Finally, after a disconcertingly long time, he moved. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Interestingly, his body was doing the same thing.
Unbeknownst to John, every day as he entered the water for yet another lengthy look at the natural Disneyland below, he was getting stronger.
The warm water was buoying not only his water and his spirits, but also his health. All the time he was focused on nature, his body could turn its attention to the business of building strength. The more he moved gently in the ocean, the more he looked at the coral and the fish, the more his body improved. He was moving, swimming gently, pushing himself just a touch further each day. Without even knowing it, John was getting the best possible therapy.
In medicine, this is called distraction therapy.
When the body is distracted from anxiety-inducing pain signals, it can do a far better job of healing. As an article in Science Daily describes, the body uses distractions as way of re-routing the pain signals that we invariably receive when injured.
The idea of distraction therapy has been around a very long time. Most of us instinctively try to find ways to distract ourselves from the pain of a wound or even an emotional hurt. Often, the two may be paired, as an aging body, subjected to the trauma of surgery, not only deals with the physical pain, but also emotional pain. We realize we aren't as young and supple as we used to be.
That can, at times, lead to depression and anxiety, which have significant negative effects on the body. That can make it hard to heal. That's why being distracted—especially being in a place of such beauty that we hardly have a moment to think about what ails us—can actually do us far greater good than being in bed. Or most certainly, taking prescription drugs. The body has plenty of natural drugs that are released when we make an effort (like gentle snorkeling) or are supremely joyful (as in exploring Raja Ampat).
All too often, modern medicine proffers a pill instead of a walk in the woods, when in many cases, that walk in the woods, or in this case a swim around the coral, may be far more effective. As the Ombak Putih ventured further into the jeweled islands of Raja Ampat, John's body quietly healed, left to its own devices. As he explored the world under the sea, he also explored his joy. He lived to the fullest from the rose-tinted dawns to the spectacular orange sunsets. The calm nights on deck searching for, and finding, the Southern Cross. Standing on the deck of the Ombak Putih, either in quiet conversation, or thoughtful contemplation, touched only by the breezes that lifted the curving waves.
John spent less time thinking and worrying about recovery, and just explored. Meanwhile, Nature did her work.
In so many ways, when we encounter Nature, we are also encountering the deepest regions of ourselves. There is no CGI character that can possibly replicate or be more compelling than the brilliant fish, corals and cephalopods of the deep. To float perfectly still in the presence of a fever of manta rays is to experience wonder, because you are right there, sharing the same water. While it might be compelling to watch a similar scene in Aquaman, it simply isn't the same as floating a few feet away.
When we get far enough away from the demands of our devices, the world of work, the anxiousness of a world devoid of trees and birdsong, we regenerate. Scientific studies now demonstrate that silence, true silence (such as found in Nature) can relax us and improve memory. It can create a body state more conducive to healing.
By the end of the trip, John, ever the showman, treated the guests and crew to a rendition of "The Warthog Song." The song tells the story of a poor little girl Warthog at the fancy animal dance. She's dressed up, made up, and done what she can to hide the fact that she's an ugly warthog. All around her, the dazzling giraffes and lovely zebras are taking center stage and laughing at her.
Finally, in tears, she runs for the exit, and nearly bowls over a handsome male warthog just removing his evening gloves. He stares, surprised that she would try to hide who she was. Then he whirls her away onto the floor, assuring her that there's a perfect, lovely little warthog beneath all that makeup.
As John sang for the smiling crowd, there was none of the physical hesitancy that had marked his first appearance on the Ompak Putih. He was no longer struggling to get up the ladder. He was moving with youthful confidence and grace again. As he belted out the lyrics, John gestured in that practiced, professional way of a natural performer, with grace, enthusiasm and joy.
As John said in his goodbye speech to the crowd,
"Look at me now." Hugging his daughter Jen, "Look at us now!"
John's SeaTrek adventure was far more than just a gift for himself, his health and his daughter. His uninhibited joy was a gift to everyone else on board. He has gone on to more adventures in the world, rejuvenated and energized. At last check in, he was exploring India, in his typical unstoppable fashion.
When we can get out of the way of our bodies, our own minds, Nature works wonders. Especially when we are in a state of wonder, rather than wondering when the pain will stop.
Perhaps the next prescription you should fill is a trip. Not to the doctor. But into the depths of Nature, who can work her own medicine.
SeaTrek Bali Sailing Adventures runs a fleet of two sailing ships regularly throughout Indonesia. They specialize in small groups, expert-led themed tours, ranging from exploring the last of world's dinosaurs (Komodo dragons) to viewing the exquisite Bird of Paradise in full plumage, dancing for a mate.
Julia Hubbel is the author of two books, a prize-winning journalist, and adventure athlete. Her primary interest is in adventure sports in the farthest reaches of the world, learning about indigenous cultures and discovering the last of the world's pristine places.
All photos by Jeni Kardinal except where indicated.
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The Shape-shifter and the Architect - Tony Robinson-Smith
Diving into Timor-Leste - Michael Buckley
Kayaking Around Specks in the Ocean in Belize - Tim Leffel
See other Asia travel stories from the archives
Books from the Author:
Buy WordFood: How We Feed or Starve Our Relationships at your local bookstore, or get it online here:
Buy Tackling the Titans: How to Sell to the Fortune 500 at your local bookstore, or get it online here: