On Bringing the Sea to the Self

                      “We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface                                  but connected in the deep.”

-William James

“The sea” for me is truly about connecting with nature. (Click here if you haven't already read how the sea helped me transform my greatest fears when I was facing breast cancer.)  We can watch water journey over time: droplets of vapor in the air gather in clouds and come pouring back down as life-giving rain to replenish the source and then disperse once again. Water very powerfully conveys wisdom about the cycles of life. The more time we spend outdoors, the better able we are to see how deeply entwined these cycles are with our own lives. We come to see that we are not separate from, but are very much a part of the organic world around us.

Someone once asked me, “What if I cannot get to the sea?” Perhaps there is another body of water that is more readily accessible to you. Any source of water will do. You may find that you live quite near to a pond, lake, swamp, marsh, bay, trickling stream, or rushing river. Each source of water has its own qualities, even its own “personality.” Each supports its own unique ecosystem, and provides nourishment for different types of animals and plants. Sitting beside the water can help to quiet your mind. Observing the natural world offers valuable insights about your own inner wilderness. Soon you will find that even if you live in the desert, you can still visualize and meditate upon your own personal “sea.”

If you cannot journey to a body of water, you can at least get to the water from your own bathtub or shower. Perhaps a bowl of water can be placed somewhere in your home reserved for quiet daily reflection or meditation.   Water (particularly from a natural, flowing source) is a living entity. It has the ability to change us. It can help to transform our emotions. If we’re upset, and we’re open to the healing power of water, we can allow it to cleanse us. It can help take some of our pain away. The change is subtle, especially at first. There is a degree of imagination involved here, which can strengthen in time. Yet the feeling of release is quite tangible. The element of water can be a profound way of helping us transform our personal energy.

Pay attention to what you are drawn to. The positive things you feel pulled toward can be tremendous resources in your life. It matters less what these things specifically are. The importance lies in identifying what is rewarding to you and making regular space in your routine for these activities. Some people find their quiet inner space while repairing cars or making people laugh. For others, it is yoga or gardening. Some find teaching children, sewing, or home improvement projects incredibly enjoyable. There are as many ways of finding and connecting with our deeper inner Self as there are people. That is what “the sea” is for me. What resonates with one may not resonate with another. We each have our own way, and that’s a beautiful thing!

Truly, “the sea” lies within us—and is all around. It is something different for each individual. We are collectively drawn to rewarding activities of one kind or another; everyone has something meaningful in our lives that calls to us. Whether it’s dancing, photography, parenting, serving meals at the soup kitchen, or running—it doesn’t much matter what it is—it’s about the space we reach within ourselves during that activity. Where our thoughts and breathing slow, and we feel a sense of wholeness and purpose inside—that is “the sea,” for me. It might be something different for you.

How do you cultivate a deeper sense of purpose? If you feel incomplete or feel that your daily routine no longer leaves you satisfied, look closely at what Life is telling you. It is essential to do what you feel called to do because this will empower you. Take the time to find something that is enjoyable to you, that brings you pleasure and helps you feel truly alive. This doesn’t mean that you need to quit your job—it’s often enough to embrace a new hobby or attitude that carries over into your day-to-day roles and responsibilities.

Please recognize that there is no right and wrong. There is no judgment here. You might try working with watercolors and find that it’s not for you. Perhaps years later you’ll remember an experience you had with painting when you’re in a completely different space and have it open up a whole new world for you because you are ready.

Perhaps you could set a goal to try something new every week or simply commit to beginning a practice with journaling or drawing. It’s important (especially at first, but always) that you’re willing to set aside your convictions and expectations and really just give in to the experience. Let the possibilities unfold. It’s not fair to ourselves to expect that when we sit down to paint for the first time in our lives that we’ll come up with a Picasso. Yet this is how our minds typically work. We desperately want to produce a fine piece of art.   We are very self-critical and have to learn to shed the inner critic. It doesn’t serve us. We have to be wiling to let it go.

The greatest healing, for me, comes from freeing my own inhibitions and getting to a space where I’m not afraid to make a big mess. When I write in my journal, I just let things out. My goal is to just get things off my chest.   It’s not to sound pretty or to even make sense to anybody but myself. It’s to surrender my experiences, my stored up emotions. So I write and write and write, and then there’s this tremendous feeling of release. It’s a cathartic thing for me, that feeling. Sometimes when I go back and read over what I have written, there are a few useful nuggets in there that I can pull out for something else; but that’s not how things start out, certainly.

