What I Found “Down Under”








Years ago when my sons, Paul and I had the rare opportunity to meet Nelson Mandela, we asked him for his advice about life. Without a moment’s hesitation he said, “Travel.” I have reflected on his wisdom many times since. Traveling to different places opens our eyes, invites us to question, and brings perspective home.

Travel doesn’t have to be far to inspire reflection over how we live, what we might do differently, and what we feel grateful for. Perspective is a prerequisite for gratitude.

Friends of ours invited us to visit them in New Zealand during part of their annual family vacation. For years we had dreamed of coming and finally, after Paul received his clean bill of health, we took the leap. Three airplanes and 24 hours later we had moved from below zero temperatures to balmy 70’s and 80’s at the same latitude on the opposite side of the earth.

On our second day in Auckland, Paul and I walked 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea.  The views alone from the tops of volcano parks in both directions over the city–from sea to another shining sea – were worth the walk.


Each step advanced our toehold on perspective. The unhurriedness we felt in people here made me realize how often I feel rushed; and how hard I usually push myself.

The manager of the Airbnb we stayed at arrived with clean towels just as we realized we were a half hour late to meet new friends. I flew into a panic. She comforted, “Don’t worry dear. You look beautiful, and it’s a lovely day. It’s only a 10-minute walk to the restaurant, so enjoy it. They’ll understand.” This was such an unfamiliar response, yet it helped me remember that life is diminished by rushing.

We have since been on an island with the friends we came to visit. Time has slowed as we move with rhythms of tide and weather, mood and collective energy. We start each day playing the card game, Uno, with them and their children. The winner chooses the activities of the day.

When I won, a few days ago, it felt like my birthday a whole week early. I thought, how often do we give ourselves, or each other, the right to decide exactly what we want to do throughout a day?

We drove to the village for a “New Zealand Flat White” coffee; then spent time at the library before driving to a crescent moon beach where we swam and picked giant green lip mussels for supper. Fewer activities and simple pleasures stretch the hours of a day.


By the time you read this, if you are in the United States, it will be tomorrow in New Zealand. I have grown accustomed throughout most of my life to feeling behind, turning south when I meant to turn north, while panting to catch up and orient myself. But on vacation in this land “down-under” there is no wrong time or way. I’m learning the value of not hurrying, and of living each day as if it were my birthday or someone’s I loved. Thank you, Nelson Mandela for this gift to carry home.

What gifts of perspective have you gained from travel?
How do you slow time?

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22 Responses to What I Found “Down Under”

  1. I have recently come to this same understanding being on our sailboat at a marina for the last two months. We didn’t plan to stay here. Life decided for us that we had to stay put for a while. After fighting it for a while, I finally began to embrace being here and learning to just experience things as they came my way. I have promised myself that I will hold on to this perspective when we return to Vermont in April and make it a part of my life.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Dear Andrea, I’m so sorry for how things turned out for you and Dick, but you are right to embrace the moment. Every moment is different, ever-changing. We can’t hold on to anything really, but the good times and treasured memories will return, just like Spring. Wishing you all the best, Eileen

  2. Claudia Turnbull says:

    What relaxing, refreshing reading this is!

  3. Norman Gershenz says:

    Dear Eileen –
    One of my greatest joys has come from travel – with every step my senses are awakened. You will appreciate the Dalai lama’s perspective. “As often as possible, go someplace you’ve never been before. Experience new places and new things. You might find yourself with someone or somewhere that makes you much happier than your previous circumstance. The Earth is so vast with unique and beautiful places, why wouldn’t you want to go explore them?”
    Love from the States –

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Oh I love that Norm. Thanks for sharing. It is so true. The hardest part is packing and airplanes, but once we’re there the travel is filled with wonder. Wishing more for you in your own life.

