Posts Tagged ‘gratitude’

I have always loved the ocean.  Some of my earliest memories are of being at the beach with my mother.  My family was poor at the time, but we lived within biking distance of the beach and it was free and made us happy, so she would take me there regularly.  Living in a warm climate, we were able to go to the beach year round.  I loved to do all of the things that a young child does at the beach- play in the sand, drag around kelp strands, look for seashells, and paddle in the water.  And being there day after day lodged a connection to the ocean deep in my soul.

Even though we moved around, the first 18 years of my life were spent living within 10 miles of the ocean.  And I grew to love it more and more.  There are years when all of my joyful memories seem to be centered around the ocean and I realize now that my time there helped me to develop as a person.  I spent many, many days covered in sand and swimming in the ocean.  When I was 10 or 11, I learned to jump off of sea cliffs.  Now the ones that I jumped off were only about 10 feet high or so, but for a 10 year old, it was a huge feat of courage.  I was able to experience my body as being strong and capable as I grew more and more skillful at swimming in the ocean.  I learned to snorkel and I felt so at peace and happy, swimming out in the reefs with my friends, and experiencing myself as being a part of a greater wholeness with the water, the sun, the wind, the reefs, the fish, and the other ocean animals.

However, spending so much time in the ocean, from an early age, I learned to have great respect for it.  Even when it is fairly calm, I still won’t turn my back on the ocean, because I once saw an unexpectedly large wave knock my mother over and drag her across the reef, leaving her badly cut up.  I can see, though, that it was confidence building to learn how to deal with something that is potentially so dangerous.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to live near to the ocean for most of my adult life, and after 6 months or a year of not seeing it I start to crave contact with it.  Not in an active sort of a way, but more like a low level ache of something important being missing.  And then every time I am able to go back, there is a sense of homecoming and I can feel my soul being filled up.  Over the years, almost all of our vacations have involved either the mountains or the ocean.  I couldn’t say which I love more, however I have some memories of the ocean that will always bring a smile to me.  On 3 different occasions, I have had the unforgettable experience of swimming in the ocean with wild dolphins.  It was such a gift to have them voluntarily either stay close enough for me to see them in the very clear water and hear their clicks, or even to have them approach and swim around me.

To my satisfaction, we did live fairly near to the ocean for a period of 3 years, while my daughter was younger.  It was about a 40 minute drive to the beaches that we frequented, but I made it as often as I could.  I was delighted to find that my little girl had an instant and intense connection to the ocean, as well.  I had a hard time keeping her out of the water, even when it was cold enough so that her lips would turn blue. I would hold her on my lap wrapped in a towel while she shivered until she had warmed up enough so that she could jump up and dash back for another round of ocean play.  I loved to watch her while she jumped over or ran away from the waves, splashed as hard as she could, threw balls for the dogs at the beach into the surf, and started to learn to swim in the ocean.  My memories of these trips seem to sparkle like the sunlight dancing over the waves.  It gave me so much joy to be with her while she came to love the ocean as much as I do.

As much fun as it was to take my daughter to play at the beach, I believe that I actually valued my time alone with the ocean most of all.  I was fortunate enough to work in a location that allowed me to walk to the ocean and spend time with it during my lunch break.  The location wasn’t completely isolated, but that part of the beach was fairly difficult to access, because you could only reach it via a steep path down the cliffs, which left the beach largely empty.  When I was hurting or otherwise stressed, I would walk down and sit on the beach.  It felt like I could open myself to the ocean which was large enough so to absorb all of the pain that I had in my soul.  I imagined the emotional poison all draining out of me, running down the beach, and disappearing into the ocean.  In its place, I then would fill my soul with peace and strength.  While I wasn’t thinking of it that way at the time, it was the place that I would go to in order to become grounded again.  Sometimes I wept and I would come away feeling lighter.  Sometimes the tears could not come, but at least I would feel calmer and more confident that, somehow, things would work out.

So now, one of the methods that I use to remind myself that I am in this time is to think of one of my happiest times at the ocean as an adult.  My daughter, my husband, and my dog are all in the memory, reminding me of my connection with the people I love most and an animal who also had a special place in my heart.  And when I remember to, it allows me to reach out for a source of strength, peace, and well being.

