I recently took a trip. To the beach. A dear friend asked me to cat-sit for a little over two weeks at her condo right. on. the. beach. Balcony overlooking the sand. Twenty or thirty yards from the water. I cleared it with my ex (we co-parent), arranged kids school pick-up, and said “You betcha!” I envisioned barely looking at a computer or phone, becoming one with the sun, sand, and sea. Resetting my body by welcoming mornings in sun salutations at the edge of the sand and running sprints up and down the beach, swimming daily, becoming a better swimmer, maybe even learning to surf or boogie board. I planned to return home lithe and tan, triumphantly ready to move my life forward, renewed and energized.
Even with this vision of self-improvement, the trip felt like too much happy. I had blown through 200 pages of editing my last time away from everyday life and kids. This time, I was at a different place with The Oat Project (more about that in a blog post soon). Leaving—especially to the ocean—felt so…decadent. Even as I reminded myself that rest is necessary, I also felt a hesitation for talking about it. Summer social media is saturated in sharing happy photos of every stage of a trip. These days, it nigh-on smacks of delinquency not to share each sunny moment, especially for my landlocked Colorado community. But I couldn’t. I needed to be anonymous, almost secretly there, barely looking at my phone or computer. No agenda, no external expectations. Radically present.
Then, a couple of weeks before leaving, my eye doctor said I had to stop wearing contacts until an allergy healed. The glasses I hurriedly bought online didn’t fit properly, but they would do. Unfortunately, my distance and depth perception were blurry and inaccurate. After spending a couple of days acclimating to California’s oxygen-rich air by sleeping a lot (this always happens to me, evidently), I finally got out to the beach and water…only to not see a three-inch step on the concrete path walking home, missing it completely, falling hard. I banged up and gouged a chunk out of my right knee, scraped my big toe, and broke or severely sprained the top of my left foot. Suddenly, no sprints, no swimming, no yoga, no walking. Instead, I had to sit inside with my foot elevated and iced, listening to the ocean crash on the shore.
Now, I know that sounds absolutely lovely. And it was. But it wasn’t what I had planned. So what to do? Well, I started by eating ALL the ice cream. For over a week, I ate pretty much constantly while binging on Castle (Nathan Fillion makes everything better). And I did do the one work/writer thing I had planned, with shockingly good results (again, more on that later). I breathed through the pain after a few days to walk on the beach, but it wasn’t until just before coming home that I was able to walk farther. For most of the time, I felt like a slug: depressed, isolated, and self-disdaining, focused on all the things I’d done wrong to derail my plan.
On one of those last days, I stood with my feet in the water, watching the sun set, and I realized the root of my discomfort and low spirits. I had once again invested so wholly in an imagined, better, future me that when it went awry, I kicked back into fear and self-disdain. Even the leap I took with my writing did so, too, because I was already reacting. I had been trying to figure out why I was so uncomfortable, so brittle. I knew some of it had to do with my eyes and glasses, literally not seeing anything clearly. But it was also as if I had put on an outgrown dress.
I watched the water ebb and flow. And I realized I was no longer that fear-full person. I was more used to truly living in Now, truly being in the present, trusting more in Flow than fearful of the future. The last couple years of grieving my mother’s death, making it through, had gifted me with living in the Present, knowing how to surf anxiety and fear without drowning.
Falling and injuries had triggered the old reaction; and I tried it on, but it didn’t fit any more. I looked down at my still-swollen left foot and watched the water flow over it. The sand shifted under my feet. I had to move to not sink. But the water kept coming back. Like life. Calm again, I walked back and didn’t trip. I put ice on my foot and watched yet another episode of Castle. And it was fine. The purpose was to simply be. And though I am a communicator by nature, the niggling guilt of not having done so every moment peeled off. I was there to experience it all, even the pain. To observe, feel, and absorb. The meaning-making and story-telling could come later. There are more stories, and they’ll bubble up for you soon. For Now, this is enough. Thank you for being in my life, even when it’s as shiftless as sitting on my bahookus not on the beach, eating all the ice cream, watching Castle.
p.s. If you’d like to see the photos I captured, they’ll be surfacing on my Instagram account, here: http://instagram.com/spiralspiral