Being here at Mar de Jade, naturally waves come to mind as a metaphor for the human life. So letís explore that metaphor. Maybe that metaphor is more useful than your current metaphor. I say this because we all live our lives by metaphor. ďTimĒ and all of the ideas and emotions and impulses that I weave into the idea of ďTimĒ are a metaphor for my life. Just a metaphor. One Iíve carefully constructed for many years, and one Iím always tinkering with. And one that doesnít really serve me that well. But for the next 20 minutes or so I thought Iíd forget about that one, and you could please forget about your metaphor also. Letís instead consider a wave as a way to express what our life really is.
Waves are born out in the ocean from wind and they start traveling. Broad, smooth swells of water, waves to be, start traveling across the ocean. Sometimes the swells are very slight, if you are in a boat on the ocean you barely feel them Ė just slightly rising and falling, rising and falling, like a baby being rocked in itís cradle. Other times the swells are huge, when youíre boat falls to the trough between swells you canít see anything around you but great walls of water. A rising and falling mass of water.
Itís hard to tell when you look at a swell or a wave if itís a single thing somehow moving through the water or not. Or is it a chain reaction with no individuality at all? As one little section of the water lifts up, another compensates by dropping down. A hand off of energy from one bit of water to another. It all seems to add up to something that looks like something Ė ďaĒ wave, but I think if you just look at a little section of water you donít see a wave moving by. You just see rising and falling. You just see energy manifesting itself and one thing leading to another thing. But for ease of conversation, letís go ahead and say that a wave is a thing and that it moves.
Eventually these swells reach the shore. They might travel a mile, or a hundred miles, or a thousand miles, but eventually they reach the shore. When this traveling swell starts to be constricted by the rising surface of the ocean as it approaches the shore it starts losing space below it. The sections of water moving up and down donít have as much room to move down now. They are banging into that bottom and the swell starts to be destabilized. A big long even swell with the great depth of the sea to maneuver in is being pushed up into the air. A rounded, smooth swell becomes a steep wave. It gets steeper and steeper. And water at the top of the wave slamming into the air. The poor wave is being hammered from all directions. And the top of the wave becomes sharper and soon it has a sharp edge. And the wind starts pulling the water right off of that top edge. Pulling it into the sky. Making a ragged edge of white Ė tearing the water from the top. And the silent swell start to talk after hundreds or thousands of miles of quietly traveling through the ocean. The waves starts to hiss and buzz. The waves gets steeper and steeper until finally with a crash, or a roar, or any number of complex sounds the wave falls over, breaking onto the shore. And itís water slides down the slope of the ocean to the bottom. Returning to the great ocean.
And then what happens? Is the wave gone? Is it dead? Has it been annihilated? Where is the wave now?
All of the water that we once called our wave has returned to the mother ocean. To circulate, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly around the Earth until itís time comes to rise to the surface again pulled once more by the invisible hands of the wind into a new swell ready to travel once more on itís long journey. A journey surely doomed to end on some distant shore.
Should we say then that waves are reborn?
Can we say that waves are not reborn?
Does either question actually make any sense? Does thinking of a wave as a wave make any sense?
So we are waves. Distant and mysterious forces draw us up into existence. And we travel on our journey. Across the great ocean. Maybe we travel for years in relative tranquility. Maybe we break onto a coral atoll in the middle of the ocean just a few weeks are we come into being. Maybe we move through great storms and troubles, with lots of turbulence, and we lose much water to the howling winds, or gain water from torrential rains. Maybe we stay in the tropics, warm and gentle except for the occasional hurricane. Maybe we head for the colder waters up north. But a swell is only going to last so long. Sooner or later itís going to be pushed, pulled, or torn back into the water and return to the great ocean.
We do like being our own wave. We know we are not the only wave out there. But we are our own wave. Moving up and down, rolling along. For the most part we like to stay pretty level, keep things within bounds, stay within our accustomed range of up and down motion. In any case, we donít like when part of us moves down. But weíve learned to live with that for the most part. We like the part of us thatís moving up. And weíre often trying to find ways for more of us to lift up. Maybe if we just went to more retreats more of our wave could be moving up at any given time! But most importantly to us, we donít want to break.
If you were to ask a wave as she approached the shore, a nice gradual, sandy shore like here, where the wave is lifted up gracefully steeper and steeper into a nice smooth beautiful wave how she feels, she might say she feels great. ďIím having the time of my life. Iím moving forward. And doing new and exciting things. That was a long slog through the ocean, it was okay and everything, I know I had to do it, but I graduated from that, Iím ready for the real life here at the edge of the ocean.Ē
And you ask that growing wave if he knows that he will soon break and he says, ďwhat are you talking about? I know that sometimes waves do have break someday but Iím going to avoid that for quite a bit longer. No breaking for me, at least not yet.Ē
But if you ask a wave running up against a steep rocky shore, or a breakwater around a harbor how he feels youíd get a different answer. ďWhatís happening to me? I didnít sign up for this! I wasnít ready to break and even if I had to break I know way want to break against this thing. This isnít fair! This is all fill-in-the-blankís fault!Ē And that wave is desperately trying to turn. To slow down. To stop. But being wave he can do none of those things and all of his efforts just churn up the water causing great pain and disruption.
And regardless of our attitude, when we lose part of our wave from one condition or another we suffer. The wind blows over our surface peeling away the top water. The water thatís been riding on top, enjoying the view, feeling very on top of it all peeled away by the wind screaming in pain. We donít want to lose anything, we want to hold onto all of our water.
