Day 1: I’m in the middle of a U.S. National Park 170 acres donated in 1956 by Laurance S. Rockefeller, who used Caneel Bay on St. John’s north coast as a spiritual retreat. OK, it’s not as if the 1950s were full of distractions, but Caneel still has a no-phone, no-TV policy in the rooms. Silence. “It’s sonic depletion,” says Jan Kinder, who founded the Self Centre at Caneel Bay in 2002. From my yoga mat I hear gentle waves and bird song. Not quite sonic depletion. After Qigong and yoga, Jan leads me to a chair where we begin a mantra meditation. The Self Centre is to be my Caribbean ashram, but Jan instructs, “Go apply what you’ve learned,” and gestures toward the flamboyant trees, the frangipani, the palms and the sea. I step outside, take a deep Ujjayi breath and begin the walk back to my cottage on Scott Beach, passing two deer and three wild donkeys.
Day 2: After an early-morning energy treatment at the Self Centre, I feel alive happy. So I sign on to kayak with Chip from the water-sports hut. Mostly swept by the current, we round Cottage Point, heading east and coming onto Paradise Beach, a tiny white sliver one of seven at the resort where we haul our kayaks up onto the sand and unload our snorkel gear. When I first dip into the salty bath, I can’t decide which place is more peaceful: underwater, where three squid propel me with relaxed undulations; or above water, where I had just been meditating on the shapes of the Virgin Island cays. As I kick further from the shore, I realize the best choice is beneath the sea, where it is completely silent.
Day 3: As I sit on the patio of my cottage looking at the sea, a laughing gull that I name Jack comes by to watch me. We take each other in. After passing what seems like an hour in a staring contest with Jack, I head for Mary’s Trail, named after Rockefeller’s Hawknest Beach. Through the forest I try “breath walking” as taught by the Self Centre: four quick inhales followed by four sharp exhales a form of meditation. If Jack were here, I think he’d laugh.
Day 4: On my last night I dig into lobster at the resort’s Equator restaurant, set in the ruins of a sugar mill from the 1700s. St. Thomas’ lights twinkle in the distance, tiki torches flicker around me and vibrant bougainvilleas hug the stone walls. I will forever be reminded of Caneel Bay and this national park by the sound here: silence.