductive ideas that are sold us in the travel brochures may be tempting. Too many of us can’t turn work off enough to enjoy where we are when we’re there, which means that even while the kids are frolicking in the waves, we’re negotiating the contract that we were supposed to have delegated to our managers.

That’s not Paradise. That’s hell. You brought it with you.

Just like when I travel, I take Paradise with me. It lives inside. It’s an attitude, not a place. Because while I love pretty places as much as or more so than the next guy, ultimately, it’s my state of being which allows me to absorb the beauty of my surroundings. Paradise as a place is utterly useless to me if I’m stressing out about an upcoming performance review, dropping sales or the coronavirus. Or I obsess that my Medium stats are dropping and OMG how do I get them back up.

That chases Paradise right out of your heart.

So where’s Paradise for you? There’s an island in your heartspace for it. You build it there, yourself. It’s that place to which you escape through meditation, when you are supremely joyous, and you are wholly Zen.

That’s what you take with you. Sometimes your external surroundings are like that too. But unlike a crowded Bali beach, your own personal Paradise has plenty of room, forever and ever.

Just be careful. You might get a reservation inquiry from God.

Photo by Ishan @seefromthesky on Unsplash