And we have very mixed feelings about the other waves. If they would just all go in the same direction as us, spaced out about the same, we donít mind them. In fact some of our best friends are waves. We get along pretty well. Itís nice to have a good community of friendly waves out here in the water. But sometimes it doesnít work out that way. Other waves collide with us, they change our size, they mix their water with ours, sometimes they slam into us. We hate those waves. We blame them for their bad manners. For not turning aside and giving us space, for moving in the wrong direction. The fact that we know full well that a wave canít turn itself doesnít check our anger, or annoyance, and our hatred particularly. I mean youíd think theyíd just now better.
Sometimes we hit a big submerged rock in the middle of the ocean. We are dumb enough to snag on some submerged rock and we are torn in two. We feel like such idiots when that happens. We really should have know better. We should have listened more carefully in geography class. Iím sure the teacher probably mentioned that darn rock. And even though we didnít have a sufficient amount of knowledge of every obstacle and potential problem in the ocean, youíd think we could have been at least paying a little more attention and avoided the darn thing. I mean what were we thinking ramming into a rock like that?
Sometimes we pass through an area where the air is pushing down on the ocean really hard Ė a tropical depression I think they call them Ė and we get flattened out, squished down, really depressed. This feels awful to us. We are flattened down almost right back into the ocean from which we came. We blame ourselves for this too. Why am I so depressed? Why canít I just buck up and get out of this? But eventually we do pass out of it and somehow we had all of our energy through the whole terrible time and we surge back pretty much to our original size. And then we do our best to forget all about that terrible time of moving through the depression and basically hope that will never happen again.
We have a lot of ideas as weíre traveling along through all of these adventures. So many ideas based on memories of where we were before, ideas about where weíre going and what might happen next in our journey.
But mostly we have ideas about who we are. What kind of wave we are, what our wave values are, and how different we are from all of the other waves. Sure some of them look a lot like us but anyone in the know can see how unique we are. Depending on the wind and other conditions when we were born we might be a big strong wave, a bit taller, a bit more confident than our fellows and we might feel just a bit superior to them. I mean we still try to be nice and all, but you know how it is with those smaller waves.
Or maybe conditions created us as a smaller wave. A weaker wave. We canít see so far. The other larger waves all around us block our view. Itís hard to feel so confident in ourselves. Itís hard to have much of a sense of what our purpose in life is and where weíre going. But you know we get by okay and find our niche. Itís not that bad.
Sometimes due to the various conditions in the ocean this can change and we go from being a large confident wave to a smaller insecure wave Ė thatís the worst. No one likes that. Or equally frightening, some great force might force an insecure wave out of the quiet corner of the ocean where weíve made ourselves relatively comfortable and into the lime light. We become important and famous and probably completely unstable.
But through it all we want to hold it together. The last thing we want to do is be torn apart and fall back into the ocean.
Our feelings about the ocean are a bit conflicted. We know that the ocean is important. That itís down there somewhere. It was good that there was an ocean for us to be born from. We feel some duty to be grateful to the ocean for being around at the right time. But really at this point Iíd be just as happy if the ocean would just leave me alone alright? I mean Iím my own wave and I donít know some big old ocean messing with me.
And we do fear crashing into pieces. We donít want to let go of our form and slide back into the depths.
But what if we could somehow change our attitude?
What if we could really feel the ocean. What if we developed the courage to allow our attention to drop below the surface of our wave into the depths. What if we were to breathe down to the bottom of our wave and see what that boundary between our wave and the rest of the ocean was like. What if we found that in fact there is no boundary there at all. If we could actually appreciate that and even relax and enjoy that dynamic edge where you canít really tell where the ocean ends and our wave begins? Maybe it would help us relax about this fear we hold. This fear of dissolution. Because whatís really changing when our waveís water returns to the bottom of the ocean?
Maybe if we truly understood our original ocean nature we would know,
we would really know, that sooner or later some of our water would be
a wave again. And letting go of our shape wouldnít be an issue.
We would see that to think that this particular wave would rise again
just as it is doesnít make sense. That somehow all of our water
could stay together as it travels and swirls around in the deep ocean
currents in the company of whales is not going to happen. We would understand
that is just doesnít go that way. That itís not a matter of
what we wish for or donít wish for. But that sooner or later our
water will arise once again into the daylight of this world. And letting
go of our shape would truly feel like just one part in a great and natural
cycle. A cycle that we would allow to turn without fighting it.
And maybe once we understand the immensity of the ocean we can start to feel what the ocean feels instead of just what our own little wave feels. And then we can feel the great pull of the moon far far above us. And feel the steady drag of the trade winds across our surface. And incredible energy of hurricanes and storms plowing across us. And when other waves bang into us we will able to understand the powerful forces behind their trajectories and their shapes and attitudes. And we could sympathize with them to the extent that itís no problem for us if they slam into us and reduce us. The idea of ďyouĒ hurting ďmeĒ would never occur to us as we start to appreciate the actual oceanic context of our life as waves.
And maybe once we mature in our understanding to where we can experience and understand the powerful forces driving our fellow waves around we can notice Ė ah ha Ė that those same forces drive us. And we can stop blaming ourselves when things donít work out the way weíd planned. We can truly forgive ourselves. And we can stop worrying about what weíll break against next. Maybe it will be the beautiful beach by Mar de Jade, maybe it will be an ugly breakwater around an polluted harbor, it wonít matter to us anymore. We will understand that weíve done our best in our journey and that itís ending now. We can truly relax.
May you touch the beautiful ocean nature of your life in this very retreat.
Thank you very much.
© 2005, Tim Burnett