(What if the experience of oneness didn’t make you more
beautiful or radiant, or special- as so many teachers promise?
What if it simply made you a little softer, a little kinder,
a little more human? Would you still long for it?
Last month, with a pinched nerve in my neck, I visited a friend on Tybee Island, Georgia.
These are notes from my beach walks there. )
I walk the shoreline, mist drenched morning, ocean soothing in.
The Gulls seem to be napping, grouped in stillness,
facing into the breeze, one eye open.
I think I want gifts from the sea, and that I will find some pretty shells.
My body is tired, neck weary and in pain. I cannot walk very far.
What I really want is to let go of a lot of things-
some burdens that I’ve been carrying;
assumptions that no longer serve me;
the busyness of my life.
I think I want special wisdom; healing;
something to make me smarter.
I sit on a bench and wait.
Instead of special wisdom, I hear this:
Listen, the world has no secrets-
only as of yet, for you,
unheard of, undiscovered things.
I go back to collecting shells.
Every morning for two weeks,
I wander the beach distracted.
At first I want only the shells that are perfect and unique.
Eventually, I begin to see the beauty
in broken things.
I feel some pride in this-
perhaps it is my gift from the sea.
…One day I look up from my quest
for shells along the shore, and see:
I had become so absorbed in my search for pretty things,
I had become unaware of the magnificent vastness-
I looked up to see the water,
to pause and to breathe in the blueness,
to feel the mist on my face.
Something in me opened, sighed,
blossomed, emptied and filled.
It felt as though I was receiving
everything and no thing,
a relaxation, a dawning, a download-
an infinite, unnameable mystery:
the oneness of the ocean, wind, sun, sky,
my own soul and humanity-
humanity which had arrived to comingle, play, and delight in the beauty.
That was the best day.
The people on Tybee are friendly-
even the boys at the convenience store
have kind and tender eyes.
Some call this Southern Hospitality-
but what I felt was a basic sense of humanity,
family, kinship, humility and belonging.
Walking the shore, approaching others,
we would greet and exchange stories-
unafraid to ask each stranger how they’ve been.
It’s as if we are all in this together.
This life. On this planet. This.
And we know it.
And we don’t mind.
In fact, we like it that way.
Some epiphanies are gentle, like the breeze across your brow.
That breeze is always there, kissing your cheek if you allow it.
Joy isn’t a carrot dangling before your nose, urging you to pursue it.
Joy isn’t found in the acquisition of shells….or any other things.
Joy isn’t the ever-receding horizon of a future better life.
Rabindranath Tagore said,
“Joy is the realization of the truth of our oneness-
the oneness of our soul with the world soul,
and of the world soul with supreme love.”
Looking up from the shell strewn sand,
I experienced a taste of this oneness.
I felt a softening, a surrender,
a relaxation; a trust;
simplicity, humility, belonging- the calm wisdom of the heart.
Tending Joy is allowing joy, welcoming joy,
practicing, feeling, and caring for joy.
It’s a kind of resting.
Not seeking or striving, but inviting,
letting go resistance.
There’s a kind of gentleness to it-
a friendliness and curiosity, openness and humility.
Allowing ourselves to feel oneness, we allow ourselves to feel joy-
to feel that we are part of the human family and the greater mystery:
human, frail, flawed, vulnerable, earnest, loving, generous, divine.
On my last morning I am up for the sunrise
and it occurs to me
that the sun rises with opulent fanfare above the horizon every dawn,
regardless of whether I’ve awoken soon enough to see it.
It’s not about me.
Yet I can participate if I want to.