I am sitting in a beautiful sunny spot overlooking the ocean in Newport Beach. I feel very blessed to have this opportunity to escape the cold and return to California, and realize I am still a California girl at heart — although many too many years along to carry this image.
This coast in California has swelled with people over the years since I first lived in California as a girl. Houses climb up every hill, hanging off cliffs, braced with stone walls and metal pilings. What is it that so draws us to the ocean? All ages drift along the beach and sit in the benches in the beach-front parks. There are kids dragging beach toys, toddlers digging holes in the sand, mothers with blankets and baskets, young lovers just strolling, old folks with tiny dogs, surfers silhouetted in the distance waiting for a perfect wave, muscular young people playing volleyball, old men playing chess — everyone likes to hang out at the beach.
Perhaps our senses draw us to the sand and sea, the warmth on the skin, the smell of the salt air, the unbounded horizon, the taste of salt and sunscreen, the soothing sounds of the steady surf and the calls of seabirds. It is one place we take the time to simply be where we are, soaking it in through all the senses. In some ways it is home, representing the primal life that keeps the planet functioning — without oceans could there be life on earth? It is a place that draws us to reflect on ourselves, our lives, our destinies.
Every age has a different approach to the beach. I remember the fun of digging in damp sand and building sandcastles with my dad when I was a young girl in San Diego.
A little older and it was more thrilling to run in and out of the waves and see how deep I could trust myself to go. As a teenager I once swam out way too far and had to grab a rope attached to a buoy to pull myself back on the beach. It was the most frightened I have ever been in the water.
In high school the draw of the beach was for romantic nighttime beach parties, volley ball, flirting around a camp fire, getting nauseous on the rides at the boardwalk, and laying in the hot sun to get a tan.
As a young mother the beach was a place to let the kids run free, to see their excitement and enthusiasm for the sea and its creatures hidden in the crevices of the tide pools, and to have picnics with family and friends. As about-to-be grandparents my husband and I spent a month at Venice and Santa Monica Beaches in the college apartment of a friend’s daughter walking with our pregnant daughter everyday until her daughter was born. It felt like a time-out from our ordinary life, a time for intimacy and restoration and new beginnings, in the midst of the craziness of all the characters who inhabit the Venice Beach Boardwalk.
Today the beach is a place to walk and enjoy sunsets, and recall old memories, and seek out ocean front cafes. There is no longer a pull to go into the water or a longing to lie half-naked on the sand. Just being in the ocean air and scenery is satisfying enough. Watching the children and seeing how universal and yet in some way impersonal all this pleasure is that arises in the sand and sea.
What can awakening be beyond simply being alive and present to what is? there are so many magical assumptions about the nature of spiritual awakening. As if our life is more enriched by magic, or yogic tricks like flying (bouncing), or manifesting something out of nothing, or sitting in caves completely closed off to the world. As if we need to be healed from who or what we are. I spent many years seeking “enlightenment” and now I cannot remember what it is I thought I would get. I am not saying they were wasted years because it is really clear to me I am not the same person I was when I started — I am more simple, less troubled, and there is not an ounce of seeking left in me. It is enough to just be who I am and where I am. There is beauty to be found everywhere in this world if we only take time to look. There is disappointment and suffering as well — who can deny it? Tragedy is in the news every day, particularly the tragedy of lost lives always convinces us something is seriously wrong, and life is dangerous.
It seems to me now that awakening is simply the realization that what is living here is never lost, even when the body/mind return to their original states of dust and ethers, still what is our presence/essence/awareness must also return to source, and that source is never destroyed, never limited. We can’t understand this but we can sense it — our consciousness knows itself, when all else is set aside for a few moments in time, and we see we are not bound by time and space. But awakening is not about always feeling unbounded, as far as I can tell. It invites a return into ordinary life, into the pleasures of the senses which can only be enjoyed in the body, into the pleasures of this world, this life, this beauty available here and now, which has made an appearance just for us. We are of this world in our bodies and senses and even our consciousness. Whether we think of it as concrete form or illusion there is no need to reject it, and in fact rejecting is only another barrier the mind sets up, another game of hide and seek, rejection or acceptance. If we can only take time to be with our life and environment, to enjoy it, to appreciate the miracle that it exists at all — that we exist at all, then we can find wholeness in our spiritual life through our ordinary life.
Perhaps the part of us that intuitively knows this is what draws us to the ocean, or the