I woke up one morning last week with a deep desire to cocoon myself somewhere warm. I booked myself a day pass at a local gym, which a friend had recommended for its pool, sauna and steam room.
A large banner above one end of the pool read:
"You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore."
Its message rang true for me and as I swam lengths of the pool I tossed the idea around in my head. What is the shore? Why are we often so deeply afraid of losing it from our sight? And where do we find the courage to leave it behind and venture forth into something new?
The shore is all that is known or what we think is known. It is the familiar shape of our days and our lives. It is the identity we have created for ourselves and who we believe ourselves to be.
On the shore, there is a sense of safety, security and comfort even if, strangely, we are profoundly unhappy.
The wisdom of the heart and the fear of losing sight of the shore.
Wisdom is innate in every human being. Each and every one of us contains the same truth, the same remembrance of who we are at the deepest level. Wisdom wasn't given to some and not to others. It is contained within every heart.
It comes to us as a sense, a feeling, a deeper knowing, a moment of expansion, or an unsettled feeling deep within. It might show up as a release of tears, moments of profound joy, or pain experienced somewhere in the body.
It taps us on the shoulder and gives us little messages with which to work. It sends an answer to a question, points us in a new direction, shows us where we're off and does what it can to steer us back.
It is a faithful guide that is always there but rarely turned towards or trusted. Why?
The cultural conditioning to which most of us have been exposed tells us that to listen to the heart is foolish, naive and the stuff of childish fantasies. To follow an invisible inner guidance might be seen as quite insane.
Instead, we're repeatedly pointed in the direction of the intellect and our days are spent trying to figure things out in the thinking of our personal minds.
We have a deep and powerful cultural narrative of what it means to live the 'right' life. The right type of education, the right type of work, the right type of relationships, the right amount of money, the right people to keep company with, the right things to buy.
The conditioning goes so deep that in many cases, until something out of the ordinary happens to put a crack in its veneer, we don't even see that it is conditioning and experience it as the only reality there is.
The strength and depth of our conditioning means that to make any deviation can fill us with a feeling of profound fear.
Wanting to see the other side before we leave this one
We can think of the shore as our fear-based thinking and the journey into the ocean as our transition into love-based thinking and trust. When one has lived one's whole life standing on the shore, rooted in fear, it makes sense that we might want some proof before leaving it behind for an unknown world.
And yet no amount of longing for proof will give it to us. Never can the far shore be seen from where we are now. Always we must walk out in faith.
Same journey, different paths
Whilst we're all on the same journey, towards remembering the deeper truth of who we are, each and every one of us walks a different path and it is our heart's wisdom that guides us through each twist and turn.
In that sense, no one else can ever truly show us the way. Not exactly. Many can guide, support and encourage us, but to some extent at least we are to walk alone and to find our own way.
Learning to listen
In his book Let Your Life Speak, Parker J Palmer writes:
"The soul is like a wild animal - tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek."
Our heart's wisdom emerges in the still and quiet of a relaxed mind. As the chaotic, habitual thinking of our personal mind settles, the deeper wisdom of our heart finds its way through.
To hear it we must have the willingness to turn away from our usual thinking and to repeatedly bring ourselves back from the rabbit holes we travel down in our minds. We must learn to rest in the presence of this moment.
It is here in the still space of now that the knots we have tied ourselves in begin to undo themselves and the gentle whisper of truth finds its way to our ears.
Taking our first step and building courage
The headlights of a car driving through the night illuminate only the next section of road. Because we understand how headlights work, we're happy to drive in the darkness, knowing that we will always see the next bit of road as we come to it.
What would it be like if you trusted life as you trust the headlights? To know that you do not need to see the whole road in order to set out on your journey? To know that everything is revealed to you in the perfect way at the perfect time?
The only step to ever take is the very next one.
The shore, again.
As we leave the shore and begin to swim the ocean, the strangest of realisations begins to dawn; there was never a shore at all, only an idea of it in our minds. And we start to understand that when we make a home for ourselves in the ocean, we are always safe and we are free.
I will leave you today with these few lines from one of my favourite Rilke poems:
This is what the things can teach us:
patiently to trust our heaviness.
Even a bird has to do that
before he can fly.
Love and courage,