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A couple of things have come together in the last couple of days that have made me decide to try something new.  First, I have had comments from multiple people that there is so much pain in what I have written.  And there is, but really that isn’t all that there is in my life, it is just that the topics that I feel compelled to write about right now have a lot of pain associated.  Second, I have seen a bit of a buzz about the idea of including what you are grateful for in some form on your blog posts, which I think is a great idea.  Of course, I don’t want to just do a list, but I have to do it in a much more wordy manner! 

While I was on that walk in the woods earlier this week, I went into an area that I don’t normally go into.  To get into this area, I descended down a cliff to a part of the forest that is obviously much more mature than the more easily logged sections.  I reveled in the feel of a mature forest, the sounds of the birds, the motion of the squirrels as they teased my dog, the crunching sound of the leaves under my feet, the hint of a breeze on my skin, the earthy smells from the vegetation and soil, and the heart lifting sound of the river dancing over rocks.  And then, as I rounded a corner, I came across a scene of sunlight filtering through old pine trees, and a memory came back to me that was incredibly vivid.

This was a memory that I welcomed!  It was of a backpacking trip that my husband and I took many years ago in the Olympic Mountains of Washington State.  Entering the valley that we were going to work our way up, we walked for over a mile through old growth forest with these massive pines that towered over us, while listening to a river running near by the whole way.  It was a magical scene!  There is something about being in a forest that has never been logged that feels like it connects you to all that is good.  Many of my most spiritual moments have taken place when I am in the midst of the overwhelmingly beautiful natural world.  As I was walking through these trees, I was reminded of an earlier trip to see a friend in the Netherlands, and he had taken me to the cathedral in his city which was over a thousand years old.  Both places had the same sense of holiness, a feeling that you should keep your voice hushed and be reverent, because there was something so much greater than you present in that place.

Walking between those trees, I was awed by how immense they were.  I imagined what it would have been like to hear one of those living towers come crashing down in a storm, and marveled at the many, many growth rings that were exposed when a passage was cut through one of the trees.  I felt so small, but somehow it didn’t make me feel insignificant, just aware of how I am only a tiny part of this world, but still valuable in my own right.  Even now, sitting here, writing, it makes my heart fill with joy to bring back the details of this glorious passage through a magical world.

And this was only the first mile or two of this trip!  It was my first backpacking trip and my first time into the high mountains since I was a small child.  I wasn’t fully prepared for how backpacking is a mixture of the sublime and the agonizing (carrying a 40 pound pack up a 3,000 foot elevation gain over only 4 miles cannot help but be agonizing when you aren’t used to it!)  But what a lesson in how getting through something painful can have the most amazing awards!

After we finally made it to our camping site, exhausted, ravenous, and sweaty, we had the wonderful treat of finally taking those packs off.  When that burden is dropped, you feel so delightfully light!  We sat there, looking around at the mountains that surrounded us, listening to the quiet, and proud of the fact that there was no way to this little slice of heaven other than by getting there the hard way.  The sky was an amazing blue.  Even though we had to deal with voracious mosquitoes and hard beds, there is nothing like waking up in the early morning and opening up your tent to the light and air of the high mountains.  And I have to say that I was astonished to discover just how good instant oatmeal can taste when eaten in the right circumstances! 

Later that day, we left our camp and hiked further up, towards the small glacier at the top of the valley.  We passed the most astonishingly colored alpine lake, which was probably the most beautiful bright turquoise blue that I have ever seen, and made our way up as far as we could.  The day had turned hot, as we sat to eat our lunch and surveyed the amazing world around us, so we gave into the temptation to drink from the clear, fresh, and very cold water, as it was melting off the glacier.  Yes, it was a fool hardy thing to do, and I have since learned to always carry a water filter so I can safely drink that amazing water, but that water tasted better than anything I had drunk before!   

I am grateful beyond words for being reminded of a wonderful few days spent with an amazing man, in an extraordinary place.  I will always treasure that time.  Looking back, that trip was an important gift, because it was made the same summer that I started to work with Mama Bear, just as everything was starting to emerge.  Experiencing something that filled my soul and connected me with my strength had to have helped to sustain me through the next several months, which were very difficult indeed.  Yes, there can indeed be periods of amazing light and beauty, even during very dark times.

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