A Simpler Life

I’ve just finished reading a remarkable book called ‘Where Dolphins Walk’ by Doug Keehn, an airline pilot who has travelled extensively to Latin America and who lived, for 6 years, in Florianopolis, Brazil – a place of stunning natural beauty.

Florianópolis, the capital of southern Brazil’s Santa Catarina state, is made up mostly of 54km-long Santa Catarina Island. It’s famous for its beaches, including popular resort areas such as Praia dos Ingleses at the island’s northern tip. Its Lagoa da Conceição, a saltwater lagoon, is popular for windsurfing and boating. The Pedro Ivo Campos Bridge connects the island to a mainland commercial district.

The title of the book comes from the fact that of all the animal world, dolphins seem the most playful and happy creatures, living for the moment and savoring every second of it. When we see a school of dolphins, it lifts our heart and soul. We should all learn to live life like a dolphin.

The book is about Doug’s travels, the places he visited and his experiences there. As a travelogue, it is fascinating reading but that is not what makes the book, for me at least, so inspirational.

What Doug discovered, and writes about so well, is the realization that one doesn’t need to be rich or successful to enjoy life. Indeed, in many of the places Doug writes about, the people that he met are abundantly poor, which might seem an odd turn of phrase, because those two adjectives shouldn’t go together, but while they have no money they are rich in making the most of life, taking time to smell the roses and spending quality time with family and friends instead of, as we in the West do, rushing from one thing to another and never stopping long enough to get much more than a superficial pleasure that quickly disappears into the vast recesses of our mind.

I’ve always been driven, and have also never been afraid of failure, so I’ve consistently taken on more work than I should and have, often, struggled with the workload but, somehow, I’ve managed to get it done, However, in the process, I’ve also come to the realization that I haven’t taken enough time for myself or those close to me, and while I’ve been fortunate enough to live life on my terms, living around the world (Germany, the Sultanate of Oman, Costa Rica and the South of France) at different times, experiencing different cultures and learning the native languages, I haven’t, in all honesty, made the most of those experiences.

Of those experiences, Costa Rica stands out in my mind, because the frustration of not being able to get things done in a timely manner or at all, and the other daily difficulties, got to me. Doug’s book made me realize that I should have accepted all of it as just a part of life, and that I shouldn’t expect other cultures to adopt the Western way of doing things.

If I had been able to embrace that philosophy, I might still be living there, in a state of contentment, but I wasn’t able to and, after 18 months, returned to the US where we have instant gratification in so many ways. Costa Rica is truly a beautiful country and I loved much of it, but couldn’t get past the frustrations, that loomed so large in my mind, and which I now see as nothing more than an opportunity to accept things as they are, not as one wishes they should be. The Costa Rican motto is ‘Pura vida’ a pure life and we should all adopt it.

In the US, where I’ve lived almost half of my life, people rarely talk to one another and striking up a casual conversation with somebody you don’t know is often met with suspicion and rejection. One gets the feeling that people are afraid to interact because there might be a catch or an ulterior motive whereas, for me, I just like talking to people and hearing their stories. Now, I will say that, for the most part, people that I talk to do respond but I’m also sure that my English accent is part of the reason for that.

Much of what I do, professionally, involves a lot of complexity and requires out-of-the-box thinking to solve technical/business problems but once I’ve solved a particular problem, I then really have to dig in to simplify the solution. This process has taught me that it is almost impossible to get to simplicity without going through complexity and the same is true of life. You can always get to simplicity but you have to really want to and that is, in my opinion, where we so often fall down; we don’t want it badly enough.

How often have any of us bought something, on a whim, and then regretted it afterwards because we didn’t really need it? I know that I’m especially guilty of this especially when it comes to gadgets; so many of which are sitting in the bottom of a cupboard somewhere never to see the light of day.

Have you noticed that when you do want something really badly, it generally happens? I believe that there is a flow of energy that floats above all of us; I call it the superconsciousness and no, it has nothing to do with God or religion – it’s simply the universe and we are all part of that universe. When our desires become focussed and imperative, it opens a channel into that superconsciousness and the results manifest themselves. Yes, it might sound a bit ‘woo-woo’ but it’s not dissimilar to setting goals – the focus is the thing.

We live an unconnected life where far too many people are only concerned with what you can do for them rather than who you are and “What’s in it for me?” Is so often the unspoken question. Acts of kindness should be done with no thought of reward other than to be happy to help. We are obsessed with money and celebrity, of getting ahead no matter what the personal cost.

Whenever I go out to eat, I am saddened when I see families out together but all spending time either playing games or texting people who are somewhere else. Entire meals go by without anybody saying a word to anybody else at the same table. What happened to conversation? Is it a dying art in the same way as good manners are now considered to be a sign of weakness instead of proper upbringing. Many people, in the US especially, seem to think that being rude is acceptable behavior. Teaching children the difference between right and wrong and punishing them when they overstep the boundaries is considered antiquated. Kids will be kids, they say, but what these parents do not understand is that, in the workplace, no employer will put up with temper tantrums and the like, so what hope do many of these undisciplined children have? They’ll go from low paying job to low paying job, never succeeding and living lives of quiet desperation. Is it any wonder that the suicide rate keeps climbing?

Our lives are rushed from the moment we wake up to the moment we fall asleep. We rush to work and, occasionally, rush home. We rush out to lunch or to get a cup of coffee at our local Starbucks, where the coffee is over-roasted and bitter; not to mention expensive.

At any time, you will see dozens of people standing in line waiting to order or to pick up their order and then they rush off. Sone of those people are so rushed that the slightest delay will put them in a bad mood. Is that any way to live? Doug and I don’t think so; we prefer to sit and enjoy our coffee. What is the worse that can happen if you take a few extra minutes to savor the moment?

Life should be about balance; of learning how to stop and smell the roses; of enjoying the company of friends and family; of deep conversations on meaningful subjects, and being open to other peoples points of view; not necessarily to agree with them but being able to discuss them without hostility, as is so often the case. Civil discourse should be the norm and not the exception; nowhere is this more true than in todays political climate.

When you are open to other ideas, you may learn something; when you are not, all you are doing is compounding your own ignorance.

‘Where Dolphins Walk’ is about that balance and how we, any of us, can achieve it. I found the book truly inspirational and thought provoking and I strongly recommend that you buy it, read it, learn from it and then share it with the people that you love. Take the journey; it may not take you out of your home but it just may improve your life.


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