These days, as I age and slow down a bit, I am finding myself less and less inclined to rush past precious things in search of many or impressive or self-anesthetizing things. I am letting go of things like board membership, speaking engagements, impressive job titles and things like …well …actual things. In the past ten years, I have reduced the weight of my possessions from 15,000 pounds to 2,500 pounds ( I know this because the movers bill me based on funds…)
Nowadays I am seeking, with deeper self-care, things like meetings with people I love. Things like sugar-free ice cream. Things like spooning Kai-the-dog. As I slow down in life and choose a simpler, gentler “walk” through its courses, I find that I am able to see precious things better. I am able to bend and pick up stunning beauty because the slower pace reveals it among the pebbled beaches of life’s pathways. Our culture tends to walk the beaches of life with a shovel – grabbing up everything in sight so that one is numb to just about everything. And yet, walking the beach with just one pocket in our pants (the other one has a hole in it) and two fingers ready to pick up a spectacular stone, might be a better way to live. And of course, walking with a friend…makes for four eyes, two pockets, four fingers.
Some of my free time is spent walking the beaches of Whidbey, Camano, Orcas – the islands around my home with my black lab Kai. Living on an island with miles of beaches makes for good pebble-hunting. I use the stones I find on beaches as finials for my lidded pottery vessels. Each funeral urn/ cookie jar I have thrown on my potter’s wheel (they are the one only after being first, the other) has a small stone as a finial on the tip-top of its lid. One touches it to lift the lid. These pictured above are some collected by my new friend Cynthia.
The islands of the Salish Sea were created with violent seismic activity. Lava pushing up broken, cooled stones break apart and are smoothed by the surf. Some lava heat left boiling rock-bubbles in stones which were later filled with layers of organisms which, in turn, were pressed into quartz, creating oddly shaped agates – each one different. Also on our beaches are “calligraphy stones” my favorite of which are black lava with delicate white lines of quartz which look like they were left by the gentle and skilled tip of the hair-paint-brush of a Japanese Caligrapher. My new friend Brian taught me that.
The trick to finding the stones one wants to find is training the mind to see them. To look down is to see thousands of pebbles at each human step. So to find the stones one wants to collect for use in art, one must almost meditate as one walks – demanding that one’s own human eye see the agate or calligraphy stones within the masses of other pebbles on the vast beach. The effect is similar to the way one sees blue Hondas on the roads when one has just purchased one. Suddenly, because they are “on the mind” they are everywhere!
Might this be a valuable way to live life? I mean, if concentrating the brain on “agates” to the mental exclusion of other stones, is a way to see agates on a beach among so many other pebbles, then might one not be able to do the same thing with something like “kindness” or “friendship” or “love” or “beauty” or even “God?” Might one not begin and punctuate a day with pauses to focus on the mental image of a thing like kindness in order to see it on the beaches of life among the pebbles of the day’s to-do lists and the beach-trash of the evening news, tweets and junk mail?
We see so many things in a day – with our eyes, with our ears, with our touch, with our memories of failures, regrets, disappointments, worries, resentments. We encounter so much in a day- the emails, the texts, the bills, the headlines, the memos, the comments from people we encounter, the texts, the posts on Facebook and the tweets …so many words…like pebbles on a beach. But among those pebble-beaches of words are the semi-precious agates of our real longings.
In my experience meditation is not to benefit the moment of its experience. Rather, the benefit of meditation is to set the mind and soul seeking – seeing – finding – the agate of life in amongst the gravel of the day’s proverbial walk on the beaches of life.
In my experience, making friends is possible and sometimes beneficial – sometimes not. But “finding” the friends which have been waiting for us to find them – being able to see them for the stunning beauty they are – those are the gems on the pebbled beaches of our lives. For years I made friends who would help me. I made friends who would give me what I wanted. I have made friends who could advance my causes or even my social or even sensual standing. It’s how we humans are designed to procreate. But as I age, I find that “finding” friends – just a few gems, is much better than “making” too many friends without paying close enough attention to their offerings and my motivations.
So each week when I search for agate on the pebbled beaches I spend time thinking about what I want – what I really want to find. And similarly, each morning I do the same thing about the day ahead.