  4. Jacqui Meyer says:

    Dear Eileen

    Travel is excitement in every way for me, a broadening of the mind and an opening of the heart. From the initial decision of where to go next, to making the intricate details of flights and lodging and then arduous (for me) task of packing just what I need, so I can pack lightly and focus on the ‘being’ at my destination, rather than the clothes management and tedium of lugging heavy bags around. Then, as I lock the doors to my home, get to the airport, and then arrive at the gate on the other side of security, I feel free. Free from the challenges of the life I live, to a new world and new discoveries. When I am airborne, I feel even more free. I am on my way to an adventure, to see new places, people, food, architecture, cultures, language, currency, artisans, and ways of being. I am like a child, my eyes big with wonder and excitement at seeing how others live their lives, and my heart is filled with a sense of awe at how magnificent and diverse our planet is. My mind is opened and educated by observing different cultures and ways of being, and enables me to embrace diversity and include it in my life, and in addition, help re-define what is more important to me. Depending on where I travel, there is often a huge sense of how fortunate I am with the life that I live, and that opens up my heart to even more compassion, certainly more humility, and much gratitude For we get to know ourselves best by relating to and seeing others, and we get a broader sense of belonging by feeling connected too a larger universe. As for slowing down, I have long observed that in most places I’ve travelled, no other culture lives as fast as in these United States. It is in observing this and seeing what others value, that has helped me to look inwardly to recognise and realise what my values are. I think it should be a High School requirement for all students to travel to another country. It is such a vital an important piece of educating a young person. In fact, I am naturally attracted to people who have travelled and the conversations we have. It’s easy for me to not hurry when I travel, with none of my duties at home to bind me; I live more in the moment and in the wonder of it all. I have recognised over the last decade, that I feel disconnected and when I rush; it’s stressful, and while I can do it in small spurts, I don’t enjoy or offer my best when I live this way. I found a wonderful Singing Bowl app on my iPad and iPhone which peals several times throughout my day at times I have set, with the most inviting resonance, to remind me to pause, slow down and be still for a few moments. My new mantra is “I don’t have the time to rush.” There is much wisdom in that.

    With love

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Dear Jacqui, you are such an adventurer and I love the example you set for discovering new people and places in the world. You embody the love of discovery and learning. I learn a lot from you. An most recent example being the Singing Bowl app. I am going to get it! Thank you, as always. xoxo

  5. Dori Ingalls says:

    As always, your refelctions are wonderful and grab my heart. This one was special as with my travels to New Zealand I always feel peace. As a 7th generation Vermonter and resident of Hawaii for over 30 years, this lovely country culture is a reflection of both places I have called home. Welcoming, slow paced, beautiful protected landscapes with lovely open hearted grounded people that respect family. Thank you for this glimpse into your time. Love and continued safe travels, Dori I.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      7th generation Vermonter is something to be proud of! How many of us can say we’re 7th generation from anywhere anymore? Most of us move so often. I take comfort in your groundedness. Thanks for all you do and are.

  6. Darrel Huenergardt says:

    All through my childhood and growing years, I was lead to believe that the United States was not only the greatest country on earth, but that the people in the rest of the world wanted to have the opportunity to live here. That was quite often reinforced by comments of others in my adult life. Then I had the chance to travel to Germany and Switzerland. A few years later to Italy, and after that to England. My travels also took me to Bermuda and to Canada. Very quickly it became apparent that I had been mislead. While I still believe that the USA is the greatest county on earth, not everyone shares that opinion. I found that German’s are as proud of their county and its culture as we are of the US. The same with the other countries to which I have traveled. And even in the US I have found that people are generally proud of the region of the country in which they live. I have been asked on several occasions by residents of various parts of the country why I didn’t move there. The most recent was San Marcos Texas. I don’t want to move there because I like where I live. I enjoy visiting other areas, but always look forward to getting back to MY home. And I have to realize that not everyone thinks that where I live is the best place to be. My lesson from traveling – Not everyone wants out of life what I want out of life, and not everyone enjoys the same area of the world nor the same culture. And I need to accept that. Preferring to live in Germany is not a bad choice, any more that my decision to stay in the US and the midwest is a bad choice. Even in visiting with immigrants who have come to the US for various reasons, have a pride in their “homeland”. Travel has taught me that good people can have opinions that are different from each other, and still remain good people..

    How do I slow time. I don’t I asked by 99 year old grandfather before he died after a heckticweek, does life ever slow down? It never does he replied! So, don’t ask me to relax, it is tension that holds my life together!!!

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      What a beautiful and valuable lesson you have gleaned from travel, Darrel. If more people could look at others different from them and be as respectful as you, the world would be more peaceful. I believe we are all good at heart. It just takes more digging for some than others.
      As to your grandfather’s wisdom, it sounds like he was a person driven by purpose and love of life. He and my 99 year old father would probably have gotten on well!

  7. Susan Pollans says:

    I loved this post. I totally agree with the value of travel and slowing down. Sometimes it takes being in a new environment to slow down from our daily activities and jobs. Though it won’t be New Zealand, hold on to your new rhythm when you return, Eileen. And say hi to Paul.

