Sunday, May 1, 2011

To Surf, to Float, to Be

It is Golden Week in Japan- the flowers are blooming, workers are on holiday, and the sun is shinning. The light filters through the maple tree top out side of my window. The second floor is brighter than the first floor. Many houses in Japan build the living quarters on the second floor for this reason- better light. The bedrooms are left to the darker regions- better for dreaming.

The beach is crowded with surfers and dog walkers. A friend once told me that the best part of surfing is waiting for the waves- floating and chatting. The mere suggestion of the idea of floating makes me want to take up the sport. It is not just about catching the wave. You have to be prepared, trusting a wave will come but to really enjoy it, you have to like to float. Today, I am thinking about floating.

I mostly grew up on the Gulf Coast of Florida. My favorite weekend activity was going to the beach. When my mom was in nursing school she would sometimes take my friend Alan and me. We loved to take a raft and float on the waves- over and over- drifting with the tide, dragging the raft back up the beach, and doing it again and again- losing ourselves in that feeling of floating over and over. It felt marvelous like being dizzy but never falling off. It was a great sensation. We would also sit for hours making sand castles from dripping wet sand and chase little schools of minnows caught between the sandbars. We would be there all day and yet it seemed like when we had to leave, we had just gotten there. Perhaps there were a few sunburns along the way, but I always remember the feeling of floating- up and down over the waves. The Gulf of Mexico's water is warm. I struggle to swim in cold water whether the Pacific waters of Japan or the northwest, the Atlantic Ocean, or lakes. Lakes always seem so cold. They do not induce me to float and float- there is not enough warmth. The surfers wear wet suits so perhaps I could tolerate it, but, alas, it is not surfing that I seek, but that peaceful lull that comes with floating with an occasional wave to keep me alert.

I used to think happiness was the aim of existence. I don't think that anymore. Happiness is a trap, easily manipulatable- is it health? wealth? It is too elusive. When you are happy you enjoy your health, appreciate what you have despite the wealth in your wallet, but you can be pulled along by well-intentioned ideas, friends, and advertisers into thinking something is just what you need for happiness. I am more interested in peace now. Peace has many forms but it's gentleness and quietness seem necessary in contrast to a hectic pace of life and the noise of the electronic age. Peace and floating go well together. I need to float a little more and fall back into the warmth of the sun, the rhythm of the waves, and the feeling of endless time. If we are at peace, we can let our inner self shine through, we can do work that we love despite the lack of financial reward, and we can trust that the next wave will come when we are at peace and present in the moment that we have. Sometimes we just have to wait for our souls to catch up with us- we move to fast; we aim for too much.

"Time was never reduced to achievement. Time was for wonder," writes John O'Donohue about time in Ireland in his book Anam Cara. I like to stare off into space and to float, but I keep thinking of stuff I need to do. It is not getting me anywhere- it is always there to do. We could all benefit from some time to wonder- no agenda, no product, no point. It comes back to taking time to be.