By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“my gaze shifts to the Atlantic. Each wave is completely new and distinctive. No matter the size of the wave or its intensity, the beach gladly accepts each one as an offering from the sea. I smile and feel the rise of gratitude in my body for this lesson and for my teacher, the seashore. Without any fanfare, the sea meets the land and the message is simple: welcome everything.”– Brandon Nappi
I’m on a cruise in the Pacific Ocean and seeing nothing but water. From horizon to horizon on the starboard side, on the port side, aft, and forward; nothing but ocean. Living on land away from the ocean I’ve lost track of the fact that the Earth is also called the water planet, with over two thirds of its surface covered in water. Looking out on the ocean mindfully I am struck by how much our existence is dependent upon these vast waters. I am reminded of how interconnected everything, including ourselves, is with the oceans and how the oceans are interconnected with us. And, in spite of my ego, I am humbled by how powerless, miniscule, vulnerable, and insignificant I am. The timelessness of the ocean underscores how brief my life is; an eye blink in geologic time. This resets my thinking and puts perspective on existence.
The ocean is the cradle of life. It is the birthplace, the origin, of all life on the planet. Only relatively recently did creatures emerge from the oceans to occupy land. But, even though new forms of life developed on land, they carried with them the oceans of origin. The blood has the same electrolytes at the same concentrations as sea water. In essence, rather than being divorced from the sea, I carry the sea with me. Even our terrestrial existence is dependent upon the seas. Without them there are no clouds in the sky, there is no rain, and there is no vegetation. Life on land is dependent upon the oceans. It reminds me of how interconnected I am to the entirety of my planet and how without those interconnections, I would not be able to exist or for that matter would never have existed at all.
Seeing the ocean helps me to realize how weak and vulnerable I am. My life dangles by threads. Should I fall overboard, I would not last long in the cold waters. It would be too far to swim to shore. No matter how powerful and strong I believed myself to be, the sea unmasks my vulnerability. Society and human advancement has to some extent provided protection, including the wonderful machine I’m riding on. This allows my ego to generate the illusion of strength. But, when there’s a storm at sea, or even when it is calm, the delusion of invulnerability is stripped away and my true condition revealed. This generates a mindful appreciation for my life and the precious seconds that compose it. It opens my eyes to my dependence on others and society for protection, for being my port in the storm. It creates vast gratefulness and appreciation for others and all that I have surrounding and protecting me. When I mindfully look at things this way, I can see interdependence and impermanence in action, moment to moment.
Looking out mindfully at the vast expanse of ocean I see myself as a speck on the surface. Self-importance melts away and a tremendous humility emerges. All the events in my life and accomplishments seem so insignificant. Looking out mindfully at the agelessness of the ocean I see my life as a microsecond of oceanic time not to mention cosmic time. My ego has convinced me of a delusion that what I do and have done is important. A mindful examination of the ocean corrects this delusion. My life is but a drop in the ocean. In some ways that seems sad, but seeing the truth is never sad, it can liberate, eliminate unsatisfactoriness, and produce great happiness. All of the difficulties with career, family, and society all now seem so minor that I can’t believe that they so defined my life and determined my happiness.
When I mindfully look at the ocean the sadness lifts as I become awed by the wondrous beauty and infinite wisdom of existence. I may not be able to change it or even alter it in minor ways, but I can experience and enjoy it. I can see my life as a supremely lucky accident in the vastness of time and space, a time to be savored, a time to enjoy and a time to appreciate and learn from, in other words, a time to be mindful. It is a gift from the cosmos to me, a time not to be squandered. The seeming timelessness of the ocean underscores the brevity of my own life, like a solitary wave building and passing away, impermanent and ever changing.
With this mindful perspective my trials and tribulations become laughable trivial constructs of my ego. In the face of such vastness, how can I see an interpersonal slight as meaningful, an unattained career step as important, or a new car or a bigger house in a better neighborhood as necessary. But, this perspective doesn’t just remove delusion, it replaces it with love, wisdom, and happiness. With the death of delusion comes the birth of equanimity; seeing things, myself, and others exactly as they are and finding them not just OK but extraordinary, not just static but ever evolving, and not just real but spiritual. With the death of delusion comes the birth of deep noncontingent love, for myself, those close to me and extending to all of humanity.
Putting these thoughts behind and becoming mindful as I speed walk around the upper deck I let the present moment come into and dominate my awareness. Looking out to the horizon I feel the peace, quiet, and serenity of the horizon to horizon sea. Watching the ocean race by, feeling the breeze on my skin, smelling the fresh salt air, feeling my leg muscles at work and the clothing against my skin, hearing the engines purring, the bow breaking against the water, and the waves breaking against the side of the ship, I feel so totally alive. With my mind clear of thoughts and the ego’s delusions, I am totally awake and loving every moment. Quieting the inner voice, I am mindfully blissful at sea.
“It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies