Breaking down in paradise

woman looking sad on holiday, breaking down
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Sometimes a moment in time is captured for ever. A split-second that changes everything.

One minute I was cruising up a river in the rainforest in a dugout canoe in South America, the next I felt a sharp crack. Taking a quick intake of breath, I looked around me expecting pandemonium. But almost more to my horror I realised everything was just as it was a moment ago, it was me, an internal shattering of my system that left me sitting speechless wondering what an earth had just taken place.

Have you ever had such a moment when reality seemed suspended and you experience some kind internal breakdown? I have since talked to other women who have had similar experiences. It seems to occur when we stop.

Perhaps we have been really busy or stressed and then we go away on a retreat or a holiday. We may wind down a bit and then something seems to crack inside. A woman approached me recently after a talk ‘That happened to me in the Himalayas’ and said, and told me her story.

I had been living in Venezuela for a year with my husband. it was stressful, we had experienced some unusual and dangerous situations. Work was rather challenging and we had taken a trip out to Canaima where the highest waterfalls in the world come crashing down from a kilometre-high ridge. Canaima is a place only accessed by air. There is a simple air strip hidden away in the rain forest, a place that would go down in history as Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘Lost World’.

If it was possible to describe paradise I would start with Canaima. The mountains or Tepuys rise up from curtains of rain forest set apart from each other like islands reaching up into the sky. These stand-alone mountains have vertical sides that would be almost impossible to climb. Only the very adventurous would attempt such a feat. The sheer rock reflects the light and when the sun comes through the mist, rich shades of browns and reds glisten with such boldness you want to stand back in deep admiration. It was here that I found myself in a dugout canoe on the way to the Angel Falls.

As we climbed into the boat my thoughts were on the day ahead. Such an adventure to trek through the rainforest to see the spectacle of the waterfall and hear its thunderous tone. We had travelled a lot in South America and had many adventures, but this place was the most extraordinary of the lot. We set off at speed with the engine on full throttle, but as the journey continued there were times when we travelled at a slower pace and were able to experience the full magic of the place.

Monkeys jumped from tree to tree as we passed by, making the branches brush the water’s edge. Parrots squawked and we listened to all kinds of unfamiliar sounds around us. It was just like one imagines a south American rainforest to be.

Perfect, magic, full of wonder. And it was at this point when I looked paradise in the face that my internal struggle took over.

I was a very troubled person finding it difficult to cope. I suffered with bad anxiety. In that split second it seemed that the two could not co-exist. Paradise and panic are not great bed fellows! And something broke with a crack inside me.

I had no choice then but to return to Ireland, where my home was at that time, and start to sort myself out. I began on a journey of self-development that has taken me to where I am today with very little anxiety and a peaceful life. When I work with women who are full of anxiety and struggling to cope, I look at them with warmth. They may not be able to see a way forward, but I can. I know there are ways to find stillness and peace because I cracked once in the middle of a river in a rainforest and I found my way out.

Penny Gundry
About the author

Penny Gundry is a coach and facilitator working with professional women to find stillness in everyday life. Penny is the author of the book Glimmers of Light Dancing; A Fable for Our Times. She has a wealth of experience and is asked to speak regularly at events throughout the UK. Visit Penny's website Stillness Practice to find out more.

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