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Let the Sea be your Teacher

Updated: Apr 3, 2022

This morning, looking out at the sea, a poem of Mary Oliver's came to me:

I go down to the shore in the morning

And depending on the hour the waves

Are rolling in or moving out

And I say, Oh, I am miserable

What shall –

What should I do? And the sea says

In her lovely voice

Excuse me, I have work to do.

Today the sea is calm but this isn't always the case. Sometimes it is tempestuous and wild. And, just like the sea, our lives are a dance of happiness, laughter, anger, hope, despair and the many emotions in-between. It is helpful to remember that these emotions are all fleeting - it is natural for us to move through one emotional state into another, and we serve ourselves well when we can let them pass over us like the tide coming in and out rather than clinging to them or desperately pushing them away.

The sea offers me another metaphor. In my work as a funeral celebrant, the funeral service is structured so that it serves a ritual function for the mourners to enable them to say their final goodbyes, lay the body of their loved one to rest, and step back into their lives, remade and reconfigured. It does this by following the curve of a wave – drawing people in with calm and welcome on the rise of the wave, offering the eulogy and celebration of a person’s life on the crest of the wave, moving down the wave with prayers, songs and reflection, into the trough of the wave with the committal of the body and rising on a new wave by naming the meaning of the death to the closest mourners and inviting the community to gather round them as they step back into the world, a wife now a widow, the husband a widower, the child an orphan.

In the face of the great oceans, not only are our emotions fleeting but our lives too. I find this perspective settling - it takes the angst out of everything. Measured against the ocean, whose waves have shredded vast rocks into fine sand, my concerns are nugatory, barely a ripple on a passing wave.

The sea is a metaphor for the relationship between the individual and the unified field too. The wave, the individual, on the seething mass of all that is. The boundless depths incomprehensible to the waves on the surface, even those that rise like giants and crash against the shore in a vengeance of foam. In this, the sea's lovely voice murmurs, chants, shouts urgently, "without forgiveness, nothing is meaningful". How could the ocean be at odds with itself? How can we be at odds with our kin? Even those who bear down upon us like evil giants?

I stand on the shore looking out at the sea most days, and everyday it teaches me how to be a better human being.

What are the lessons that sea brings you?

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