If you ride in my old Isuzu Trooper, you might notice a small cache of white stones in the gearshift console. That might surprise you, because my kids are grown past the point where they pick up every rock and leaf for their never ending and slightly abstract childhood collections.
No, the rocks are mine. I picked them up while walking the beaches at the end of Cape Cod a week or so ago. They are common stones. White, rounded, almost like tiny eggs. Go to the beaches today and you would easily find many, many more of them.
I picked them up the first night I arrived in Provincetown. It was nearing sunset and I had finished a six hour drive to come this place I had never been, to come to the ocean’s edge for the first time in many, many years. I had no agenda. I didn’t even know really why I was there, just that I had heard the ocean calling to me relentlessly for months, and I have learned that when that inner voice pesters me for months on end, I should pay attention to it. It often knows things my conscious mind does not.
I dumped my suitcase in the room, and drove out to Race Point, the corner of the island where it turns from the bay to the ocean, and I walked. There were, I was told, Wright whales off the shore, but that night, I did not see them. There were also, I was told, seals that lazed around on the beaches, but none of those were in sight either. There was water, sky and sand. And right near the place where sea and sand came together, there was a row of stones, washed up by a confluence of tide and a dip in the sand.
The rocks were a mix of colors, most of them dark. Grey. Black. Dark brown. And a few were brilliant white.
Perhaps they were not really so brilliant, but the combination of a low-lying sun and the water still glistening on them as the tide receded make them sparkle and in the midst of all the dark colors and dark sand, they were like jewels. I picked one up, then another, and another until I had a small handful of them. They were worn smooth from who knows how many years of being washed back and forth in the sand. They had a gentle texture, smooth, and yet not perfectly smooth at the same time. Like velvet, captured in stone.
I carried those stones in my coat pocket for miles down the beach, and then miles back. From time to time, I would pull them out and look at them, still glistening in the falling sun. It was like holding magic in my hands.
Most of the time, when I travel, it takes a day or two to spool off the pressures and speed of regular life and sink into a different rhythm. That is something I take into account when I travel, that the first day may be a mixed bag of still engaged in the world left behind, and the world of a new place without schedules and responsibilities. Something about these storm-tossed stones, though, sent me to that peaceful place right away.
As I finished my walk, I took them out of my pocket and dropped them, one by one into the console. They were dry now, but still white, with that wonderful texture worn smooth by time. They have been that way ever since.
They have become a touchstone for me. A visible symbol of the peace I felt as I walked along the cold, lonely shores of Cape Cod. Not everyone is cut out for aloneness, or long stretches of time looking inward. Some with their monkey minds are bored without activity and things to do. Some avoid that alone time because it causes us to face things, sometimes hard things, we do not what to face. No, not everyone is cut out for it. But for me, it is like manna, refreshing, and renewing.
Yes, I think as I walk lonely stretches or hike mountain paths. At least, I think sometimes, turning my life around like a jewel, examining every cut and facet, noticing imperfections and beauty, wondering at a life and a journey that has brought me here, where ever here is. But at other times, I do not think at all. I simply let everything go, including myself. I disappear, even to myself.
I did a lot of disappearing while in Cape Cod. Walking without being aware of it. (until later when my legs reminded me that I should do more of this.), not seeing the beauty, not feeling the bitter cold wind. I don’t really know what happens when I disappear. It is not a conscious thing. Unlike meditation, where you seek a certain simple “being”, this is a “not being”. I am not in the moment. In fact, I am not.
I don’t know what happens, but I know it is healing. I don’t get in the way of myself, or of God, and I can heal without being concerned about either the brokenness, or the whys, or the hows.
As I get older, I have been amazed at how nicely life unfolds when I don’t press it, and simply allow it. Over the past several years, I have transitioned from a life where I pushed everything, where I thought it was my job in life to make things happen. I was that way in most everything, my work, my church work, my family, my creative endeavors. And I got a lot done.
But I lost some of that drive after my divorce. Part of my brokenness, I suppose. Or at least, I saw it that way at the time. Or maybe it was the depression that overtook me during that time. I just seemed to lack something that I had had before, the energy, the drive. And it’s never really come back.
My expectation, when I never got it back, was that with the losing of that drive, my life would dry up. I would not be as successful as I had been. I would not do as good as work. And I had begun to adjust my life to the idea that that life was diminished, and adjusting myself to that idea. But that is not the way it played out. Yes, there was a wallowing time, a time of change and struggle. But over the past few years, that drive was replaced by something else – readiness.
What I mean is that while I don’t push, I live in an expectation that good things will happen, that opportunities will show themselves for me to do good, interesting productive work; that I don’t need to force being a good parent – the chances will come; that I don’t have to make myself create, I just have to be ready to take inspiration and run with it. The key is to be ready, and always looking for chances to do… anything I want to do. My creative work is not work any more. It’s more a flow. I just get out of the way and let it happen. And it’s better than it was a decade ago. Authenticity has power.
Don’t ask me how it works. Don’t ask me why. I call it “The Manna Effect”, after the time the Israelites were in the desert and God fed them with Manna, a bread-like substance. Manna was strange stuff. It showed up in the morning and you could eat your fill, but you could not save it up. Try to and it would rot. So you just had to have faith that it would show up the next morning. For someone like me, it was an anathema. I believed you had to make things happen. That’s what ny father told me. That’s what society told me. That’s how I lived, always looking for ways to move my life forward.
But I spent a lot of time after my divorce “not doing”. Not from choice, just from a lack of drive. So many of the roles in my life, the reasons I had driven myself, were gone, and I did not know what to replace them with. I spent time in therapy. I spent time in thought. I spent time in prayer. I healed. Partially.
Maybe partially is not the right word. I healed….. differently. I became and am still becoming, something different. Less driven. Not less skilled. Not less successful. Not less good. Simply all those things without the NEED to succeed. Without the fear of failing that society breeds into us. I just did. And left the rest to God, to the universe, whatever you choose to call that life force that is beyond us. (In my case, it is always God, big G.). And it works out. Manna. No more than I need, always what I need. It used to scare the ever-loving hell out of me, but now, a decade later, I have come to trust it.
I forget to trust sometimes, however. Life piles on. Disappointments strike. Frustrations and mistakes and failings abound. And in those times, I need reminders. Touchstones that bring me back to that place of allowing life rather than forcing life. Reminders of blessings. Reminders of hope. Reminders to trust the Manna.
And this small pile of time polished white rocks is one of my touchstones. They won’t mean anything to anyone who rides with me. Just another one of Atkins’ quirks.
And I am full of them.
Be well. Travel wisely,