The first time I ever heard about Byron Bay was about a year ago.
I was having brunch with friends on a sunny outdoor patio in Beijing and met a guy who just finished travelling across Australia.
I told him I always wanted to go to Australia. He looked at me and smiled, “if you ever go, you have to go to Byron Bay. It has amazing beaches, surfing, mountains, waterfalls, hippies…” As he spoke, I visualised a small town of laid back people with sun-kissed hair and bronze skin biking to the beach with surfboards under their arms. I figured it was a small, hidden place that very few people heard of, like the utopian island in the movie The Beach. I pulled out my phone and typed “Byron Bay” in my notes to Google later.
Almost two years later, I finally made it. It’s definitely not a secret town that very few people know about. It’s a major tourist destination for backpackers doing the East Coast. Despite the fact that it continues to receive so many tourists, it still somehow holds on to its small town, hippy charm. There are little sunny roads covered in potholes as people bike to the beach holding surfboards under their arm. There are cars with dream-catchers hanging from the rearview mirrors and ‘save the ocean’ stickers stuck on their rear windows. There are people who bathe in waterfalls and practice playing their didgeridoo or fire throwing techniques. They wear second-hand clothing and walk around in bare feet; they have bronze skin and messy, sun-bleached hair. They talk about saving the environment and the cool new things they bought at the farmers’ markets. There is just something about the energy of this place that somehow disrobes us from the hustle and bustle of the nine to five life and reveals a way of living that operates on a slower, kinder and more peaceful frequency. People walk slower and smile to each other, they get around by hitchhiking. They trust each other.
“There is just something about the energy of Byron Bay that disrobes us from the hustle and bustle of the nine to five life and reveals a way of living that operates on a slower, kinder and more peaceful frequency. People walk slower and smile to each other, they get around by hitchhiking. They trust each other.”
I was lucky enough to find my regional work at a yoga retreat in Byron Bay. In order to get a second-year visa in Australia, we need to complete 88 days of specified work in a regional part of the country. As you can imagine, I won the jackpot in terms of regional work. Many people become fruit picking slaves or are stuck in the middle of nowhere nannying a bunch of wild, feral children. I got to spend my time in a peaceful yoga community surrounded by the most unique, authentic, and self-aware people I’ve ever met. I lived in a tiny little caravan with two other girls, did yoga nearly every day, ate delicious vegetarian food, sang my heart out at kirtans and spent my evenings dancing to drum circles on the beach. It was the most supportive and healing environment for me to be in. Everything about these past three months has been so good for me, especially living in a close-knit community with all my friends. I can’t remember the last time I felt such a deep sense of connection and belonging before.
One thing I observed throughout my time here is how uncomplicated and simple it is for humans to feel connected and supported. I would watch groups of retreat guests come and go, all of them spending hundreds (sometimes thousands) of dollars to take a break from their busy lives to reconnect with themselves; to be surrounded by nature and sometimes even connect with others. Some arrived looking tense and guarded and left looking visibly lighter and happier. I found it interesting to see that something as simple as being in nature, practicing yoga and sharing meals with other people has now become an expensive luxury for human beings. The way we connect to each other in the modern world is so different nowadays. We can be on a beach in Australia and facetime our family back home, or we can scroll through our friends facebook photos of a recent vacation they went on without having to ever physically speak to them about it. But with this we’ve lost the real-time connection we used to share with other human beings before Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg changed the way we socialized. We were not designed to sit in front of computer screens to communicate with other human beings, we were meant to do this face to face. We are social animals, we don’t do well in isolation. We thrive when we feel a sense of belonging. Our detachment from others amplifies our loneliness and often leads to depression. It’s no wonder there has been a rise in mental illness. Western societies have become so overstimulated by technology and disconnected from the human experience that we are willing to fork over thousands of dollars to revert to a much simpler time; a time when we shared meals together, sitting by a fire and connecting with each other. Isn’t it strange how it’s brought us back to our most basic human roots? I suppose being here has made me realize how much I needed this and how many others out there could benefit from it too. Particularly if they are struggling with a mental illness. It doesn’t always have to be as immersive as living and working on a yoga retreat either. It can also be in the form of building a little community garden, taking part in local events, or volunteering for your local community centre. There is also a great app called MeetUp where you can find and meet other people who are interested in the same things as you.
“Western societies have become so overstimulated by technology and disconnected from the human experience that we are willing to fork over thousands of dollars to revert to a much simpler time; a time when we shared meals together, sitting by a fire and connecting with each other. Isn’t it strange how it’s brought us back to our most basic roots?”
Although I’m sad to leave this place behind, I’m so happy I experienced it. Living and working with people my age who enjoy deep unguarded conversations, are open and honest about their struggles, and who constantly strive to be better versions of themselves has been so healing and transformative for me.
I may not know where exactly I’m going from here, but I do know who my kind of people are and the type of lifestyle I want to lead from now on. The rest will fall into place. My heart has expanded by being here, it’s made me a better person.
I’ll never forget it. Til next time Byron!