I love how you are making yourself more and more receptive to truths in their wild state. Robert Brezsny
This body that we have, this very body that’s sitting here right now in this room, this very body that perhaps aches, and this mind that we have at this very moment, are exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive. Jack Kornfield
It was early evening, one of those glorious evenings last week where the breeze off the lake was mild and the air fresh, more like late September than early November in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. And there I was breathing it in, the last of the day’s sunshine still clinging to the air and to the trees and to the ripples dancing across Marquette’s Lower Harbor, there I was breathing it in, the freshness of this great body of water stretched out beside me as I walked on a path that I know by heart, a bike path that winds its way through the city, tracing this gem of a Lake Superior shoreline. It is here for us always, this lake and this path and the gulls who I was saying hello to on this particular day and the break-wall that protects the harbor from the thrashing storms and the brilliant red coast guard station out on a point that is no longer a coast guard station and soon will belong to the people. It is here for us always, the long sandy beaches and the rocky ledges and the place we call Picnic Rock. It is here for us always, and I have never ever taken it for granted. And yet, on this day, as the sun set over the sandstone buildings of the city, everything seemed sweeter, more precious than before.
There was the way that the sky seemed more blue and those little ripple waves in the harbor more shimmery and the smell of the lake more clear and life-enhancing than I had remembered. And there was a glow in the air and a glow on the faces of the people I met along the trail. And there was my body and it was moving, one leg and then the other. It was finding a rhythm, arms swinging at my side, natural and easy, my pace picking up, my heart beating faster and happier. And then I noticed that I was crying — I had gotten my stride back. It had been a while. I think it was July that I had last walked this path, and it had been months since my walking had felt this fun. I had been back-ridden and bed-ridden, in healing mode with a health challenge, and, now, on this particular evening, I was once again among the walkers and the runners and the bikers, and it didn’t matter if my back was still stiff and my gait a little awkward and my pace not quite what it had been before. It didn’t matter what I looked like on the outside. I was doing it and it felt wonderful on the inside and “Thank you!” was my mantra as I walked along and my tears, they were an ocean of appreciation.
And that’s what I want to tell you, that I could see more clearly now, not only the shimmer on the lake and the glow on people’s faces — I also could see how a part of me had been pinched off before, and it was me who had been doing the pinching. I had pruned my tree of a body and life into a neat and tidy package of health and happiness, where there was little room for a stray or broken branch, where there was little opportunity to shoot outward and skyward into a place of growth and expansion. And isn’t it a bit messy the way the trees in the wild let themselves grow? And isn’t that what we really want, to be as wild and messy and out-of-the-pruned-in-box of right and wrong and this and that as we really are? And isn’t it true that, at our deepest selves, we want to shoot our branches skyward like the trees? I know that I do. And, I know that it is from the place of contrast, of finding myself on ground that, at first, seems uncomfortably messy, that I give up the pruning and take the leap into wholehearted expansion.
I believe that it doesn’t need to swallow us up, this contrast. Instead, I believe that it can be a beckoning, a reckoning to dig deeper into our core, into our alignment with Source until we uncover the gem, the desire that rises up out of this place of what what we do not want into a newfound clarity of what we do want. Bethany Hamilton is a beautiful role model who reminds me that we don’t need to stay knocked down by the ocean swells of contrast. I had heard of her before, this young girl from Kauai, who in 2004, as a teenager with a promising career as a professional surfer, was riding the waves with her best friend on the north shore of the island, when, between swells, while lying belly down on her board, arms dangling in the water, was attacked by a shark that snapped her arm right off, the whole of it, just like that. And Bethany’s life was forever changed as she found herself swimming in a sea of contrast. I knew that part of the story, remembered it from the news, how it was a miracle that she was alive, and more of a miracle that she ever climbed back on her board and rode those waves again. But the story didn’t seem intimate to me until last week when I watched the biopic about Bethany, Soul Surfer.
What was it about this movie, about Bethany’s story that drew me in, and called me back to watch more than once? The setting was glorious. Those beaches and cliffs and tropical forests of Kauai’s north shore are a sight to behold, and the deep blue color of the Pacific is mesmerizing, and the aqua curls of those huge waves pull you right into their center. It is almost enough to watch a movie just for the scenery alone. But that wasn’t it. It was Bethany — she didn’t stay stuck in her contrast. Sure, it was shocking to her, shocking to witness a part of her beautiful young body no longer there, shocking to see instead a little misshaped stub at her shoulder, shocking to realize that she needed to learn a different way to do just about everything, including surfing. Sure, she cried and she wondered why this thing had happened to her. And then, she did the deep-digging, the soul-searching and she found her faith and her passion and she did it; she got back on that board. And she learned a new way to paddle out to those waves, a new way to balance her weight, a new way to ride her way back into competition. And she learned something else, too — and perhaps this is what called me back to watching the movie again and again. As the world reached out to her, and, as her story inspired so many others, she realized that this thing that she loved more than life itself, this ocean and these waves and the board and the ride, they weren’t the most important thing after all. There was something else. And the last line in the movie — a line that Bethany spoke after her first post-accident National competition, when asked if she was given the opportunity to live that day over, would she have gone surfing — says it all. “I’ve had the chance to embrace more people with one arm than I ever could with two.”
And that brings me back to my walk along the path last week. I’m not Bethany and a shark didn’t snap my arm off below the shoulder and though I would love to, I have never surfed the ocean’s waves. But I do know what it is like to love this body I live in, to trust its strength and its stamina, and to love moving within its breath and its bones on water and land in adventure after adventure. And I do know what it felt like to find myself in a place of contrast in which this body wasn’t working like it used to work. And I do know how to rise up from the contrast and do know desire, and, sure, I do want to get this body back in adventure-worthy shape. And, I say, isn’t this walk, this walk where my stride is smooth again and my arms are swinging again, isn’t this walk on my own home turf an adventure enough? And isn’t there something more that I’m learning as I walk this path, as I move myself forward on this journey of expansion? We are all vulnerable. We all have our metaphoric shark bites. And we all are strong too, and we all can take the leap out of the contrast into a greater place than we ever have been before. And we all are in this together, on a bike path, or maybe in the ocean waves on a surf board, or maybe in a board meeting or classroom or a concert hall, in the country or the city, in this land or a foreign land, in a mosque or a cathedral or a temple, we are all in this together, in a great playground of equanimity and love.