Friday, December 28, 2012

The Rhythm of the Beach at Year's End


I began this year by going to Mexico, so it only seems fitting to return, if only in my mind. Now, I was never one of those people that bought into the whole beach, relaxation, sunset thing. During the part in guided meditations when you are asked to visualize a calm beach with softly lapping waves, I generally rolled my eyes underneath my closed lids. Why does everyone always talk about beaches when they are stressed? And if they are really that great, why have we not all relocated by now? (Besides the obvious deterrence of hurricanes and tsunamis)



I realize now that the reason I never “got it” before was because I had never been on a beach for longer than a week. And I had never been on a beach for longer than a few days since entering the adult world of jobs, life plans, bills, heartbreak, meaning-seeking, and responsibility. Beaches were made for adults. Sure, kids enjoy them. They build sand castles, they play soccer with the waves, they do long-jump competitions in the sand, but the beach that permeates meditation literature, health and wellness blogs, and personal ads “I love long walks on a beach”—that beach is an adult beach.

I am currently up at my family cabin in Northern Minnesota. It is lightly snowing outside. I spent the afternoon skiing on top of a lake. Yes, I can stand on water. Be impressed. The peace of this place is nearly unparalleled, except of course by beaches. Hence my reflective pause backwards. For Christmas, I got lots of thoughtful gifts from my family, and a few unclaimed things my mom found in the back of her closet when she did her latest organization storm. But, perhaps the most cherished present, that all twenty-somethings love/hate, was my period (sarcasm intended). Only twelve days late and full of rage—thank you copper Paraguard IUD. Having forgotten to stop and buy supplies on our way up to the cabin, I had to call my aunt to run the errand. Keeled over in pain, moaning and clinging to my heating pad, I was grateful when Aunt Carla showed up.

With a box of Tampax super plus tampons in her hand, she leaned in, “You know honey, I loved buying these for you.”
            “Remind you of pre-menopause?”
            “No, it’s not just that. It reminds me of when my life had a rhythm. I loved having a rhythm.”
            Dopily, feeling sorry for myself in the throes of one of the worst periods in the history of the world, really, I replied, “Well, mine is always unpredictable, so it is hardly a rhythm.”

Still, the point was heard. Rhythm.

I think maybe that is what the beach offers us. That is what spending five weeks on the Pacific coast gave me. Rhythm. And that is what it has continued to give me since returning stateside, starting grad school, coping with the death of two uncles, supporting family, writing papers, facing my fibromyalgic body… all of this. When life feels chaotic. When I am not quite sure where to put my energy. I can close my eyes, take some deep breaths and feel the waves rocking me awake, visualize the sun setting over the big white rock at 6:24pm. 

A few weeks ago, I was in a yoga class, something of a triumph to make it to anything that starts at a set time in my grad school life. It was what seemed like the thousandth downward dog, and I was plotting my escape. Would it hurt the others’ zen if I just slipped out the back? The teacher doesn’t seem to be paying attention to me too closely… While I was busy concocting an elaborate plan, the beach snuck up on me. Breathing in and out, I literally relocated in my mind, unwillfully, back to Zipolite. I heard the voice of my favorite Norwegian yoga teacher. I saw the sliding bamboo doors in front of me. I saw the pacific horizon melt in the distance. I was there, and then I was here. Present within my body, at peace with the pain, ready to engage more fully with the world. The rhythm of the ocean got inside me as few things ever have, and I have marveled at its stickiness. Its refusal to leave me. Thank god.

So, here I am. YOOT months in the past. Masters degree half-earned. And, I get it now. The beach is pretty awesome. But, really, I don’t think it is so much the beach as an entity that I hold on to so tightly. It is that thing that happens when we really surrender to being. Something not easily accessed in the day-to-day life of achievement focused, do-gooders entrenched in capitalism while attempting to live life well. In surrendering, the rhythm I found, though inspired by the waves and the sunsets, was really more internal—about me. A core pulse that is always there, sometimes beating too faintly to hear, but there to catch you when you are too tired to hold a downward dog or too stressed to write a paper or too sad to be alone. The beach introduced me to me (go ahead and roll your eyes, but I'm serious). I used to think that to find a good rhythm, I had to make better lists. Schedule out work-outs and plan meals with more acuity. Create a better life organization system. Turns out, I needed just the opposite.

So, perhaps all this longing for sunsets and beach vacations is really just our longing to have the space and time to take a few more deep breaths. Perhaps it is a yearning for that thing we all feel inside of us, that feels too often too far away, that can only be revealed when we press pause and feel our own unique rhythm. Beaches are a great place to find it. But, I think it just might be accessible in many other spaces and places, if we can just slow down enough to feel it. And, what has made me most excited about this discovery of my inner beach is that it sticks. You do not have to relinquish normal life forever. A little dose goes a long way.

(Note: This blog has been relatively inactive since YOOT travels have concluded. Thus, upon reflection, I have decided to designate this as my official travel blog. Where I write when I travel. I will look for other outlets for my writing when not traveling…)

(Second Note: I just read Mindy Kaling's book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, which I think contributed to the tell-all nature of this post--i.e. period writing)