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      Thanks Susan. I often wish to hold onto a feeling – especially when its such a good one as being relaxed and slowed down. But I’m ever-more aware of how we can’t hold onto anything! All the more incentive to be in the moment. All the best to you and Alan.

  8. Wow – On reading this I was still in awe on your reflections crystal photo, which I printed out and began calling in my mind the “window to your soul” photo, mixing your last couple of blogs. In the meantime, stuck wrestling with my soul’s purpose. I was feeling particularly awkward that all I could think about was traveling! It may be that my soul has not reached that high a plane yet, all I can imagine is that it is traveling. And it turns out real traveling is my passion and a priority all my life, as is psychological and spiritual traveling inward. As a youth my parents would take me traveling via car to Vermont and sometimes South. They’d let me guide the trip holding the map, and I’d urge them to head to the farthest, remotest spots we could get to, like the Northeast Kingdom or the end of Cape Hatteras. I could have fun imagining what would be there, as well as getting to really see. After college I backpacked through Central and South America on the journey of my life. Now, my wife and I devote a very substantial portion of our time and funds to travel, we just want to keep going while we can. While traveling, through our daily life, or far from home, we make so many connections with all sorts of souls. There’s so much to experience, I wish there was more time. I slow time by experiencing life as a state of perpetual travel, it never ends and there are more places to see and soul’s to touch. Bob

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      I love your purpose – to travel both the outer and inner world. It sounds like yin yang to me! I”m inspired! Wishing you more great travel, with map in hand. I love maps too.

  9. Hi Eileen, wonderful article and photos– glorious….. You are strong, smart, brave and filled with awe! ‘ “Don’t worry, dear, you look beautiful” ‘ is the statement that will carry you pretty far.

    This morning my reference for travels comes from an FB post: “Best Travel Destinations Seen On
    Screen”, Foodand wine.com. I plan on watching every movie and thus, will travel, easily and in place! I Movies travel and slow time. Once upon a time someone invented the camera and it evolved and evolved…

    • eileenrockefeller says:

      One of the marvels of modern times is that we can travel vicariously through movies and photos. May you have many wonderful journeys!

  10. Phyll says:

    Beautiful photos and descriptions of your wonderful trip. Looking forward to hearing more about your horseback ride on a Clydesdale, too. Bet he galloped fast, huh? Like you, I love to travel and see new places, meet new people and learn about other customs and mores.

    I especially enjoyed my trips to England and hope to visit Devon and Cornwall. I hear both towns are lovely and quite a paradise for photographers. My favorite place in the Caribbean is Grand Cayman with its beautiful 7 mile beach and turquoise, clear blue waters. Ahh, heaven!

    Living a life with purpose and meaning, for me, means slowing down and stopping to smell the roses. Whenever I’m with my furry friends, we’re never in a rush and always in touch with one another—fully and completely. Feels wonderful. Connected, loving, and true. This is the gift of the present. Speaking of which. . .hope you have a very Happy Birthday today!

  11. Thanks Phyll. I did have a wonderful birthday. As to the Clydesdale…let’s just say my hip was out of joint for a week afterwards! I’m not used to that broad a back after my Morgans! But I, like you, have a great fondness for Devon and Cornwall, both of which are much like the countryside in New Zealand. Thanks for all the ways you connect!

  12. joaneee says:

    Eileen . . . in New Zealand – a lovely, beautiful, serene country — populated with some of the friendliest, most awesome people I have ever met — would be a wonderful place to settle. Its life-style is almost addictive.

    But you what are perspectives gained from travel . . . and to answer, travel allows us to get far from our comfort zones – essentially into another world that opens our minds far wider — but more than that – far more — is the beauty we see, absorb, more so much more — that become the “forever memories” that sustain us when life creeps up on us unexpectedly. We more easily see that life is not simple — and provides more ups and downs over time than we might expect — but our memories of the pinnacles of life, seen in travel, bring us perspective — and allow us again to know if that we look in the direction of the sun, we are going to again be uplifted. It may at times be a matter of time, but we will. . and that belief is not only comforting – but I have found it to be true. That other world can be just over that next hill — or in a far-away place — but as they say: seek and you will find. I find that true every time.

  13. eileenrockefeller says:

    I was hoping I’d hear from you, the world traveller par excellence, and reporter of same! Thanks for sharing your wisdom! Warmly, Eileen

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