Always Be The Water
Last weekend, while strolling along what I refer to as “the apron” – a beautiful stretch of beach in Montauk that Mother Nature has so graciously provided – I came upon a large, cylindrical piece of wood; more or less the size of two wine casks stacked one upon another. On most days, I would have elected to continue my walking meditation, not devoting much thought or attention to such “debris” as I’ve grown accustomed to doing, but for whatever reason, I decided to take a moment and situate myself some 20 yards away from where the misplaced tree trunk appeared to teeter-totter upon a slightly elevated diagonal crest of sand.
Over the course of a half hour, I observed the ebb and flow – how it affected this hefty intruder on what was otherwise a pristine, sun-drenched mid-October morning. I contemplated whether the full force of Nature would eventually throw itself upon the helpless castaway, carrying it back out to sea, or would it envelop the piece, cradling it like a young child that had just awoken from a nightmare, and place it gently upon the powdery-soft sand above the rocky wash line?
I’m not quite sure why, but in that instant, a passage that I’d read a few months earlier from George Washington Carver, had come to mind – and it reads as such, “How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and strong – because someday in life, you will have been all of these.”
I found myself thinking about how often we tend to forget that we were once “that way,” when confronted with situations that bring us to a stance of inflexibility and an unwillingness to concede. I thought about how, as a preschool instructor, on a daily basis, I’m reminded of the importance of “softening my presence” — so much so, that I’ve coined the phrase, “always be the water, never the fire.” My colleagues get a kick out of hearing it, but it’s so applicable. In the limitless world of a 3-yr old starting school, it’s all about fire. The initial experience of separation anxiety, in constant motion, learning boundaries through hard knocks, frequent conflict with their peers; if I were to meet each of those encounters with fire rather than water, it would make for a very draining day, to say the least.
As this mindfulness eventually subsided, I slowly stood up, stretching my legs to increase the circulation. While doing so, an almost magical, co-existing movement occurred at the water’s edge; whereupon a large wave, seemingly from nowhere (as the ocean was near lake-like that day), came crashing down, rushing beneath the oversized log, elevating it just enough to roll over, some 180 degrees. What was revealed on its now skyward, exposed side, literally gave me goosebumps. An intricate, yet simple rendering of a woman’s soulful face, at least two feet in length, carved several inches deep into the wood, stared back at me, as if to say, “What took you so long?” It’s crude, chiseled cuts were not unlike a totem pole, with gripped hands and square-ish feet appearing further down the sculpted piece.
Despite my usual impulse to “capture the moment” on film, I decided to stay present, choosing to comfort her by sliding my fingers along the beveled grooves of hair that framed her almost stoic, yet distressed gaze. I assured her that the journey which brought her to this sacred place was worthwhile, and that all who’ve come before her, have found solace in her welcoming shores. That with each passing storm, the landscape adjusts, evolves, and presents us with an opportunity for renewal. That as much as we seek the permanence of the ground we walk upon, it’s the fluidity of Mother Nature that reminds us to always be the water.