Catharsis at Karekare Beach, New Zealand

Much to my surprise, I was crying.

I had been attending a conference in Auckland, New Zealand, and slipped away in the late afternoon to see Karekare, a rather famous black sand beach on New Zealand’s north island. I raced gathering clouds and fading light as the car twisting through mounding green hills, the Waitakere Ranges. When I slipped off my shoes to walk towards the surf, the sky had become gray. In the shadow of a cliff, I waded across a shallow creek that had turned silvery in the light.

Karekare Beach, New Zealand

After walking for a few minutes, I picked a likely spot and spread my jacket out on the sand. I sat down, gazed out at the sea. The tide was low, and silver water turned forth white, and then pale turquoise, crashing up against a tan jagged rock that looked like an eroded pyramid.The scene was so beautiful, I could feel my brain scrambling to process it.

Karekare Beach, New Zealand

Which is when the tears began.

The mystically inclined might say I was sensing the history of the place: in 1825, one Maori tribe massacred another here.

I’m not, though, and as I rummaged in my pockets for a bit of tissue or a napkin, I just felt overwhelmed. It’s a major traveler’s cliché, to say that one is overcome with the beauty of place, “there are no words”, and so on. And yet, sitting there and watching a tiny band of blue sky slowly gaining on the clouds as the weather cleared, I was aware that it was the beauty of the place that had dealt my composure its final blow.

In the six weeks prior to sitting on the beach, I had been to China and back, Buenos Aires and back, and there I was in New Zealand. I had lost track of time zones, continents, miles.

It is said that when coping skills are exhausted, crying is automatic and instinctual. It is said that crying discharges tension in situations when an individual can’t properly cope. It is said that tears themselves release stress-related biotoxins, and that emotional tears contain different chemicals than the tears that come from cutting an onion.*

Catharsis: from the Greek, to cleanse, purge, purify. Catharsis cleanses the mind of suppressed emotions, through a release of emotions.

Cathartic crying: occurs “when an unresolved emotional distress is reawakened in properly distanced context, in which there is an appropriate balance of distress and security.”

The beauty of Karekare was cathartic. I was so startled by my tears that I almost started laughing.

This post is part of the Blog4NZ campaign, a post-earthquake effort to spark New Zealand’s travel industry. This one’s for you, Liz Lewis! Less shaky days ahead.

Hey, it’s Perceptive Travel’s fourth anniversary! Comment on Sheila’s post here and you’re eligible to win a bunch of fab prizes.

* References: Medline; Medline PlusJournal of Clinical and Social Psychology; and my very own copy of the Oxford English Dictionary.

All photos by Alison Stein Wellner

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