Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Humbled by a Wave

My first Christmas in the US Navy found me at the Defense Language Institute, on the Presidio of Monterey in beautiful Monterey, California ​at the end of​ 1990. From there, with only a few people still around for the holidays, we discovered Big Sur and in particular, Pfeiffer State Park. The beaches and surf of Pfeiffer State Park host house size and larger monoliths of stone jutting above the ocean and sand.

On one visit, I climbed over the top of this one stone mound which say half in and half out of the ocean swells. Starting from dry beach, I worked my way up and over. It was not an overly challenging climb by rock climbing standards, but as youthful adventures go, it felt dangerous and exciting, and was definitely me playing at my edge, a phrase that would take me decades to learn.

On the far side, back down near the water, I found long fingers of stone sticking out a good twenty feet or more into the ocean swells and waves. I was above the tops of the higher swells by at least five feet. I stood there, stone wall at my back, stone finger below my feet, watching waves come in and crash into the stone sending gusts of white spray into the air for I don't know how long.

​I had forgotten the people I was with, the world around me, the stresses of life, and lost myself in the ocean when suddenly a huge wave crested above and around the rock I was standing on.  I was covered head to toe by pounding spray, soaked instantly to the bone, completely losing sight of the environment around me.  The spray hit easily 10 feet above my head, and BAM, everything disappeared. In the face of the raw power of nature, my conscious mind evaporated.

​I entered a fugue state.  I lost awareness of the world around me.  I lost awareness of everything.  Confronted in an inescapable way with how futile my volition was, with how artificial my sense of safety was, I converted to a pure animalistic mind.  It was in this way that my body took over.
My next conscious thought was at the base of the stone, back on dry beach, realizing the sun had set, and that I had just climbed over and back down this mansion sized mound of rock, a not trivial undertaking, in the dark.  To this day, I have no memory of that climb.  I cannot recall navigating areas I found challenging the first time, nor how much different the climb was in the failing light of evening.  I learned, through clear demonstration, that we are not always in control of ourselves, that in the face of power we have no capacity to control, we can lose ourselves, and our bodies will seek out safety without the aid of the conscious mind.
I do not believe this is unique to me.  I see it in others, when faced with overwhelming emotions, or enormous spiritual awakenings, or whatever power has the capacity to toss us about in its storm, we can unconsciously subvert our will, and sometimes our greater good, to seek out safety and shelter from the storm.​

Being aware of this has helped me to hold space when someone seems to behave in inexplicable ways.  We tend to think everyone around us is always fully conscious and present, but at times, we are not even aware of our actions, much less able to really explain and justify them.​  And when it happens, not understanding what has happened to us, we often provide a plausible explanation the would seem to explain what just happened, because the thought that we are not fully in control of ourselves is a difficult pill to swallow.

Have you experienced this in your life, or have you witnessed it?  As it happened, and after it happened, were you aware of what happened, and did you understand it?

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