I have always admired beaches because of my love for the sea and beautiful sunsets. If you’ve walked on a beach bare feet, leaving foot imprints and enjoying the touch and go of the waves; as you look at the vastness of the sea and admire the magnificence and beauty of nature – you have likely shared my experience of wonder, amazement and bliss.
Lessons from the Ocean
The smell of the sea wind, the soothing sound of crashing waves, the infinity of the horizon – all of it are aesthetically pleasing and poetic in description. But I’ve also imbibed lessons, simple yet important ones from the beach. Why do we love the sea? The waves of the water have some potent power to make us think about things we like to think about. And in that moment, time just seems to stop by as if it too really wants you to just breathe it all in, to just be in that moment. My first lesson was mindfulness.
Mindfulness is described as a current awareness of thoughts, feelings, physical sensations and the surrounding environment through an accepting, gentle and non-judgmental lens. It’s like being the observer rather than the experience of your thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations. We live so much of our lives constantly bombarded with information from the environment, the judgments and opinions in our own head and fail to pay attention to a fuller and moment-to-moment experience of our passing days. When burnout becomes real and we have no choice other than to take a break – we resort to all sorts of recreation, both arguably healthy and unhealthy ones. Recall your own experiences where you’ve felt at peace, light in the head and joyful.
Those would surely be moments where the mind has been in the present, without any judgements. The simplest tool to be able to practice the same bliss, gentle acceptance and training the mind to stay better in the present comes through meditation. yes, that fancy, heavy word is used a lot, having many religious/spiritual connotations.
While meditation as a practice is rooted in many religious practices, the simple way of understanding it is through an everyday metaphor – it’s like dropping your bags to the floor after you’ve been shopping for long and your arms are tired. You take a deep breath, maybe sip some water and feel refreshed again to get back to shopping more! It is the same rejuvenation I’ve felt, multiple times, breathing in the sea wind and just allowing myself to be, wholly in the present. No judgements, no effort.
Trauma and Grieving
Why do we feel amazed looking at the sea? Might waves, the vastness of its existence are so fixating to watch, that you’re just naturally filled with wonder. How can something so internally chaotic, with its rising falling waves, have such a peaceful, resting impact on the onlooker? My second lesson is about trauma and grieving.
The waves are naturally a part of the sea, just like difficult experiences in life are inevitable. All of us share the unpredictability and lack of control over our lives to some extent; things don’t go according to plan always, people change in relationships, and unexpected losses take place – we have said out loud at some point or another, “life is unfair”. Trauma, no matter how big or small, is a significant experience and largely unpleasant, and painful in experience.
As a psychologist, I’ve heard a lot of clients often dismiss personal traumas by saying “Others have had to go through worse”. And I’ve come to understand how in the process of coming to terms with the impact of the waves in our life, to show and learn acceptance, we fail to acknowledge that the waves are also chaotic, damaging and unsettling.
Trauma is subjective in experience, no one’s individual experience compares to another in intensity or impact. Common, normal reactions to a traumatic, abnormal event in life include unpleasant emotions such as anxiety, depression, guilt, shock/denial, and fear; cognitive symptoms such as flashbacks, thoughts of hopelessness and helplessness; nightmares are common too along with physical symptoms like fatigue, muscle tension, nausea racing heartbeat, shortness of breath.
Dealing with personal traumas is not an easy task. People commonly talk about the grieving process as a response to traumatic experiences involving loss and gaining a sense of moving on. The loss could range from the physical loss of a loved one to the psychological loss of a relationship or one’s sense of identity following a trauma. As described by famous psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, the grieving process involves five stages – denial (this can’t be happening to me…), anger (why is this happening to me), bargaining (make this happen/undo this and I will….in return), depression (I’m too sad to do anything), acceptance (I’m at peace with what happened).
Grieving is personal and different for everyone – no set way of going through the stages, nothing neat or sequential about it, timings vary and healing happens gradually. Healing comes largely from accepting and learning to ride our waves. While initial denial and anger often will us into wanting things to be different, and wanting situations or people to change – it also is exhausting and causes immense suffering. Letting go, becoming soft and accepting reality is often a kinder act than the struggle. This reflects my wonder and amazement as I look at the sea and realise – some waves are undoubtedly beautiful while others will be crushing and incredibly tough, yet both are reality. The best we can do is learn to ride our waves.
Why do we often feel small and insignificant in front of the sea? The infinity and vastness of the sea are huge and striking in nature. As we walk towards the beach, wonder and awe often fill us, making us feel smaller in front of the marvel of nature. Who am I truly if not this body, Who am I without my memories and thoughts? This wonder can be described in my third lesson, oneness and my true nature.
In my head, my sense of self may be vast and detailed – I am a girl, a daughter, a friend, a psychologist, and a human. Over the years as I have grown up, different experiences and my socio-cultural context have shaped various aspects of my identity. Erik Erikson, a famous developmental psychologist came forth with psychosocial stages to explain the developmental process.
According to him, adolescence is a time when individuals begin to integrate their childhood experiences, inner drives, abilities, and social values into a sense of who they are as individuals. The central task at this age is to develop an identity separate from parents, one that is stable and authentic. Most of us have a stable sense of self as we enter adulthood providing healthy development.
While individuality is important, a deeper understanding of spiritual traditions offers insight into the experience of oneness. Many religious traditions also boil down to this concept of oneness and an invitation to perceive ourselves as being larger than body-mind. The beauty and wonder of the sea is evident when we are looking at the sea as a whole, not as individual drops of water. All of us are familiar with a voice in our head (the ego), the constant chatter of thoughts, judgements, and opinions; other rare moments (in a mindful, meditative state) also offer the experience of something beyond, not on the conscious level – the inner self, our true nature.
We are significant as long as we are in our heads, operating from the ego; we feel small, and insignificant when experiencing oneness and in touch with our true nature. I am bound by language to fully describe this abstract concept, but the flow of the sea (not the physical water body, not the individual water droplets, not the waves) is the closest metaphor to understanding oneness and our true nature.
As you uphold your wonder and bliss when you look at the sea, I hope you feel grateful and content with your waves as you learn to ride them and more so I hope you remember your flow, as you grow with it.
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