Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Sea, The Sea...

Between dusk and dawn the weather is constantly changing,
Bathing mountain and lake alike in radiant sunlight.

This radiant sunlight filled me with such joy,
That lost in delight I quite forgot to go home. 
When I left my valley the day had scarcely broken,
When I stepped into my boat the light was growing dim.
Forest and gorge were veiled in sombre colours,
Gay panoply of water-chestnuts, lotus,
Rushes and cattails growing side by side,
I swept them aside with my hands as I hastened 
How glad I was to reach my house in the east!
Once the mind stops striving the world loses
Once the heart is content it does not swerve from the
I send these words to those who would nurture their
Try using this method if you want the truth.
(Xie Lingyun)

From the time I can first remember being near the ocean (Cape Cod, MA when I was three or four years old), I have been afraid of it, and rightly so I suppose.  The ocean is immense and powerful beyond measure.  It is also full of strange and otherworldly life forms.  It's depths are mysterious and dark.  There is something primal and ancient about the way it smells and moves.  In hindsight, perhaps I was just afraid; unable or unwilling to see what an apt metaphor for life it is: constantly changing, unimaginably beautiful, inconceivably unforgiving, calm and bright, and at times rough and stormy. 

I recently spent a transformative week at the beach.  Renting a house on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with friends, I fell in love with the ocean.  It ignited something deep inside of me, and I felt a profound spiritual shift take place.  Each morning my dear friend (and kindred spirit!), Andrea and I would get up just before sun-up, drink some tea (or coffee in her case-Andrea can't speak before she's had her coffee), pack up our yoga mats and blankets and walk quietly to the beach.  Silently spreading out our blankets and setting down our mats, we would fall right into our deep breathing and begin our separate yoga practices.  For me, asana practice (yoga postures) involves deep listening and movement from a place of inner wisdom and intuition.  Letting go of what each posture should "feel like" or "look like" and opening to what "is" and what my body, mind, and spirit need in this moment. Somehow, practicing near the ocean deepens this connection to intuition.

Each morning I would finish my asana practice and begin my zazen (seated meditation) practice with the feel of the warm wind on my face and the sound of the breathing surf in my ears.  A feeling of openness and contentment would radiate through me.  Often, at the end of my meditation I would be prompted to get up and stand in the surf, to feel the water and its movement and coolness on my skin, and to experience my connection to it all.

There was something about being there at the edge of the sea in those early morning hours with the smell and feel of the ocean breeze: the motion of my body, my breath, the soft, shifting sand beneath my feet and hands, and the pounding surf that awakened something within me.   Although that feeling is largely unexplainable, it was a feeling of pure freedom, a sensation of pure contentment, the notion of being a part of something complete and whole, like I had finally awoken.  I distinctly felt and understood that I am not in control, I never have been, I never will be, and that it was okay not to be.  Everything I am, everything that I have been, and everything that I will be is part of this amazing cycle of birth and death, rising and falling, earth and sky, day and night, beauty and ugliness.  Each one of us is connected to all that is, has been, and ever will be.  We are part of something so much bigger than ourselves.  This realization filled me with joy and a sense of awakening ("There are more things in heaven and earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." -Shakespeare's "Hamlet"). 

As the tide came in, I would stand in the churning surf, my body soft and yielding as the water swirled and waves crashed against my legs.  Rooting my bare feet into the sand I would feel the strong pull of the waves being drawn out with the tide.  There is a moment as the tide is being drawn back into the sea when the sand gives way beneath your feet.  If you panic, or react to that shift without mindfulness you may fall on your butt. However, if you notice the shift and softly stand your ground you start to be aware that although the ground is giving way beneath you, there is a new level of ground beneath it and you are supported.  

This is the essence of zazen practice.  It is truly the practice of freedom.  When you can just sit, having the experience you have, whatever it is, without comparing it to what it should be, you begin to have true ease and contentment (santosha in sanskrit) on your cushion/yoga mat or off.  Practicing asana in the the presence of the mighty sea, such awesome power and beauty, helped me to connect to this ease.  Practicing yoga and sitting in meditation roots us deeply into the truth and this truth is available at all times.  The ocean is indeed an apt metaphor for life.  I am grateful to say that I am no longer afraid...

"Once the mind stops striving the world loses importance,

Once the heart is content it does not swerve from the truth..."

1 comment:

  1. This post really moved me. As a zen meditation practitioner and yogini; these words rang true and makes me itch to get back to the sea.
    much love and light.