Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Rip Tide

Some of my earliest memories of going to be the beach with my family entail a short set of instructions given to me by my Mom. My sister and I have always been strong swimmers and very comfortable in all bodies of water, so it was dutiful for Momma to remind us that the ocean is a very different beast than the lake or our neighbor's pool. 

Joel on the beach at Kho Pi Pi island, Thailand

She explained that sometimes the tide will get really strong when it is coming in or going out. Sometimes the tide can become so strong that it will pull you out into the ocean, deeper than you intend to go. If this happens the worst thing you can do is try to swim to shore. She asked us not to fight the current that would suck us out to sea, but relax and float with it. If we just go with the current, it will eventually send us back to shore. The danger of staying in a rip tide and trying to swim out of it is that you will exert all of your energy fighting it, getting nowhere, and could drown. If you use your precious will to just stay afloat and see where the current takes you, you will live and she would come to find us. 

Even as a child this idea was frightening to me. I knew that I didn't want to go too far out in the ocean, at least not by myself. Besides the fear of being in a current that is pulling me farther and farther from my family and warm towels, it would take me into deeper and deeper water where there could be creatures lurking, ready to eat me. I knew then, that the urge to resist the current would be my natural inclination. It would take some serious will-power to just go with the flow if I was ever sucked out to sea. 

I tried to swim before high tide and got sliced by the coral reef- the ocean is tough!

These simple ocean safety instructions seem to fit life, don't they? The minute things start to get uncomfortable or tough, we just start fighting it like our lives depend on it. We deny, we escape, we run and we battle whatever it is sucking us deeper and deeper into dangerous waters. In fact, we just go ahead and label those waters as "dangerous" simply because we did not choose to swim into them and we don't know what's out there. 

We all know what happens when we fight the current of our lives, right? We get exhausted. We use all of our resources until we have nothing left and with nothing left, we die. 

Death isn't always a literal, physical, bodily death. Death is the disappearance of growth, the absence of living. Fighting the waves is exhausting and will cost you everything you have and yes, eventually, you will wash ashore a lifeless form of yourself. 

That sweet handstand is mine. 

But to let go and just see where this current takes you; that is what this journey of living is actually all about. We don't get to choose all the circumstances of our lives. We aren't in control of the things that come at us, willed or not. What we can control is our experience of them. 

Studying the Christian Mystics this semester in my Spiritual Direction course, I've discovered that many of them share in a philosophy of life that I truly believe. They seem to think that human beings are the ones that label things as "Good" or "Bad". We are the ones that feel that tide sucking all the sand from underneath our feet and think, "This is bad! Run!" These mystics believe that what we are actually called to do, as living, growing beings of the Creator, is to let go. 

It is our free will to choose to let go and in letting go we experience the freedom of fully experiencing life. To let go is to let go of fear. Ironically, I believe it is our fear of death that makes us fight the tide when it is that very fight that will kill us. The oxymoron's of the divine way of living continue to make me chuckle. In order to free ourselves from the fear of death, we have to let go and allow the Creator to create. 

A woman in Hoi An, Vietnam watching her husband load up his fishing boat

The mystics believe there are no "good" experiences or "bad" experiences, there are only experiences that have meaning to us. If all experiences are meaningful then they all promote life because whether it is growth we asked for or not, we will be growing and when we are growing, we are living. 

My Mom's advice has a lot more meaning to me now than it did when I was an 8 year old giving the Atlantic ocean a try. If you get sucked out into a rip tide, don't fight it, just go with the flow and it will send you safely back to shore. You might not wash up where you family is waiting for you on a picnic blanket. You might not wash up with both halves of your bikini on, but you are going to wash up and you will be alive. You will be fully alive and that is what we are called to be.

If you play in the waves...they don't knock you down!

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