Somewhere on the coast of California:
The day is coming to an end and it’s time to take in another sunset from the beach. I’m worn out, but that’s not surprising. My days always start fast and end slow. The day’s mileage wears down my inner hare until all that’s left is my inner turtle and he is forced to finish out the day. My inner turtle doesn’t mind though it’s just another opportunity to invest some self love. So I carry on dragging my shell through the sand as it shifts beneath my feet. Step. Sink. Slide. Stumble. Repeat. The other side of the beach feels like a mirage. Why won’t you get closer? Is this backpack really necessary? Do turtles daydream about returning from the bathroom to find their shell has been stolen too?
Eventually me and my shell drag our way into conversation with a fellow beachgoer, and after talking for a few minutes the beachgoer asks me to sit down and watch the sunset. Thrilled by the offer to shed my shell, I accept. I bet this is how turtles feel when strangers stop to carry them across the road. The rhythm of the crashing waves is soothing so we watch the mellowing sun sink away in silence.
Well kind of. The sun might be sinking, but me? I’m floating, suspended in this fleeting moment, wondering who this stranger next to me is. How did she end up here? Is this where she wanted to be? What were her childhood dreams? Why is this silence making my thoughts so loud? God, I hope she can’t hear them. I’ve got to stop shivering. Can she feel the log shake? How is she not cold? This is ridiculous, I barely know this stranger.
A few days later I decided it was one of the most romantic moments of my life. Yes. One of the most romantic moments of my life took place with a stranger. In silence. And this wasn’t the first time in recent memory. I seemed to be moved by the smallest things now. I’ll never forget the surfer that trusted me to record his surf session. “Take in the moment. Whatever you find beautiful, find a way to capture it. That’s your art. You’re an artist.” I fell in love for a moment. I mean I didn’t want to kiss the guy, but there was no mistaking that feeling. This confused me for a while. These brief encounters kept giving me this sense of belonging I hadn’t had in years. And then I learned about kama muta.
I plan to write a longer post about Kama Muta later on, so I’m not going to dig into it too deeply here. It’s a feeling that covers a wide range of scenarios so I’ll give you a brief definition followed by some examples, and then I’ll talk more about it. Kama Muta, borrowed from the ancient Sanskrit, means ‘moved by love’ and aims to describe a universal emotion that had been undefined until now. Kama muta is one of those indescribable moments where you’re so moved by love that you get goosebumps, feel the need to place your hand over your heart, or you’re brought to tears. It’s often accompanied by a sense of oneness and belonging.
Have you ever had one of those moments of clarity where time seems to pause while you’re pulled away from the moment to see how precious it is from the third person? You’re floating above the moment and suddenly overwhelmed with the “This is it. I am living right now, I am alive.” feeling.
You probably felt it senior year around graduation, maybe you didn’t normally like all of your classmates, but at that moment despite your differences you felt a sense of belonging and oneness.
Or maybe you felt it as you overcome with aww as you watch your significant other morph into a child and play with the kids without any concern of looking silly. They become one with the children. You all become one with the moment, and you think to yourself “This is it. This is where I belong.”
Or maybe you’re out in nature strolling along and the colors become more vibrant as your worries are sucked away and you feel as though you and Mother Nature have merged into one organism.
Here is another example I pulled from the institute that is researching Kama Muta:
“While I silently sit on the worn-out sofa, my mind wanders off and my staring seemingly contests the blank ceiling opposite of me. Suddenly, a song comes up on the queue. It is not that I have ever been listening to this melody before, but from the very first moment I realize: I am falling. A trapdoor opens up and the flow of the rhythm takes me away. The darkness rushes around my body, and I keep accelerating. There is a warm suction inside my chest. It sucks in my doubts and there is nothing left but music. Then, goosebumps. They conquer my skin in waves. I feel like crying. And then I ultimately see. There it is: my past, my presence. I smile. This very moment I feel one with myself. I am alive.”
The emphasis here is on being moved by love, it’s the whirlwind that picks you up and takes you for a ride. Alan Fiske, the psychologist behind the emerging research, said “Kama muta is closely related to, but not the same as, love. Love is an enduring sentiment, whereas kama muta is the momentary emotion that occurs when love ignites. That is, you feel kama muta when new love emerges (such as a first kiss, or someone shows you kindness), or existing love suddenly becomes salient, or a sense of belonging, connection, and identity emerges, for example at a march or demonstration.”
So what does this have to do with my walk across America?
Everything. Prior to this trip it had been years since I felt anything strong enough to move me. Now I’m moved multiple times a week. I didn’t understand it as first. I felt silly for feeling so connected to a stranger that evening Zoe and I watched that sunset. When I felt so touched by that surfers speech I grew concerned that I was overlooking how lonely I’d become on the road. I would have these moments where music and the road would overwhelm me with this sense of belonging and bring me to tears, and sometimes it would happen multiple times a week. I felt silly until I understood it, and now I welcome it and I’ll tell you why in the second part of this post in the next few days.