It had been over 20 years since I had seen a beach. I had had good intentions several times over the past few years (“We’ll go for my birthday”; “Let’s cerebrate New Year’s on the beach, watching the sun rise”) but each time bad weather, illness, holiday retail worker craziness, or just the idea of the four-hour drive slowed me down.
But now… I have been back to the ocean and it has changed me forever.
In the past few years, there have been a few ‘shockabuku’ moments (from the film Grosse Pointe Blank; probably based on shakubuku). Shockabuku is described as ‘A swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever.’
Seeing the Netherlands Dans Theatre. Going to our first Frank Turner concert. Watching Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein. And last summer, visiting old growth forests at Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest.
Gurumayi Chidvilasananda said, ‘A message that calls out to a willing heart can appear anywhere.’ I hope you seek out and find your own version of these moments; moments that remind us we are alive yes, but more so, moments that tell us who we are and ask us to become who we were always meant to be.
Standing in front of the ocean was not just ‘nice’ for me, not just a vacation. It was as I’d thought it would be, an awakening. A call to action.
These moments are not easy to find, not guaranteed when sought. But you can stumble across them when you step off the path of mundanity and mediocrity. And they don’t require spending tons of money or knowing the right people.
But they do take courage. Because you may know, in some deep part of yourself, that if you stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon, or hear Yo-Yo Ma live, or gaze up at a Frank Gehry-designed building — you may change. You may not be able to continue with your old life and tired habits. Your foundations may be shaken by the enormity of your purpose.
You want this to happen.
Part of seeking these experiences is to become someone capable of experiencing them. You have to slow down, regard clearly, be open, look away from your phone and into the soul of the sea (or your particular spiritual herald).
To start, make a list of things that make you feel alive or that are on your ‘life list’ — especially those closer or easier to accomplish. What musicians do you LOVE but have never seen live? What about a touring musical? What places call to you — especially any a day’s drive from home. What museums or buildings? What activities — sky diving? Swimming with dolphins? Eating the best chocolate cake of your life?
It might just be me, but I would try to avoid the completely crafted experience. Theme parks, tourist traps, cruise ships — they sell people a docile, moderate experience (I’m presuming; I’ve never been ;-). Just remember that you are looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure, and one very specific to you — not everyone likes white water rafting but those that do are crazy about it. Go find your crazy.
And what happens when you do? When I waded into the salty, cloudy ocean and saw crabs and sea birds (and a young stingray!) something clicked. Very much like last year in Joyce Kilmer. A feeling that this was what mattered, not turf wars with coworkers, not the ‘infinity pools’ of the internet, not some sort of need to prove myself to anyone.
Just this. Just now.
Oh, but what a ‘now’! A sea so full and wide that the shore and all its inhabitants become secondary. An ancientness that speaks not in years but in millennia. Horseshoe crabs, unchanged in 450 million years. Baby hermit crabs, some as small as the head of a pin, fighting and racing around, absorbed in the only world they know, the world of the now. Giant pelicans, eighty in one spot, resting, assured in their majesty. The sun, the wind, the rain. Each playing its part in the ballet of the moment.
The breeze and the sound of the waves that never cease.
Addendum: Once back home, I starting thinking about that second tattoo I want this year and I wondered if the ocean could be a part of it. I ‘Googled’ to see if Frank Turner had a song that mentioned the ocean. As usual, Frank delivered and the title of this piece comes from the awesome song Sailor’s Boot. It’s a story of someone perhaps who’s not perfectly where they belong but realizes it’s completely within their power to get there. When first watching the video, as now, it made me cry.
I didn’t taste my tears, but I’m sure they tasted like the ocean.