In the Pocket of a Seashell

Ruaidhri ArtOnly a Cape Cod girl like me could find great liberation in visualizing herself as a mollusk, but at yoga class this morning that image brought me pure bliss.

This week I have been trying to sort out the proper responses to the people and events in my life. The unexamined bits of myself that constitute the mask I so often show the world thrives upon reacting to everyone who looks at me cross eyed or treats me like a secretary. I feel entitled to my (un)righteous rage and revel in the version of me that is stereotypically fiery and red-haired and well-soaked in sarcasm. At the same time, I think of Stephen Cope‘s measured voice describing one of the basic tenants of yoga, letting experience roll through me like a wave, not reacting, but simply being present in the world. I return to the former set of responses again and again because I am afraid that embracing this nonreactive sense of self will obliterate the me that has taken 28 years to cultivate; my negativity may not be something I am proud of, but it is mine, and I will be damned if I am going to trade my identity to be some vessel through which life just passes.

Today, however, I realized that there really is nothing wrong with letting life flow through me, because that has nothing to do with life passing me by. In fact, it may be just the opposite since I can actually enjoy the world and see it fully instead of losing precious time composing scathing comebacks for the next time someone crosses me.

My teacher was describing ahimsa: living without harming or living the practice of universal love. I have always loved the music of the word and have invoked it often when I am trying to avoid cursing my body for its inability to conform to my will (or the confines of my jeans). Somehow the word had new resonance this morning and it conjured the ocean for me, Cope’s waves of experience rolling in and out, a constant opportunity for renewal.

My relationship to mussels and clams and conchs, those amazing, simple creatures who filter the waters of our shoreline and then litter the sand with their abandoned homes, has largely been quite the opposite of ahimsa. Making a meal of something or collecting its remains to adorn my windowsills may be an odd way to embody “selfless service.” This perspective changed when suddenly the absolute simplicity if their existence – pulling water through for nutrients it can provide, allowing the ocean to pass ever through them – was my moving metaphor as I gave myself over Close up of shell treeto my asana practice more fully than I have in some time. I just felt cleansed as I allowed the sea to flow through me, as I allowed my life to flow through me.

Somehow this image feels so renewable, something that I can recall and that can resonate at any moment of my life just as I can always carry a seashell in my pocket.

3 thoughts on “In the Pocket of a Seashell

  1. yogasuzi November 18, 2007 / 1:00 am

    Thank you for this lovely post.

  2. Doug November 27, 2007 / 11:14 pm

    Hi Epiphany Girl,

    Thanks for your recent comment and for linking to OneBlog from your own site. I enjoyed this post very much, and it made me think of a poem that I wrote many years ago when I was wrestling with issues of identity and becoming. I’d like to share it with you now. It’s called Shore, a fitting offering considering the aquatic thread that runs through your entry:

    The water has always been there,
    Slapping the crag rock-hewn face of rugged shoreline.
    Where does it start, where is the black heart’s source?
    Its currents that swirl and beckon me with each passing movement.
    Hiss of foam, crest that beats relentless, whispering a secret that I already knew,
    A memory.
    How can this mirror reflect what is not seen, and speak to me of that left unspoken?
    Constant whisper and retreat, coaxing me deeper, gentle entreaty, an invitation.
    Can I bear the painful price of entering into this sea of myself?
    Did I come to your shore only to stand at its edge, to let your cold waters break seductively across my feet, only to retreat to safer ground?
    Where the longing for self-knowledge gnaws but does not devour,
    And the distance from the depths shields me from that moment, no price is exacted that I am not yet prepared to pay.
    Will you accept this in lieu of that for which I was created to become?
    Or will the sun rise tomorrow on a heart that dares to take up the unbearable weight of your summons?

  3. girlwhocriedepiphany December 1, 2007 / 9:41 am

    Thank you so much for this beautiful poem. You captured that constant dance of the waves of becoming and retreating that is within all of us so very well. And the way you describe that secret that we already know but do not wish to acknowledge (yet!) is perfect. The spiritual path seems to be constantly marked by playing with self awareness and awakening, but at a safe enough distance so that we do not have to go too deep, so we do not have to change everything. But we can always accept the call…

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