How I Learned To Do Nothing

29 September: Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Maybe part of doing nothing is zooming in on moments and singular experience rather than the spectacle of events or days.

The moments of today feel much like those of past days: breakfast was the same, the pathway leading to the beach was the same, and the sand was the same. Instead of feeling more familiar, though, the beach seems to be much more of something today. The waves talk louder, the sun beats down harder, and the rock formations are grander. From my seat back here, the ocean is a blue-green colour and just past the buoy boundary line, it becomes the shade of a summer night sky just as the sun has set.

Not gradually. It’s a sudden change between the pleasant turquoise-ish and the dark indigo that makes you guess at how deep it must be. The waves along the sandy ocean entrance are loud and consistent and make thunking noises when they hit the jagged rocks that shoot straight up out of the water. The bar at the back of the beach is playing Celine Dion on repeat and I can hear it from my wooden recliner where I watch a family of five drag themselves out of the waves. I was unwilling to spend my Pacific time with three children under ten, so I take advantage of the empty ocean and place my untouched book next to the (now) empty beer bottle in the shadow under my right hip. The sand is hot under my feet and it hurts on the 20 or so meters to the water, but I still walk slowly. Sprinting into the waves is for girlfriends, boyfriends, groups of friends.

The water feels cooler than yesterday so I start to swim before I really need to, if only to find some relief from the sun. Doing a full circle of my view, I notice that there is no one else swimming in this little bay, and no one as far out as I can see. A dozen boats dot the edge of the horizon. Tiny. Too far away to really disturb the view.

There’s something powerful about being in the ocean alone.

The sounds are yours, unchanged by the sounds of other swimmers. The rhythm of the waves is yours. The space from there to there, cliff to ugly cliff is yours. So I take it. I tread water ungracefully and watch the sun and water dance together on my kicking legs. I swim over to the edge and over some rocks, cut my finger on a particularly sharp one, and swim back out again. Every now and then I look back at that horizon, thinking about how far away from home I am, but how okay I feel with leaving everything on the other side of the Pacific. And then I drift again and think about nothing; just how nice it is to have my body willingly governed by the waves. But then I look down at my hands, pale and prune-like from the saltwater, and slowly creep out into the sunlight.

And, once again, I’m doing nothing.