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Sitting By The Ocean

A couple of summers ago, I spent a week with my family enjoying the Outer Banks in North Carolina. One of my favorite activities was sitting in a chair at a point where the land and the water touch. It seemed to be a metaphor for where I am in my spiritual journey.

In my chair at the water's edge, I can feel the waves crash right in front of me. But by the time they reach me, they have usually run out of energy. There are a few people in front of me, battling the surf, but the majority of the vacationers are behind me, on dry land. We have chosen four different relationships with the sea, relationships which illustrate the four levels at which we can choose to encounter the spiritual side of our existence.

1. High and dry. Those sitting under beach umbrellas or lying on blankets smell and hear the ocean but do not feel the water. Its temperature, the strength of its breakers, its saltiness are only distant intellectual ideas for them. Where they are sitting is composed of old sand deposited by ancient waves in distant times. It is history. It is not what the ocean is doing now. It is part of the physical world, but it is outdated, dry, and can be blown away by any strong wind.

2. On the border. The second group sits at the water's edge, testing it with their toes. They are dabblers, tentatively reaching out into the deep while firmly seated on dry land. They let the water come to them, let it tantalize and sometimes surprise them. But they are not committed to one or the other. Or perhaps their commitment is to both, and they form a bridge between the two states of being.

3. Risking the surf. Then there are those who have taken the plunge, entered into the rough and tumble of that alien world which is nevertheless our mother. They take a chance on being dumped, of having their world turned upside down. The water lifts them off their feet, and they come to trust the fact that it can support them. Learning to be at home in the breakers is a necessary first step for anyone who would truly love the ocean.

4. In the deep. There are some people far out beyond the surf, where the deeper water produces a surprising calm. They are paddling small boats or floating on rafts, having overcome their fear and survived the breakers. Ahead, out of sight, is a distant shore. But in the deep beneath them are other mysteries also out of sight. To investigate these, they will need special skills, equipment and courage.

These four stages are a sequence which we all need to consider. Eons ago, in evolutionary times, our bodies once crawled from the ocean onto land. In the same way, our spirits chose to leave the world of spirit and become physical. Our return to those unfathomable depths completes the cycle and helps us rediscover who we really are.

Copyright: John W. Sloat 2003