(This is Part 2 of my Summer in Iceland post. Click here for Part 1!)
Sometime at the end of May, I found myself on a ferry, making my way from the Snæfellsnes Penninsula to the West Fjords, the most remote region of Iceland…
After traveling the entirety of Iceland’s Ring Road, which took me on a journey around the whole country, it was time to settle into the second half of my trip: a month in the tiny, isolated town of Þingeyri. Þingeyri (pronounced “thingeyri”) is located along the coast of the fjord Dýrafjörður. The terrain was as wild as wild gets: towering mountains seemed to shoot straight out of the ground, cliffs dropped off into the ocean, and a thick milky fog drifted in and out of the fjord with the tide.
I immediately fell in love with Þingeyri.
The clean smell of the water, the stillness, the wildflowers…
…the little cafe (which I would soon learn is the only place I could get the internet in the whole town) and its oat milk lattes…
…and the house where I would live for the next month, with the people who would become my family…
There was infinite space for creativity and art. This was the first time in my life that I had a time and place solely alotted for pushing and exploring my creative boundaries.
Something that became clear very early on was the role that time would play in my experience. Throughout my road trip, although the sun was indeed never-setting and things were generally free-form, I still had to operate on some sort of schedule. I would have to sleep and wake up at a certain time in order to catch a bus, start an activity, etc. Once I settled in Þingeyri, the term “freedom” gained a whole new meaning.
With the persistent light of the midnight sun and the lack of most other signals to indicate the time, the concept of minutes, hours, and days became less and less significant. My house’s clock was broken (the hands moved, but with no rhyme or reason. I couldn’t even tell you how long I spent trying to find the pattern), the town only had a few shops that opened and closed (most of the store owners seemed to run on their own schedules anyways), and my cell phone was long dead. With the absence of most anything that could give me an idea of the time, I found myself in a state of simply being.
I slept when I was tired, and when I wasn’t, I didn’t. There were a couple of instances when I was trying to figure out why I felt so gross, only to realize I’d been awake for days. Time was just that: something that passed in the background and mostly kept to itself.
“A hike at 2am? Why not?”
“What time do you wanna go for a run?” “Umm… once this rain stops, I guess.”
“I’m hungry. I guess I haven’t eaten for a while.”
Being able to exist in a such a unique way really got me thinking – how much does our physical environment shape the way we think and feel?
I have a feeling that the landscape we live in is a lot more intertwined with our mentality than we might think.
One thing that I had been noticing from the time I first landed, was that Icelanders seemed to put less emphasis on schedule. Buses were consistently late or early, places stayed open long after closing hours simply because everyone was having a good time, and mealtimes seemed to drag on for hours with everyone laughing and talking around the table. In a grander scheme, teenagers seemed less pressed with their futures. One villager, I met while in Þingeyri, was a seventeen-year-old aspiring blacksmith. He told me, quite nonchalantly, that yes, he was in school, but he was in no rush to finish. “I’ll finish when I finish,” were his words.
Is this attitude a result of the non-coherent days and nights? While in the summer, the sun never sets, in the winter, the sun never rises. It’s a schedule that goes against our circadian rhythm, and everything us Americans know. Does this disconnect between nature and our bodies lessen the significance of time?
One memory that’s forever etched into my brain is when my good friend Spencer and I climbed the nearby mountain Sandafell in the middle of the night.
The sky was painted with a brilliant pink and blue haze, and from the top, the valley looked like a giant bowl of fog. It was other-worldly.
Once we reached the summit, we laid down in the moss and listened to the white noise of the universe for god-knows how long.
Time had long abandoned us. I felt like I was floating through an alternate dimension – a space that I could stay and rest within as long as I wanted. I remember the persistent thought that this is what life should be: a series of moments where nothing else matters.
While in Þingeyri, I practiced yoga and meditation (almost) every day. I think the main thing I initially struggled with (and eventually learned to overcome) was the idea that we are not obligated to engage every thought. Giving attention to every little thing that pops into our head is draining, and often unnecessary. In meditation, it helps me to think about thoughts as passing clouds rather than something that demands my energy.
At first, this was extremely difficult. It’s human nature to engage the thoughts that come into our minds. But, really, I found it freeing to simply let things pass. For instance, if I’m in meditation and I hear a bird chirping, my initial thought might be to try and figure out what kind of bird it is. How far away is it? What is it doing? My analytical brain automatically wants to create a story surrounding that bird sound. But, what I learned, is that instead of doing that, I can just take the bird sound for what it is, register that, yes, I heard a noise, and then let the thought pass. For me, that’s what clearing my mind means. It doesn’t mean that I don’t have thoughts, it just means that when I do have a thought that strays from the present moment, I untether myself and reel my mind back in.
There’s a quote that my tour guide from the first portion of the trip taught me that really resonated with me. “Distance makes the mountains blue, the men mighty, and the sheep clean.” This saying seems to go perfectly with the principles of meditation. Perhaps, sometimes things are better when simply observed from a distance. Not everything needs to be approached or contemplated too deeply.
It must have been some combination of the meditation and the strange flow of time, but I think, for the first time in my life, I experienced true peace. There were spans of time when I truly, completely felt the calm that comes with simply existing. I found peace in watching the lupine bloom into a purple wonderland over the course of the month. I found peace in watching the fog roll in and out of the fjord. I found peace in the hazy yellow glow of a solitary street lamp.
Among the times of peace, there also came disturbance. Having such vast time for introspection, it was only natural that I came across powerful emotions and aspects of myself that was never forced to sit with before. Coming face to face with these feelings was difficult, but in the end, I’m so grateful that I was able to give grief and anxiety the attention that I probably should have given them long ago.
While this trip taught me to embrace solitude, it taught me to love human connection even more. To draw closer, to see behind walls… I felt more intertwined with the human experience greater than myself than I ever had before. The countless late-night talks into the morning, the tearful breakdowns in the (overcrowded) bathroom, the shoulders that I learned to lean on.
Overall, this trip, particularly this second half, changed me in ways I couldn’t have possibly predicted. I learned to see the world through more curious eyes. I fell in love with the human experience. I sorted through feelings that I can now see were standing in my way, blocking me from peace. I created art that I’m incredibly proud of.
I’m so thankful for my experience in Þingeyri, and I wouldn’t trade any of it. The difficult moments were equally as wonderful as the joyous ones. My creative limits have been pushed and improved more than I could have hoped, and I can’t wait to share it all with you. I’m so thrilled to see what’s to come next. ❤