Wisdom of the Sand

(I believe this photo is of otter prints I discovered in the sand, I have only seen these wonderful creatures fleetingly. The photo below is of Tune’s paw prints.)

One of the great gifts of my time at the hermitage is being able to walk along the beach at low tide.  Because the tides shift from day to day I keep a tide table to guide me each day as to when I can break from my work and allow the words and images that have been swirling around my mind to settle into my body.  A walk always brings me some new insight or shift, often something new breaks open within me as I put one foot in front of the other.

The beach brings another dimension to my walks.  There are places where the sand is smooth and solid and I walk easily over its surface.  There are other places covered with rocks that roll out from under my feet, making the ground feel unsteady.  I sometimes come across great beds of sand dollars, hundreds of them buried just beneath the surface, and no matter how carefully I tread, I know some of these fragile creatures will be broken.  Then there are the moments when suddenly my boot is swallowed by the sand and my foot sinks down ankle-deep or more and I have to pull myself out firmly. I often have to trudge ahead like this for several steps, each foot mired firmly in the ground. 

Last week, when lucy visited, she wrote about this moment when we encountered the sinking ground.  Sharing it with a friend I felt less panic than I sometimes do, and instead was doubled over with laughter.  We were both frozen there for several moments continuing to sink, since neither of us had the strength to pull ourselves free in the midst of such giggles, especially when in lucy’s gracious moment of reaching out to me to help she fell over backwards.

While I wish the ground were always firm and easy to tread, more often than not the earth beneath me suddenly seems to swallow or bury me so that I have trouble moving forward.  Each step takes tremendous effort. I have that moment of panic, wondering if the earth will ever feel solid again or I find myself walking across fragile places where I try hard not to cause pain to others, but sometimes the wounds seem inevitable.

At each of these moments as I walk the beach I try to breathe in the gift of it. I try and become familiar with the landscape of struggle knowing I will be thrust into it again and perhaps tending to it here in the sand I will develop more compassion for myself when I can’t just easily keep walking ahead.  Or in a moment of grace, I open myself up to laughter — an act of humility and appreciation for being profoundly human.

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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7 Responses

  1. this post was particularly meaningful and vivid for me since i could imagine the steps being taken. for a moment i was back there on the beach with you and it brought a hint of laughter into my day. some days the best we can do is put one foot in front of the other; deliberately and often painstakingly. i am reminded of “the four agreements” by ruiz. one of the agreements is “always do your best” and he reminds us that “our best” will look different day to day just as the tides roll in and out and the sand shifts from firm surface to boot-swallowing muck.
    i also realized that as you spoke of panic and the comfort of having a friend nearby, that even though i did reach my hand out to you, you were never able to take it and thus pulled yourself out which speaks of your own strength and ability to care well for yourself (even if it is more fun sometimes with a friend.)
    thank you for the memories–past and future :-)

  2. Thanks Kathy, I thought Tune’s prints came out especially clearly. I adore David Whyte, and don’t think I’ve heard that poem before. I may have to check out the Macy/Brown book as well.

  3. Those wonderful pawprints, Christine! I wanted to oogle my feet in the wet sand after seeing those. So many thoughts, images came to me–it reminded me of Zen sand creations and our impermanence. The sea will wash the footprints away, but you forever have the moment captured in the photo–the beauty of art. I also thought of David Whyte’s, “The Opening of Eyes” ….It is the man throwing away his shoes/As if to enter heaven and finding himself astonished/Opened at last/Fallen in love/With Solid Ground. I related to what you posted that sometimes despite trying to live a gentle life, we inevitably hurt someone. I’m reading, “Coming Back to Life” by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown. What a wonderfully thought-provoking book on what we can do to deal with the pain that we feel for the world.

  4. Yes, how interesting life’s uneven ground can make things! And desperately funny as well. Beautiful quote eileen, I couldn’t agree more.

  5. Christine-
    I found this awesome quote last night while reading: “The spirituality of imperfection begins with the recognition that trying to be perfect is the most tragic human mistake.” This hit me point blank. I am often in hot pursuit of keeping a (seemingly) sure footing, reaching goals, not being fearful but remaining faithful, and taking myself and others too seriously. How wonderful to humbly accept things with grace and laughter, especially when faced with panic, pain, tremendous effort, and struggle. I, too, as imperfect/human as I am, feel deeply appreciative.

  6. To help strengthen my foot (I have serious pain in my left foot periodically) I wear Masai Barefoot Technology trainers. I don’t know if you’ve seen them, but the soles are curved so you cannot put your feet flat on the ground. For every step you take, the muscles in your feet and legs have to make hundreds of small adjustments, which leads to more flexibility and strength in the feet and ankles. They’re great except for when you stand still, which is almost impossible to do because you find yourself rocking backwards and forwards (I once wore them in chapel and had to brace myself against the seat in front!).

    Seems to me that the unsteadiness of life, or sand, or horribly expensive trainers, impels us to move forwards. Often with laughter.

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