I've been thinking a lot about paradise lately, especially since I've just returned from a place that spoke so loudly of it, I have to call it Paradise, as in, capital P Paradise.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to be able to find paradise when you're smack dab in the middle of it, namely, the big island of Hawaii, easily one of the most exotic places on the planet.
Hawaii has something for everyone and in spades. Within a time span of about four hours, (give or take) a person could go skiing at Mauna Kea, the island's largest volcano, and afterward catch up on their tan while riding some serious waves at Hapuna Beach. And in between, they could visit a rainforest, bathe in the tide pools at the base of a 3,000-foot waterfall, and go hiking over the lava fields near Kiluea. OK, most people probably wouldn't attempt to do all these things in one day, but if someone really wanted to, and if they got an early start, they easily could.
At the end of 10 days in Paradise, my blessings cup was full and running over. Watching the sunset from 14,000 feet at Mauna Kea in the company of my most dearly beloveds, I was moved to tears by the majesty and the beauty of it all.
Playing amateur astronomer for a few hours while gazing at the stars through the telescopes at Mauna Kea's visitor's center, I saw that Saturn really does have rings just like in all the photos and identified the constellations I learned in 4th grade science class. I felt like a tiny, insignificant speck in the universe, yet connected to it all. I saw that I was the stars' future, for their light traveled millions of years to reach this point in time where I could be the observer.
Sitting next to the pilot in an eight-passenger helicopter, hovering over Kiluea's bubbling cauldron of red-hot lava, then flying deep into the keyhole of Weipeo Vally just to see a 3,000-foot waterfall, I once again was moved to tears. How could anyone be so blessed as I in that moment? What did I ever do to deserve such bliss?
I could go on. Every day was a new opportunity to experience the joy of being in Paradise. And most of all, to not only be in Paradise, but to be there in the company of my dearly beloveds, it was all beyond the pale. But all too soon, it was time to leave Paradise and return home.
Back at home, I noticed myself wanting to prolong the experience I'd just had. I wasn't ready for it to be over. My heart was still back in Hawaii, as if keeping that experience alive in memory could somehow buffer the reality of the everyday world, which while a not a bad place to be, lacks a few of the bells and whistles I'd just experienced.
Or did it? I began to wonder, what is this thing I'm calling "Paradise"? Is it a physical place, or is it more a state of mind? With that inquiry in mind, I began to look around my life with the intention of discovering Paradise, not in the exotic, but right here in the ordinary, everydayness of it all. And guess what? I found it! And what's more, it's always been here.
I've discovered that Paradise is a state of mind in which the observer gives one's self completely over to the moment. Body, mind, spirit, and soul -- all align in a moment of "exquisite recognition," pure presence and a conscious appreciation of being alive, right here, right now.
Looking out through the sliding glass doors of my kitchen, I discover paradise right outside my door. There on my deck is a riot of color, geraniums and hydrangeas that I've watered and nurtured and are now taking off like gangbusters in the warmer weather. The winds that blow across the San Francisco Bay and sweep across my deck might just have traveled from Hawaii to get there. The sun I watched set every evening in Hawaii and the moon I watched rise there are the very same sun and moon that entered into an annular eclipse last Sunday evening, visible from my deck.
The truth is, every moment has this potential seeded within it, for paradise is what we bring to the moment through our willingness to open and be receptive to the beauty that is already there.
It's far easier to receive beauty when one is removed from the distractions of the everyday world. This is why we take ourselves on "vacations," to escape the mundane and enter the realm of imagination and magic. In other words, to enter the landscape of the soul. Paradise is soul territory.
Minus the demands of the mundane, the sublime is always waiting to be discovered. It's always there, right under our noses. That we have a greater challenge accessing the sublime when life calls us to the ordinary does not negate the greater truth; the riches of life accompany us wherever we go. Paradise is in the eye of the beholder. Seek and ye shall find.
Here are five things to keep in mind when searching for paradise right where you are:
1) Being present is not optional. It's mandatory. If you want to access all the glory and magnificence of each and every moment, it will require that you show up fully, totally and completely. Wake up, show up and sit up. Then watch what happens.
2) Listen to the silence. When we are truly connected to what is, words are not necessary. In fact, they often get in the way. So stop the chatter and become still. Paradise speaks in a language all its own. It requires our full focus and attention. In the silence, we can hear the song that beauty sings.
3) Love what is before you with all your heart, mind, and soul. It's all there, it's always there, bathing you in its glory. Yes, even in those moments that appear to be scary or filled with conflict, in their very midst, if you open your heart to it, Paradise is serenely waiting for you to come to your right mind and receive its blessing.
4) Gratitude is the great turbocharger. Life is always showering us with abundance and goodness. It is we who erect the barriers that make us unavailable to it. When we're in gratitude, the doors open, the barriers fall and we avail ourselves to even more of what we're grateful for. Spend time in gratitude and I dare you to be unhappy.
5) Go for the gusto . Life is a coat of many colors. Some of them you'll have to seek out beyond the edges of your comfort zone. Take that helicopter ride, trek down to the bottom of that valley, eat that strange thing you've never eaten, take a leap of faith into the unknown and discover what awaits you. Learning, growth and joy lie beyond the realm of what is known. Or as Julia Cameron wrote: "Leap and the net will appear."
It's easy to recognize paradise in the exotic, like Hawaii. It's a bit trickier, but also very doable, to recognize it right under your nose. But you have to have the eyes to see, the ears to hear and the heart to feel it. Oh, and the soul to let you know you've hit pay dirt!
Maybe Paradise is recognizing that who you are is already perfect, created from the same "star stuff," as Cara Sagan says, that makes up the universe and everything in it.
Perhaps Paradise is simply coming home to yourself and loving what you find, warts and all. Or maybe it is recognizing that home is wherever you are. That after all, is the soul's destination. For as long as it takes for the light of a star to reach your eyes, that's how long the soul has been on its journey back home to Paradise.
What is your take on paradise? Where do you find it in your everyday life and what is the most exotic place you've ever visited and found yourself awash in glory?
Please do leave a comment below and/or come and visit me on my personal blog and website at Rx For the Soul. For personal contact reach me at email@example.com.
Become A Fan and be notified when new posts appear.
Aloha and blessings on the path,
For more by Dr. Judith Rich, click here.
For more on mindfulness, click here.
HuffPost Lifestyle is a daily newsletter that will make you happier and healthier — one email at a time. Learn more