Is it a physical place that you go to, to find peace and happiness - your so-called "happy place"? Or it it a meditative state of mind, or a heavenly plane of spiritual bliss?
Oxford Languages describes paradise variously as "an ideal or idyllic place or state", a kind of utopia or nirvana, and goes on to define nirvana as from the Sanskrit meaning "extinction, disappearance of the individual to the universal"; a place of happiness or enlightenment.
The Cambridge dictionary defines paradise as "a place or condition of great happiness where everything is exactly as you would like it to be."
In my view it can be found in our individual connections with nature (the seaside, the coast, the mountains, the savannah), in our relationships with family and friends, in the serenity of solitude and mindfulness, and in spiritual enlightenment, our church and our God. It manifests both externally and internally in our lives, being either terrestrial or celestial in nature. To me paradise is not just a place though; it is ostensibly a very personal, very subjective experience of a place or space in time. It is an experience conceived around our own imaginings, desires, sense of fulfilment. It is uniquely experienced by us, albeit that it may have a similar source of peace, tranquillity and happiness for others too.
In my life, I have been fortunate to have found my own personal little pieces of paradise. My nirvanas have been the mountains, karate, my family and my "God".
As I look out over the magnificent vistas of the Drakensberg mountains in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, out over the savannah (grasslands), as far as the eye can see, I smile at my own little piece of Heaven, my slice of paradise that is uniquely mine in this singular moment in time. My 'happy place'! I feel energised, renewed from within. I don't know if it is the exhilaration of the climb, the freshness and purity of the cool mountain breezes that sweep away the cobwebs that tend to clutter up my mind over time, the pure bliss in utter silence under the starlit open skies at night, or simply the breath taking beauty of the natural world during the day. When I am up in the mountains, perhaps it is a happy coincidental nexus of all four that constitutes paradise for me.
As I entered the dojo for the first time, I was quite taken by the unity within. The unison kata (dance), the kumite (fight). Somewhat entranced, the dance of kata captured my imagination and took hold forever, never really letting go. It was the start of a long love story with karate (kara te meaning "empty hand") and the martial arts that endures to this day. It filled me with utter joy. This paradisiacal almost spiritual experience of mindfulness, relinquishing oneself and becoming one with the artform. It satisfied my idea and perception of the ideal state of being, of perfection. The 5 maxims adorned the walls: Character, Sincerity, Effort, Etiquette, Self-Control. Values to live by. Certainly a sense of purity of spirit to strive for; a Nirvana to be experienced through karate.
I had the utmost pleasure and was humbled to meet the head of JKA Karate in South Africa, the man who started the JKA school of dojos in my home country and who had studied the artform in Japan for many years, Sensei Stan Schmidt. On tour with my own sensei one year, I attended Sensei Stan's 4am Black Belt classes in Johannesburg in the middle of winter when the dry icy wind bites mercilessly through one's thin gi (karate suit). My focus was on the learning experience, the pure joy of being at one with every movement that my body made. I later met with Sensei Stan again in Durban at a book signing and he asked me one simple question: "Why do you do karate?" I didn't hesitate with my answer: "Because I enjoy it". It was that simple to me. I need not give any further explanation. Pure paradisiacal joy in the "Spirit of the empty hand". I had no idea at the time that his autobiography that he was inscribing to me, ended with the words "At least I'm beginning to enjoy it all..."
The inscription on the front page of my copy of his book reads:
"To Sam, may you pass on your joy to others. Osu, Stan Schmidt".
As I sit here now, side-lined by injury, 34 years after this joyful interaction, and holding a lifetime of memories in my hands of a relationship with karate that I continue to revisit, I can only look back with the biggest smile on my face, and warmth in my heart as I look forward to the day that I can get back onto the dojo floor; back to one of my slices of paradise found.
And now to relationships with my family and friends: these people are the rocks in life. They keep me grounded. They remind me of who I am and why I am here. To build connections, uplift those around me, experience love, grow as an individual and learn something new every day. These people variously bring me joy, peace, love, and challenge me constantly in positive ways that I could never have imagined possible. My life is a kaleidoscope of beauty because of them and my gratitude cup overflows. Having these relationships, nurturing them and growing with them, is a state of perpetual paradise for me.
And finally to my "God". An as yet undefined all encompassing universe of immense wonder and intrigue. I experience God through the lens of the incredible majesty of the constellations and galaxies that I purvey through our telescope on clear nights. I experience God through the incredible beauty and majesty of our planet Earth and all of it's lifeforms that dwell upon it, on the land, in the skies and under the oceans of our world. I experience God in the incredibly diverse relationships that I have with human beings from all corners of the globe, both in my inner and outer circles; relationships that energise, relationships that are alive to possibility. And so my God is present in all the little moments of perfection that I am privileged to experience in my life.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about my moments of pure paradise. Moments spent experiencing my happy place, my happy space, my joyful life. The precious moments that I treasure; that I don't allow to slip away through the cracks of time.
Any photos not credited here belong to me personally either because I am the photographer or because they were taken by friends/family of me, at my request, and gifted to me, and I assert the right to publish them.