Stay

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After catastrophe, it is probably best to assess the extent of the damage, grieve one’s losses, and consider carefully one’s next move in the altered situation. 

I have not been very good at this process. I have been impatient and made precipitous decisions that cost me far more than the originary disaster. I knew I had to learn to “stay,” but  I was not clear on what that meant or how to do it. I think I have moved a bit further along the learning curve.

I have been waiting for months for something to shift. I have grown restless. In terms of romantic relationships, I have tried to fit round pegs into square holes; in terms of making art, I have rearranged my studio over and over again hoping to precipitate inspiration; in terms of money I have made a bit more progress.  I got a second job and things are beginning to stabilize.

In December, something happened that I could not have foreseen, something that I had dreamed of for decades, something that I thought would never ever happen. It was like a movie. An old lover came back into my life. Not just any old lover, but “the one who got away,” the one about whom I harbor near-daily regret, the only person to whom I truly and deeply felt destined. This is a tsunami. Not as in disaster, but as in the beautiful Japanese paintings of great waves. This has also been utterly life altering.

For the past few months, I have just been trying to be comfortable with being happy about this.  I am actually happy, blissfully so. I have also just been trying to accept that sometimes good things happen and that they happen to me, sometimes. I am trying to understand what love feels like with clarity. I am trying to accept that I am loved and lovable. I am trying to learn precisely what that feels like.

A few weeks ago, after rearranging my studio one more time, I began painting again. Also, I have been wanting to move, and so I upped the ante. Instead of checking craigslist for apartments, as I have been doing regularly for a few months, I called my real estate agent and a mortgage lender. On the money front, as summer nears, the pressure to reboot my business has set in and new ideas have been flooding in, each one more brilliant than the last. I spend hours thinking about how I will go about creating my artisanal empire.

But.

I had three days off and alone this week, a luxury that I had not experienced in months, and so there was ample time and space for doubt and fear to creep into my psyche. I have been agitated for the past few days and unable to name the source of my unease. But this morning I think I may have stumbled onto an answer.

A really important of my spiritual and healing path has been to learn how to discern a real tsunami, and how to distinguish between dangerous waves and life-affirming waves. I have compensated for my inability to make sound judgments by allowing myself to be swept away for long periods of time, forgetting everything that has not been sucked into the churning waters, and then washing up on a beach somewhere, stunned and very, very resentful.

But when it comes to actual waves, I have known since I was a child how to play with the ocean.

  1. Do not turn your back on the ocean.
  2. Know your purpose . . . are you trying to body-surf or just bob around for a while or something else?
  3. Assess the parameters of the wave . . . how it is growing, how high will it grow, where might it break?
  4. Understand the context of the wave . . . is it part of a series or a singular entity? Will you dive under only to be smashed in the face when you emerge?
  5. Position yourself appropriately to purpose, position, context.
  6. If you wants to body surf and you have positioned yourself perfectly, face the shore, but keep an eye over your shoulder . . . at the perfect moment, start swimming with all your strength and with no hesitation whatsoever.
  7. If body-surfing is not on your agenda, position yourself with your back to the shore and push your body up and over the crest of the wave.
  8. If you have miscalculated any aspects of the wave and you sense impending danger, reposition yourself very quickly (if necessary) and dive into the wave. If you do this skillfully, you will come up on the other side of the break, refreshed and proud of your efforts.

These are the basics of playing with the ocean, which can be an erratic, dangerous, and wild playmate. But the ocean has also been, for me at least, the source of immense joy. Playing mindfully with the ocean is my bliss.

But the larger context for playing with the ocean, for this entire series of calculations and moves, is to exert a patient courage. In order to experience the unparalleled joy of playing with the ocean, you must “stay.” If you want to body-surf, you cannot just expect the perfect wave to emerge as soon as you have gotten into the water. If you want to bob patiently, you need to wait for the ocean to tell you where to go. If you want to play like a ninja, you have to hope the ocean will be a cooperative and lively playmate.

So these are the lessons I will take to my encounter with the extraordinary and blissful tsunami that has come my way. I will continue to get my house in order at a realistic pace and with a sense of my own rhythm. I will make my art, wash my dishes, eat more vegetables, and be on-time for work. And I will love my new-old lover with a patient courage that I learned, despite it all, as a very young girl playing in the Atlantic.

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