When deciding on where to take a vacation, I somewhat spontaneously chose Hawaii. Though, I wouldn’t be surprised if my subconscious was yearning for the ocean breeze and exposure to the sun. Almost all of my prior major travels were motivated by exploring a new urban area or foreign culture. The only exception, and a notable one at that, was my trip to New Zealand & Australia. When I visited Greece, I steeped in ancient history and feta cheese. South Africa was an immersion experience that made clear the virtue of frugality and that social change is much like most tectonic collisions: it’s a grand vibration. Southeast Asia reminded me of the frenetic energy of developing Asia and the impact of colonialism and war.
Big Island was different. To start, Big Island has a small resident population (187K) so the influence of nature is greater than that of its people. Big Island is surrounded from all directions by the Pacific Ocean, so even when you’re driving in-land, you’ll likely see the immensity of the ocean through your dashboard. The reason I picked Big Island rather than Mauai, Kauai, Oahu, or Honolulu, was because it’s the largest island (all of the other islands can fit inside it) and has 10 of the 14 climates that exist on earth, which means that I would get to have a diverse experience on the island by not going driving very far in any one particular direction. So, off I went…
And while all of it was beautiful, it was also terrifying at times. Many times, I felt like I had no control over my physical reality. The fact is that I don’t, really, even in San Francisco or New York. But, in densely populated cities you live among man-made structures and routines which make you feel like you’re in control. The police control your safety, work controls most of your time, routines between the gym, home, doctor’s visits, and restaurant dinners with friends control your well-being. All of these processes occupy your attention and give the impression that you are in control. But in Hawaii, though we had an itinerary to follow with sights to see, places to stay and eat in, my illusion of control was quickly dismantled. When an ocean wave hits your body, as it breaks on the beach, you’re weightless and being carried by the tide. Eventually, this became playful although initially, it felt frustrating. As a non-swimmer, I kept thinking, “why can’t I *just* stand-up??”. However, the point of playing with the ocean is not to replicate the circumstance that we enjoy on land: to walk, to keep your eyes and mouth open, to be *dry*. The point of playing with the ocean is to let it carry you through an alternative experience.
The ultimate test of my awareness of my futility in fighting the natural world and its chaos was administered during my last day on the island. While I was walking into a restaurant for breakfast, I received an alert from the Hawaiian Emergency Management Agency that said:
It was like one of those moments in movies when the protagonist’s vision is fixed on a focal point with all else blurring and going mute. For the 38 minutes that followed the accidentally sent alert, I was grasping mostly for understanding.
Is this really happening? Am I about to die? What should I do about my family? Can I go somewhere for shelter? Is my consciousness about to end?
Maybe the desire for control is motivated by a lack of understanding about the consequences of a lack of control. Is my entire world held up in its current shape and state because of the effort that I exert? Some of my observable reality is a product of my effort but a significant share of it exists independent of me. This means that even when I am able to change the state of some variables, I have to operate within the bounds of my local environment. That is to say, I have little control, by design.