A salty tear slips from my cheek and drops to find its long-lost home back in the salty sea. A wave pummels its way up the sandy shore and knocks me in the legs. I stumble and splash—and I laugh. And that laughter, this sudden sensation of joy then melts into a softened heart. “This, too,” the ocean whispers to me, a simple reminder. “This, too.”
These moments in the waves are the reason why, majestic as the mountains may be, the ocean will always be my church.
In his poem, “A Great Wagon,” Rumi writes:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
The ocean has never failed me when I’ve needed an anchor to return to presence. When I stand before the mighty Pacific Ocean, it doesn’t care that I’m imperfect. It doesn’t understand me as a separate other. It doesn’t see me as all of the pieces that form my whole; it doesn’t see my rough edges as static truths—my struggle to fold my laundry in a timely manner, my anxiety about what the future will bring, my worry that I didn’t do it good enough. The ocean sees me as it manifests its own self—as a moving, changing verb, not a singular, ingrained noun. It sees me as a soul, a body of emotions worthy of letting life live through it.
When I return home to the rugged, chilly shores of northern California’s ocean, it’s often after I’ve been away from home for far too long. Hence, I often carry to it a worn down, broken heart, a belly of butterflies. I hold this bleeding heart in my hands, and I stretch out my arms to the water. I drop to my knees. I wonder if it will hold these pieces all over again.
I watch it and I wait for its answers.
Oh, there’s that wave of not feeling seen or understood crashing to the shore. Farther out I see that little ripple of having waited too long to have my morning coffee. Ah, and, of course, there’s that sneaker wave of anger followed by that deep swell of grief. Those sneaker waves taught me at a young age to never turn my back to the ocean, to maintain my awareness, to respect the power of the sea.
I watch a little river of freshwater push its way down the sand, blending into a brackish new life as it travels into the vastness before it. Just beyond the shore two big waves crash into each other in a passion. Almost as quickly, they transform into a sizzling sea foam. With enough time, the white foam fades away, that initial peak of energy forgotten.
Out beyond all the commotion, there’s a calmness. These mellow areas of this endless body of water look almost still—these unappreciated plateaus. For a moment, I forget to appreciate them, as well. I get distracted by the eddies, those churning circular patterns from which I want so desperately to break free. Those repeated forays of denial pull me under, up again for just enough air, and back down.
In my thrashing about, I forget why the eddies are there. In this swirling, the motion pulls forgotten nutrients from the colder, deeper waters to the surface—to be seen and absorbed by the lives that need them. Satellite imagery of the ocean shows that larger eddies often take on stunning shades of blue and green as phytoplankton come to feed on the revealed nutrients. And, so, I open my heart to feast on the ocean’s alms, and when I’m nourished, I’m floating beyond the chaos, back in the plateau. This plateau, this one that is very much alive and moving ever so gently beneath the surface.
In one moment, I couldn’t breathe, but now I’m smiling. How could something that feels so broken at the same instant experience this joy?
I don’t think about Rumi’s grass in this moment, but I know I am in it. It’s this enormity in front of me. It’s this experience that is so big that I no longer need words. I’ve stopped planning, stopped trying to will myself into figuring out the answers. I’ve finally let it be. The ocean has taken my heart back, every piece, and reminded me that there’s enough space for each wave, “This, too, this, too, this, too.”
It can all fit here—every hurt, every ache, every smile, every hope. I don’t have to yell at one wave that it needs to calm down, or pretend another one doesn’t exist. There’s enough space for it all to be here.
I put that tense conversation into its own little wave and let it be. I place that sorrowed heart into an eddy and let it eat. I send that confusion out with the changing tide. I let my heart be open. I let life unfold as it will, right in front of me. Each feeling and experience move and change within the larger body of water that gently sways.
I have no other plans for now. I have no answers. My intention is simply to have an open heart—to not thrash in the waves, but to move with my emotion ocean. It’s not wrong. It’s not right. We just happen to be here. This, too. This, too.