“In the same way when the ocean has a wave on it, the wave is not separate from the ocean, is it? Every wave on the ocean is the whole ocean waving. The ocean waves and it says, ‘you-hoo! I’m here, see?’ But I can wave all over the place, I can wave in many different ways, I can wave this way, I can wave that way. So the ocean of Being waves every one of us. And we are its waves. But the wave is fundamentally the ocean.”
I happened to be walking on the beach on a gorgeous January Saturday afternoon listening to Alan Watt’s audiobook, You’re It! On Hiding, Seeking, and Being Found. Pondering his lecture on Zen Buddhism. How the individual is inseparable from her environment, how she is the cosmos—mere skin boundaries and the notion of “I” an illusion, if I got that right. We are what’s out there.
One wave in my daily life feels like thousands of waves, so much cacophony competing for attention. Bright shiny things on the web, one link leading to another, millions of us vying to express realities, get attention, offer services or some sort of connection. Bookmarks, podcasts, videos I will never get to. A deafening, shuddering roar. Riptides that suck me off-course.
The Ocean of Being is waves of chaos; I am a giant anemone extending millions of soft pudgy arms, reacting to currents, to pressure, to invisible forces, bumping each tendril tentacle around and around and waving, Me Me Me! Suck and bash and swallow and regurgitate.
Offline, I have piles of magazines waiting for me all around the house that clutter-minders would say “Throw out!” because they just remind you of your failures, of all the things in your busy life you can’t get to, to: The New Yorker, Discover, Grit (will I ever build my own chicken coop?), Mother Jones, Mother Earth Living, Herb Companion, Sunset (recipes), Riviera (nightlife), The New York Times (life), Poets & Writers (art), The Writer’s Chronicle, Atlantic (culture), Smithsonian (history), National Geographic, Psychology Today, Orion, CityBeat (pop culture), Outside, Backpacker, Sierra (trips, save the planet), my husband’s Stanford (do-ers), The Sun, Zzyzzyva (and other literary journals), and one Mad Magazine (puerile fun) I just couldn’t resist buying two years ago and still haven’t read. If I can’t let the outside in, who am I?
I have stacks of excellent books to read. I can’t even get through the entire Sunday New York Times each week, so how can I get to all this other wonderful stuff. But I love stories, I love information, I could swim butterfly through the Zeitgeist. I can’t bear to part with potential. I could learn anything from anywhere and want to. That’s who I am and want to be. A sea sponge.
It used to be you leaned over the fence and learned something useful or listened to a yarn, accident, tale. Sometimes you had to be patient to wade through a lot of noise. But then something useful, meaningful, would boil up. Now, I have a million neighbors on physical and digital pages, all at the fence, all hyperready to lean in and tell me something, share a tip or experience that will make my life richer and more meaningful in the transmission. Define me.
I love my technology, my electricity, being able to plug my electric kettle into the wall and get hot tea in seconds while surfing the web. But I long for a simpler time, a candlelit fantasy which would come only from an emergency blackout with its enforced stillness of time and noise (courtesy of a wildfire, earthquake, mass accident, or other calamity). I imagine, if my only job is to wait it out, that I could finally pile down to the stacks and stacks of magazines and books, the old school reading. Clear the path for all the digital delights just waiting for the lights to come on. Let the cosmos of voices in.
It’s all so damned interesting, me stuck here on my one little outcrop, clinging to my own little barnacle-encrusted piece of oceanic violence and human crush. Now I’m waving at you. Bye-bye. Off to read or to write one more thing to add to the cacophony.