It was the summer of 1991 and I had just obtained my teaching certification. The previous years had been quite busy and stressful; going to school, working two part-time jobs, and going to Greece to be with my mother who underwent bypass operation.
There wasn’t much downtime and, by that summer, I was burnt out.
Neal and I were were actively involved with an Ashram in upstate New York. We decided to celebrate my transition by spending the summer there; volunteering as we had done many times before. Our goal was to unplug, focus on our spiritual practice and gain a new perspective on life.
It was a bustling summer. There were thousands of people coming through and my job was to welcome people and help them navigate the center and its workings.
During one of the weekend meditation retreats, I was one of the people responsible for facilitating the flow in and out of the meditation hall. There were more than two thousand people in the Ashram that weekend and by Sunday afternoon, I was feeling tired and overwhelmed.
“The beach is truly home, its broad expanse of sand as welcoming as a mother’s open arms. This landscape, which extends as far as the eye can see, always reminds me of possibility. It is here I can listen to my inner voice, shed inhibitions, move to the rhythms of the waves, and ask the universe unanswerable questions.”
Joan Anderson from “A Walk on the Beach”
Having been born in a small country surrounded by water, I spent much of my time, as a child and young adult, by the sea. I deeply appreciate Joan Anderson’s words.
The beach is truly home for me, especially in the early morning or early evening hours; when the tide is coming in or going out and the light is gentle. The crowds have retreated or not arrived yet, and only a few people are around, breathing in and out with the waves and enjoying the peace. My soul mates – of sort.
I recently returned from a four day stay in Block Island, RI. This time we stayed at a B&B near the center of town so we didn’t take the car with us. Block Island is small and walker / biker friendly. Having to walk everywhere, made me see things, I wouldn’t have observed otherwise, and gain a deeper sense of the place.
Our walks to town and beach and back became walking meditation. All I had to do was put one foot in front of the other, breathe and let my senses open up to the environment. The salty air, the cool breeze, the sound of the wind through the tall grass on the edge of the salt water pond, the smell of beach roses, the seagulls calling, bikers, walkers, children and a feeling of peace, of letting go and letting be.
The bed was near the window overlooking the fields. The cool, salty breeze would come through the window all night. I found myself waking up at 6 am to bird song and the morning light changing the view in front of my eyes. All I wanted was to get up and go. Neal and I would get up, put warm clothes on and off to the beach we went.
The tide was still low, the sand wet and cool. The sandpipers were hard at work already, chasing the waves, going back and forth with the rhythm of the tide, digging in the wet sand for their breakfast. They went in groups and moved in perfect harmony.
There were only a handful of people walking. Some would smile and say hello, others not. I got the feeling that we were all there to experience this moment, in our own way and let each other be. How refreshing.
Soon after the first day, I felt time stretching and slowing down. Waking up early and starting with my day, walking everywhere and being open to all details, made every moment more vivid, lively and important. My spirit was being restored and my energy and inspiration recharged.
One windy afternoon, we went kayaking on the saltwater pond. On our way out, we had to paddle against the wind. We were the only ones there. All was quiet and peaceful. Paddling against the wind required more effort but as we turned, the wind was at our back, bringing us ashore, gently.
Everything in life seems to be part of a cycle. In and out, back and forth, up and down, darkness and light. Sometimes we paddle against the wind, doing the best we can, resting here and there or struggling to stay afloat.
Eventually we arrive at our destination, turn our backs to the wind, and it’s smooth sailing from that point on. We’re brought back to shore, safe, and filled with a sense of achievement and exhilaration, our stamina restored. We learned something more about ourselves during the journey and pretty soon we’re ready to go at it again.
It’s all based on rhythm, our breath in and out, the tides, day and night, and the seasons. A garden sprouts and blooms, then withers and dies. It goes underground only to return glorious and more beautiful than ever in the spring. The cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Then, there’s the space in between, where we can rest and recharge. I guess, that’s what these four days were for me. The space in between!
“It’s peaceful,” my fifteen year old daughter said, “Almost, too peaceful!” she added. We had just come from a four-mile walk on the beach above. We were sitting on the porch facing the Atlantic. I was reflecting on our walk, feeling grateful for the expansion of beach and sky in front of us.
Right then, I was reminded . . . she’s at the stage of her life where the more the better. I have entered the period in my life where less is more and peace and simplicity are what I crave the most.
Two women, two generations, two different takes on life. I wondered whether she’s bored with my ways. I’m sure it happens often these days.
Peaceful is golden for me. Peaceful can be boring to her.
I love my daughter and I admire and respect her lively, curious spirit and authentic character. She’s beautiful, loving, fun, and curious.
I want to somehow transmit what I know and tell her to take it easy and feel the richness of every moment. I tell her but I’m not sure she really understands what I mean.
How can she? She’s at the beginning of her life’s journey and I’m way past the middle point.
She’ll have to find out for herself. I’ve given her all I could and now, I have to stay back and observe. I can’t rob her from the privilege of her experience and I wouldn’t want to.
These days, I’m coming to understand that, parenting, loving, co-existing have a lot to do with letting go and letting be.
Don’t let my white hair fool you I have a story to tell this is my dream I walk this earth I feel the wind on my skin as the clouds pass by undisturbed by my illusions
I speak – simple words come through me I breathe – I am I love – the tears show me the way I get mad I daydream I nurture a family, a garden I wait for the hummingbirds to visit
My hands show the years gone by leathery, dark, deep blue veins the blood that fueled the decisions of my youth still flows through my body pain and stiffness and regrets ghosts lingering the past has marked the corners of my mind
Peace is an everyday practice one breath at at time each wave as it comes I breathe through it I’m beginning to understand my warrior nature
I still stand my roots grow deep my arms embrace this moment love is practice fighting the fight many have fought never knowing what will be walking, breathing, living, being.
Copyright ⓒ 2011 Yota Schneider – the art of pausing