Swimming in the ocean when there is no ocean

Last year at this time Arlene and I were vacationing in Ixtapa, Mexico having rented a gorgeous condominium overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  We were re-charging, self-care to the max.

This year we’re house bound, self-isolating, currently overlooking about twelve inches of snow and lathering on Tiger Balm after shoveling a path for the mailman.  And hoping the vaccines will treat cabin fever as well as the virus.

How does one stay vital and relevant when the excitement of the day is finding your reading glasses by the side of the bed?

Where does the encouragement to continue living active, productive lives come from when you’re in your bathrobe half the day?  What’s the incentive?  Particularly when you’re older than dirt.

I’ve been asked the question many times and usually I’m fast to come up with the essential answer: have a purpose for sticking around; dedicate yourself to an undertaking that offers meaning within the everyday flow of life. 

Simple enough, but when the pandemic restricts you to an everyday flow of life that consists of doing the daily crossword puzzle, sitting in on a virtual Zoom call that is virtually a waste of time and looking at a YouTube webinar for nurturing an avocado pit into a full grown plant, it’s difficult to find a reason to get out of your pajamas.  Never mind creating projects for assisting the poor, bringing literacy to rural kids, ending bigotry and brokering peace in our time.

Keep the oven door closed.  I’m not being an overzealous cheerleader when I tell you, it’s not hopeless. Here’s what I try to do.

Absolutely “nothing.”

Not ‘couch potato nothing,’ but devoted, intentional nothing!  With all the time I have on my hands, I take some of it and sit quietly doing… nothing.   

I sit cross-legged on my lotus chair.  There is gentle music from Spotify.  It helps me empty my mind.  I float with a cloud through time. When a thought comes, I watch it drift by.  I sense the ocean below me although there is no ocean.  I am rocking quietly in the hammock on the balcony overlooking the bay although there is no hammock or balcony. What’s real is a pilot light deep inside the empty space.  It turns on a flame.

Behind closed eyelids suddenly flooded in light it becomes clear to me.  “Stop searching.  It will find you.  And I will see it, although it is unseen.”

What on earth am I talking about?  See things while your eyes are closed!  See what is unseen!

I leave it to David Foster Wallace to deliver the answer. “There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

For sure, I am not the wise old fish. The point is, the most obvious and important realities often are the hardest to see and talk about because the lens we use to view the world is focused to look out and observe what is happening all around us and to interpret everything from that perspective.

What I’m suggesting is, the virus has given us the opportunity to turn the lens inward. To stop searching for what is “out there.”  To stop looking and simply look.

In the darkness you can see the light.  Because you are the light!

And that is your purpose.  To shine it brightly.

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