You may have noticed that I haven’t posted any blogs in the last couple of weeks. I have been away on holidays to a place described by many as the most beautiful place on Earth – Aitutaki in the Cook Islands.
This small island, with an area of 17 square kilometres and a population of just over 2,000 people, is set in a beautiful turquoise lagoon, surrounded by a coral reef. Waves from the deep blue Pacific Ocean continually crash against the reef, causing an ever-present background roar on the side of the island closest to the reef.
We spent our days exploring the magnificent lagoon from on the water, in the water and beside the water. We commenced our nights marvelling at the spectacular sunsets, and ended them in awe of the starlit sky.
We made a pact that, on our return home, we would tell everyone what a horrible place it was, so that it would remain our little secret. One of the attractions of Aitutaki is its slow pace. Maximum speed on most of the roads is 40 kilometres per hour. There is no television, and very little mobile phone coverage. It is easy to completely unwind. We would hate to see this beautiful place developed beyond recognition.
However, another one of Aitutaki’s attractions is its wonderful, friendly, people. As many of these people are reliant on the tourism industry, we owed it to them to break our pact.
Although most of its inhabitants are Polynesian, one of the friendly people we met was an expatriate American, who was one of the very few foreigners to be granted permanent residence there. He told us that during his 18 years on Aitutaki he had returned to America a couple of times, and whilst there, people always asked him what he does on the island. He said that he always tells them that, on Aitutaki, you don’t do anything, you just be. He said that very few understood what he meant.
I certainly understood the concept of just being, but it was only after my return to the rat-race in Australia, that I understood why it was so easy in Aitutaki.
In Aitutaki, we spent a great deal of our time admiring God’s handiwork: the multicoloured turquoise lagoon, the sparkling clear water, the deep blue ocean, the many and varied fish, the seabirds, the hermit crabs, the night sky, the sunsets. What this meant was that our senses were all engaged in the present moment. We weren’t thinking about what had happened or could happen at work; we weren’t thinking about who was killing who in some part of the world; we weren’t worrying about anything.
We certainly had no need to worry about the traffic: there wasn’t any. There were no emails to respond to, no phonecalls to return, and no bad news.
The people of Aitutaki are devoted Christians, and their devotion paid dividends as well. They reminded us to appreciate, not only the beauty which we had noticed, but those things which we usually take for granted. Before every meal provided on our lagoon cruises and island buffet dinners, they remembered to thank God, not only for the bounty of food he had provided, but for bringing us all safely to the island, and for our safe return. They were grateful for every small blessing in their lives, and this attitude of gratitude began to rub off on us all.
These people could never take any of the material things in life for granted. Because of their isolation, with supply ships arriving only every two weeks, and then always dependent on the weather, there is no guarantee that what they can get today will be available tomorrow. Shortages are common, and some things are non-existent. They learn to make do and adapt. They learn to take pleasure in the simple things in life: family, a game of football, the sea. They learn to appreciate all that God has given them, and they learn to appreciate God.
After I returned home, I started to wonder how I could maintain the joy I had experienced in Aitutaki, as I do battle with the chaos on a multi-lane highway, or the bustle of a crowded supermarket. I knew that the people of Aitutaki had given me a number of great lessons:
• Appreciate the simple things in life.
• Remember to thank God for everything.
• Don’t worry; be happy.
But I had also had some other great lessons:
• Get out in nature.
• Notice the beauty around you.
• Live in the present moment.
On a couple of occasions in Aitutaki, I caught myself thinking, and then singing the words: “Heaven, I’m in heaven”. My challenge to myself and to you is to use these lessons to find heaven in our current every-day reality.