In the bestseller, The Book of Secrets, author Deepak Chopra states that, “The greatest hunger in life is not for food, money, success, status, security, sex or even love from the opposite sex…it is for transformation: turning fear, aggression, doubt, insecurity and emptiness into their opposites.” Indeed, this transformation is what I came to Moorea for and what I believe I found, at least a little, in this South Pacific outpost.
Moorea is the baby brother of Tahiti, an idyllic island in French Polynesia where everyone knows everyone else and life remains deliciously slow. Like many of its neighbors, Moorea is essentially a set of huge, volcano-formed mountains surrounded by shallow turquoise waters. It is covered with flowers of virtually every possible variety, including twelve-foot tall wild hibiscus that share the unending sunshine with papaya, mango and avocado trees. With a single road encircling the island’s 37 mile perimeter and few conventional trappings of civilization, the overall effect is a lush tropical paradise where birds, fish and humans live in harmony.
The island’s great natural beauty is, I believe, a critical part of its inhabitants’ happiness. A growing body of clinical research has established a firm connection between nature and mental health. More frequent exposure to nature via activities such as walking or hiking has been linked to increased brain activity as well as improved moods; in fact, brain scans have actually revealed a difference in the areas of the brain that are active in people who have regular exposure to nature compared with those who don’t.
This may help account for Mooreans’ happy-go-lucky nature. Pass a stranger on the street, and he greets you with a smiling “Bonjour!” or “Iaorana!” Drive around the island at just about any time of day, and you’ll see groups of Mooreans gathered to swim, picnic or just chat outside, relaxed and happy to be together.
In that way, the island reminds me of Langkawi. Although the Malaysian Geopark is larger and more cosmopolitan, its rolling hills and ancient rainforests similarly seep into the souls of its inhabitants, so that those who are lucky enough to reside there are as transformed by the island’s great natural beauty as the Mooreans.
It doesn’t take long to feel these effects. All the considerations of my normal routine – ongoing emails, deadlines and dinner plans – quickly pale in comparison to the majesty of these dramatic green mountains and the endless ocean that surrounds them. The awe and wonder I feel at the greatness of this place is overwhelming and constant; I have to keep from gasping, “that’s so beautiful!” each time I turn and look in another direction.
But I am a visitor here for just a week, searching for meaning to take home with me. I visit the gift shops for a few trinkets, but what I am really interested in are the pearls of wisdom that will transform me – those things I can learn here that will change me, even in a very small way, to bring me closer to the person I wish to become.
So here is what I have concluded. It is something I have known all my life, but Moorea reminds me that it is true and it is important. Beauty is vital. We must have it if we are to be happy. We can live without it, but that life will not be nearly as rich or satisfying as if we do have it. Beauty may be different things for different people, but we all know when we are in the presence of it. It is not necessarily expensive, because there are many places, like Moorea, where it is available to everyone, free of charge. It’s just a matter of opening our eyes and seeing it.
By Alison Kritzer