I’m sure that something similar could be said for those who create other things. If you were to begin with charcoal and pastels, instead of paper and pen, you can set the momentum of your intention by just making the first stroke, no matter how awkward it might feel. It is quite likely that what you might initially create appears more like a blob than a masterpiece. I must say that there is absolutely nothing wrong with blobs! I highly regard blobs of all sizes, shapes, and colors! The act of making a blob is an important force of creative nature. There is something very healing about allowing oneself to tap into the most deep, powerful scary, hurtful feelings of our being, to express them and allow them to be. That is exactly what allows us to let them go, ultimately. What allows us to move on.

The unknown is scary by nature. It is often preferable to deal with a familiar problem than to face an unfamiliar solution. Yet how you deal with uncomfortable situations helps define who you are as a human being. Life has pain. We feel drawn to the good parts, the comfortable parts, the parts that feel nice. Yet our true work of growth comes from the most difficult times. If we try to gloss right over them, they can hold us back until we’re ready to really delve into these things…or they become obstacles so large that there is no way around them aside from facing them head on.

No one said that life would be easy. From my experience, and that of other people whom I know or have read about—people who have been through far more difficult struggles than I—life is more about what we make of the hardships we encounter. We can’t always change our outer circumstances, but we can always find the strength, power, and courage to rise up to them. Our greatest challenge lies in facing our fears. It’s not something that comes naturally to us. Life reminds me regularly that courage is not being unafraid. Courage is doing a brave thing anyway, despite our fear.

Once we’ve found our own private “sea,” just going to “the sea” and connecting with it is not enough. We need to stretch and grow ourselves, to find ways of carrying that “sea” within us. Striving to live our lives as fully and consciously as possible is like exercising a new set of muscles. It can be awkward or uncomfortable at first, and will get easier with time and repetition. You will not always be able to maintain a strong level of connection with your Source. Whatever you can do to establish and maintain that contact will only help you and allow you to more fully be able to serve the Great Life. Going to “the sea” is useful because it can remind you who you truly Are. It aligns you with your higher Self. This becomes your practice. Your discipline. It shows you how to be mindful, and this mindfulness ultimately can be carried over into every aspect of your life.

The times of your greatest challenge are the times that you feel cut-off from your Source, when you feel isolated from “the sea.” Life may seem to provide circumstances that prevent you from doing the very activities that give you meaning and purpose. These are also the times of your greatest periods of growth. You may be extremely busy, have an unexpected, earth-shattering loss, or feel so ill or hopeless that you cannot get out of bed. When you can’t get out to “the sea,” it is easy to get stuck in unproductive thoughts or patterns. There is a natural downward spiral that can lead you to depression and despair when you feel out of balance.

If you can manage, however, to shift your focus—even for an instant—you can begin to realize that you can call upon “the sea” and ask it to bring its presence to you. You can learn to bring “the sea” to the self, even in your darkest moments. This opens us up to an oasis of possibility and opportunity. Your pain can actually become the gateway to peace when you stop fighting against it and discover the still, sacred space within. Insomnia can bring you to a level of awareness you may not have been capable of reaching in the busier, wakeful hours of the day. Loss stows hidden treasures for the wounded hearts left behind.

This is an empowering realization. You can expect to stumble upon this insight unexpectedly, but soon you will discover ways of actively working it into your life. Bringing “the sea” to the self gives the ability to move from a feeling that life is happening to or at you, toward a space of willingness to change the only thing you truly have any semblance of control over—yourself. Realizing that “the sea” dwells within is like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz at the moment she learns that she capable of going home any time that she chooses. “The sea” is your birthright. Most of what fills up your day-to-day life is mundane. A simple shift in awareness that brings you back to your inner “sea” has the ability to transform the mundane into the magical.

Commit to finding “the sea” around you and create ways to bring it into your daily or weekly routine. Follow your external passions in life with fervor! Make time for these important interactions.  Savor them. They nurture and develop your soul, and lead you to your inner “sea.” Time will awaken the wisdom and beauty of “the sea” within you. Let it ebb and flow inside of you. Carry what you learn, along with your tide, out into the world. It will one day rise up, like droplets of vapor in the air, gather in clouds and come pouring back down as life-giving rain to replenish the Sea again.