Every morning while I was there, I would get up, and before breakfast, before asana, before I'd even brushed my teeth, I'd open the cottage door and walk down the path to the gate and just stare. The feeling was... really hard to articulate. It's like a kind of shrinking/flattening/squeezing feeling in your chest. The air feels so free and clean, but the gravity also feels so powerful. I would just stand there with my mouth hanging open and feel. There was seldom language in the feeling; all I know now was that I was contemplating flight and falling, air and earth, Vata and Kapha.
Here are some pictures, but they really don't do it justice. I don't know how to offer you the physical sensation in your body of wanting to fly, or to be absorbed into rock, or to hurl yourself over the edge of a cliff, just to notice how it will go.
Senses are powerful tools, and sensations are powerful experiences. I am the person who gets tired and then irritated when I don't eat on time. I cannot abide the texture of water chestnuts in my mouth. Whenever I hear "Let's Hear It for the Boy", I stop what I'm doing and sing along every word. Carmen, by Georges Bizet gives me goosebumps.
Also, I can absolutely remember the tightness in my chest and behind my eyes when my parent would shout at me, and the icy fear that gripped my lungs when they closed the casket on my granddad and I wanted to shout that they should leave it open, otherwise he wouldn't be able to breathe in there.
Sensation is a big deal, and often it rules us: our hunger, our lust, our disgust or fear. It drives us to respond to stimuli that may or may not be truly present. How often are we, on a given day or week, flooded with a sensation and responding to a sensation that may not be real? How often do we snap at a colleague or family member, or at a perfect stranger, because they've jumped on our hair trigger? Or maybe we spend our lives in a perpetual state of avoidance, defensiveness, reactivity.
It happens to me more often than I'd like, probably more often than I know.
One thing that I practice doing on my mat is feeling. I put myself into an unusual, or very usual, shape, and I take note of what sensations lift up and announce themselves. I try to make this process as nonverbal as possible, to keep feeling out of the thinking space, but it often drifts there anyway. There's a lot that competes for my attention, and in the way of the meditation teacher, I coax my awareness back to present sensation like a puppy learning what it is to take a walk.
There was a lot of quiet in Thira (or "Fira", the real way of naming Santorini). There was little internet and even less phone convo, and all the space gave me the chance to tune into sensations. Not that the sensations were particularly subtle. I mean, look at that water, look at that hulking mass of volcanic rock. I spent almost a week on the inner rim of a blown-up dormant volcano. The earth, the water, the sky has a different kind of pull on you in a place like that. Just ask Hawai'i.
The tricky part in all that feeling is knowing what sensation is real, what is indicative of something you should do, and what is just a sensation masquerading as a catalyst. I don't know if waking and sleeping, walking and eating, loving and arguing, if doing life on a caldera, on the edge of a broken mountain, is actually different than doing it in a flat-plain metropolis, or if it just feels different. Vacation always feels otherworldly. And yet, our bodies are still made of the same fluid and sinew, water and air and space, and unless or until we start interplanetary vay-cay, we're still on the surface of a big, blue, (rapidly overheating) rock.
I know this feels a little wandery. Just a meditation on travel, and if you've read this far, I'm grateful. Travel is so formative for me that I'll probably be thinking and writing about it for a while. I'll try to keep it fresh.