Gift from the sea
"The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you; do not go back to sleep." - Rumi
In 1955, Anne Morrow Lindburgh, the wife of aviator Charles Lindburgh, published a wonderful little book entitled "Gift From The Sea." It's one of those little gems that didn't make bold claims, or profess to be anything other than one woman's reflections on modern life, with allegorical references to seashells - the channeled whelk, the moon shell, oyster beds, argonauta.- all written during a solitary vacation by the ocean.
Through it, you can feel her insight and inner beauty. And, experientially, find a common understanding of the tribulations we live through in a way that feels peaceful and as certain as one can expect from life. From the first chapter upon her arrival at the beach:
"One is forced against one's mind, against all tidy resolutions, back into the primeval rhythms of the sea-shore. Rollers on the beach, wind in the pines, the slow flapping of herons across sand dunes, drown out the hectic rhythms of city and suburb, time tables and schedules. One falls under their spell, relaxes, stretches out prone. One becomes, in fact, like the element on which one lies, flattened by the sea; bare, open, empty as the beach, erased by today's tides of all yesterday's scribblings.
"And then, some morning in the second week, the mind wakes, comes to life again ... It begins to drift, to play, to turn over in gentle careless rolls like those lazy waves on the beach. One never knows what chance treasures those easy unconscious rollers may toss up, on the smooth white sand of the conscious mind ... But it must not be sought for or--heaven forbid!--dug for ... The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach--waiting for a gift from the sea."
Message in a bottle
I come to the ocean to reflect. The relentless waves cascade over the shimmering sand. The frothy head crests and tentatively recedes, followed by a smattering of tiny seabirds that peck in the moist sand for a meal. It pulses. Like the breath of God. The peace of constancy, a rhythmic pulse we rely upon, like our own heartbeat, our own breath. All else fades away, overshadowed by the sensory symphony before us.
The wind is heavy today. Loose sand sheets across the surface of the beach, pelting my face when it gusts. I close my eyes until it subsides and push against the wind again. My shoes are tied together, their laces held in my left hand, along with my notepad. My toes dig into the sand, and I want to walk closer to the breakers. I know the water is cold, but I want to feel its icy touch, feel the connection with the briny water.
On a previous visit here, I was walking in solitude when a couple, staring out into the water interrupted my reverie.
"Can you see them?"
"What?" I asked.
I stopped and stared at the horizon, seeing nothing but whitecaps. I looked closer. And then suddenly, water shot into the air. A fin skimmed along the top of the water. Not just one but another. They played and spouted, just out of our reach. And I stared until I felt the need fulfilled - the need of knowing what I was witnessing.
Usually I bring along a camera. I like to capture the moment, so that I can access the sense of serenity the sea gives me after I return home. Unfortunately, it's a poor substitute. I need to also capture the scent, the sounds, the sting of the wind on my cheeks, the brackish aroma of the sea air. The full panorama - depth and breadth - of the visual. I want to bottle it.
But that defeats the purpose. The message isn't carried in the photo, or even in the sounds on a "sounds of the ocean" CD. The message is here. Right now. In this moment.
Finding the treasure
I walk back along the dunes, the wind still slapping against my face. At a bench, I stop to put my shoes on, so I can traverse the rocky path back to my car. In just a couple of short hours, I received the message - the transmission became clear, or perhaps it was the pummeling of the tempest against my thick skull.
Ahead of me on the path, a young mother clutches her infant, who is expressing her displeasure at the cutting gusts that disrupt her serenity. A tiny pink boot falls to the ground, unnoticed by the mother. I scoop it up and hand it to her as I pass, and she smiles.
And though I rushed to get down here, to escape from my circumstances and find tranquility, I suddenly want to head for home. There's still time to stop and absorb the views, find a trail through the woods, watch for elk, pull out my camera and try to capture the spiritual beauty of my surroundings. But I'm content; full.
From Gift From the Sea: "The waves echo behind me. Patience--Faith--Openness, is what the sea has to teach. Simplicity--Solitude--Intermittency ... But there are other beaches to explore. there are more shells to fine. This is only a beginning."
And it is.
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