Have you ever found yourself walking along a beach near the water’s edge, content in the moment, enjoying the sound of waves lapping against the shore, feeling a steady breeze flow around your entire body? You look out and see the light reflecting on the water, making you squint just a little. You look down and watch the waves cover the sand in front of your feet, receding as quickly as they approached, leaving the sand wet in wide arcs that repeat across the shoreline as far as you can see.
I have. For me, going to the beach is a chance to relax and slow down, to contemplate and see life differently. It’s a time to let your hair tangle in the wind without even trying to keep it under control. When I look across a vast expanse of water on a seemingly endless shore, I am reminded of how much there is to see and do in this world – and of how little my experience in it is. It reminds me that my entire life will be lived within only the tiniest fraction of land available to the human population, that my choices of what I do or do not do only make up a few of the infinite number of possibilities for my existence in this life.
Rather than feeling insignificant, the endless opportunities I feel at the beach make me feel powerful. Unlike the water, I am not relegated to repeating the same pattern over and over again. I can run, walk, or cartwheel along the shore; I can swim, sail or kayak in the water. I choose how long to be on the beach and then I choose where to go next. I can do anything.
When this feeling of freedom to go anywhere and do anything hits me, I’ve often found myself suddenly running for no apparent reason, even doing cartwheels in the soft, wet sand. Side note: The last time I did cartwheels in the sand I was in my mid-thirties, glad to have a beach long enough to be out of view of those that knew me. I’m certain my gymnastic performance looked nothing like how it felt as I tried to hold my legs and body straight when my hands hit the sand. (I’m still half expecting to see myself on an episode ofAmerica’s Funniest Home Videos.)
Most of the time, I am not quite cartwheel giddy as I walk along the beach. Usually I am content to simply look for pretty stones to pick up. They sparkle in the glint of the sun or reveal deep color from the wash of water. Shells lifted and placed on shore by the tumultuous roll of waves are always a favorite find. I pick up interesting pieces of driftwood, too. On the beaches ofItaly, I found many small pieces of broken pottery and beach glass, their sharp points rounded and smooth. They were probably just trash broken to bits and polished against the sand, but it was a special treat for me to find them.
Maybe you have picked up beach treasures like these on your walks along a beach. Are you the kind of person that picks them up, then tosses them back down? Do you pick stones up just to skip it across the water? Or, are you the kind of person that picks up a pretty shell, then an interesting stone, then another and another and another until your hands are full? I’m the latter kind. I fill one hand, and then another, carefully holding shells against stone so the shells won’t be broken or chipped. Once my hands are full, I fill my pockets, once again carefully choosing which treasures can take the pressure of a snug fit in a front pocket, or the bouncing and banging of a cargo side pocket. If I have no pockets, or fill them, I will hold my hand against my stomach in order to take more treasures along with me.
My treasure seeking and finding is a great metaphor for grabbing hold of the possibility and wants in life. Always, always I am looking for a sparkling new idea to take home, or an interesting activity to add to my bucket list. Look, there’s a new achievement glinting in the sand. Take it, take it with you and make it yours.
Picking up stones and shells, finding new ideas and setting goals, can be lots of fun. You can feel very alive in the moment, but what happens once our hands – or lives – are full and we don’t have room to add anything else? To reach for something even better, even more magnificent or fulfilling, we have to let something go. All the stones and shells I pick up along the beach are wanted, all of them good finds. Sometimes, once my hands and pockets are full, I stop looking for anything new, reluctant to sort through what I already have to be able to pick up another. I don’t even want to see what other more beautiful and perfect opportunities are along my path because then I will have to work at sorting and choosing, rearranging what I already carry to accommodate something better. It’s too much work, I think. This is probably just fine for beachcombing, but what if that happens in life, too?
What if our lives are so full we won’t even look for something more fulfilling to do?
What if carrying a full load makes searching for a better life too hard or inconvenient?
Other times, I am willing to take a better look at what has already been collected and let go of some good things to be able to pick up something better. In life, I remind myself to take time to evaluate all the stuff I do and eliminate those activities that aren’t helping me live what truly matters to me. That’s not so hard to remember or do. It’s harder to let go of something good. It’s more work, and you have to be willing to take the time to evaluate.
Here’s a third alternative I’m trying out. Maybe you will see its possibilities and try it out with me. I’m going to leave some space in my life and daily routine. I’m going to reduce my responsibilities and goals until there is enough room for me to grab hold of something better, something great – whenever it may come along. The real test, and the most helpful part of this plan, will be if I am willing to say no to unhelpful things, and even some good things, without ever taking them in the first place. I think it’s worth a try, this idea of leaving space in my hands and in life. You’re welcome to join me anytime.
What would it feel like to always have room to reach out and hold what matters most?