Heron Island: Finding Peace in Nature With a Digital Detox
Around eight months ago, I left home for a six week trip around Australia and New Zealand. Whilst I had been talking about the idea of travelling on my own for some time, the decision to actually book a flight and go was made quite spontaneously one evening after work. Two weeks later, I found myself on the eve of my journey and frantically questioning my decision to go. It seemed to me to be a completely pointless exercise. None of the traditional reasons that young people go travelling were particularly appealing to me: I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing far-flung places, meeting different people or having new and exciting experiences. My interests have always been the kind of things that can be explored from the comfort of home: I like music, literature, history, religion. But there was undoubtedly some undefined thing about travel which deeply appealed to me. I knew that I was not at peace with the life I was living on a day-to-day basis, and there was something very romantic about the idea of leaving it behind and going far away by myself. It was an idea that fed off of my deep thirst for freedom, and I knew I would regret not exploring it at a time in my life when I had virtually nothing to lose. And so, with very low expectations and more than a few doubts about what I stood to achieve, I set off.
I knew immediately that it had been the right decision. Within the first few days I was feeling entirely differently about my situation in life, as though I was seeing clearly for the first time. I felt that I was at last being true to myself, and presenting myself to the world as the person I felt like inside. I spent the first week staying with friends in Adelaide before spending a couple of days in Sydney and doing a two-day trip to Uluru (Ayers Rock). I then spent about 5 days in Queensland’s Whitsunday Islands, where I saw some of the most beautiful scenery I have seen anywhere in the world. By this point I was approaching the half-way point of my trip, and the initial feeling of having finally discovered what it was that I was lacking in life had by no means worn off. But as I boarded my flight out of the Whitsundays – heading for Brisbane – I was entirely unaware of how deeply affected I would be by the next leg of my journey.
The following morning, I boarded a flight to the small mining town of Gladstone. From here, I travelled by catamaran to Heron Island, a coral cay situated eighty miles off the coast. I had relatively high hopes for this place, having read a fair amount about its natural beauty and abundant wildlife. I arrived in the late afternoon, and it quickly became evident that I would not be disappointed. Accommodation came in the form of immaculate wooden bungalows, and the island itself was every bit as stunning as I had imagined. Sat on my veranda on my first evening, surrounded by trees and birdlife, I began for the first time since arriving in Australia to feel the initial ecstasy of travel wearing off. But rather than being replaced with the familiar feeling of emptiness and confusion that I had known at home, it was replaced with a kind of peace and tranquillity. I felt entirely detached from the troubles of the human world and some kind of silence seemed to fall upon my mind.
Over the next few days I spoke only briefly to a few members of staff at the resort, and apart from those few occasions I was alone with my thoughts. And yet, for the first time in my life, my thoughts were few and far between. There were no televisions and was no mobile or internet coverage on the island, and I firmly believe that the ‘digital detox’ was as significant to my experience as was the natural beauty of the setting. I had been to beautiful places before, but without any distractions my mind was for the first time able to focus fully on the beauty of the environment around me. I spent the days wandering the white sandy beaches, occasionally leaving my bag beneath the shade of a palm tree while I went snorkelling amongst the colourful fishes and corals (Heron Island is located on the Southern Great Barrier Reef, and a huge variety of tropical fish can be seen only a few metres from the shore). In the evenings, I would sit on the beach and watch the incredible sunset before making my way back to my bungalow.
Finding Peace in Nature
I spent my week on Heron Island in a sort of semi-meditative state. My days were repetitive and my mind was still. Without even trying, I was able to adopt a level of mindfulness and self-awareness that by far eclipsed anything I had known before, or have known since. In the late evening, I would write; and the process felt unusually natural and unforced. I was grounded and focused, and both my mental health and my creativity flourished.
When I look back at my time on Heron Island, I often think about what I there learnt about myself, and about human life generally. In human – and particularly in Western – civilisation, it is popular to consider life by analogy with a journey. So many of us are caught up in the illusion that there is something to achieve or to attain. We sacrifice our mental and physical health in pursuit of greater material wealth, and then spend our material wealth on things that we hope will rejuvenate our health and happiness. We sleepwalk through life because it is easy and safe, but in so doing we forgo our one precious opportunity to be fully awake. We worry and fret about things that have no meaning, and we squander our only chance to create real meaning by enjoying the present moment. The experience that I had on Heron Island is now in the past, but the memory of it has made me certain of that great truth that underpins most of the world’s religions and spiritual philosophies: that the kingdom of God is within us, and that each of us already possesses everything that he or she truly needs to find peace.