Master Yourself

Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power. Lao Tzu


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Gordon Beach, Tel Aviv Israel

Relaxing in the fine deep white sand, I watched as the last light of this day eased into the Mediterranean. The glowing sun reflected off the clouds, staining the edges of an unexpected thunderhead, to the color of pomegranates. I had just caught site of a stab of lightening in the dark cloud.

“Must be Zeus!” I thought.

The hot “land air” of the day rushed between the buildings. It blew my hair into my face, moving past me to collide with the cool air sliding along the top of the sea. Squinting against the last streaks of red, I saw a silhouette of a tall young man appear over the top of the jetty. He was frenetically paddling some kind of craft still hidden behind the rocks.

Even at this distance I could see his broad shoulders were hunched with the tension of his great effort. The paddle looked meager against the size of the surf. The fast choppy sweep of his arms propelled his unseen vessel amazingly fast against the moving currents. His head rose above the jetty with each wave, dropping from view as the swells crashed against the rocks. The cusp of sunset is tricky, evening time calls out the darkness. Sea air and land air change places, creating circular winds that move water into rolling underwater cyclones. And what about this strange cloud overhead? Here in the cradle of great myths and even greater divinities: anything is possible.

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Had an ancient canoe come around that rocky point, it would not be unexpected.

He jabbed at the water with the paddle designed for a gentle drift along the surface. The paddle board glided through the water between the great piles of rough boulders built to keep beach, and swimmers, safe from the powerful undertow. The wind was strongest, just above the water. He was pitched off his board many times, he leapt back up to paddling, as if spit out of the sea by Amphitrite herself. I felt a maternal “swipe of the brow” as he finally reached the beach. He ran by me headed towards the hotels at the edge of the sand. After witnessing his efforts in the water, I marveled at his effortless sprint through the deep sand.

I heaved a sigh of relaxation from where I was planted. I settled into a yoga-esque “easy pose,” seated comfortably in the still warm sand. I had come out to attend the setting of the sun. The movements of the sun are always sacred. In this place, people order their lives around this daily, pivitol event. Mine was a “sit in the sand, commune with the water, and thanks for the day “sun salutation” of my own design. I was feeling gratitude for the opportunity to be in this place.

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In another place, for another athlete, that workout would have been enough. But this is Israel, and that was just a warm-up.

Looking like the perfect powerful figures from a 3,000-year-old Greek pot, he thundered by me in the opposite direction. He reached the water in three strides. Three more times he paddled out against the wind, circumnavigating the long jetties, charging top speed out into the open water, amidst the crashing waves. Falling into the water, leaping back out in half a breath’s time, he ran his board aground to sprint at top speed, up the beach, circle the palms and back to the water, three more times.

I ground my own feet a bit deeper in the sand, listened for the voices of the present day volleyball players behind me. It was getting dark. There was only one other observer, meditating on a damp towel. Had I been dropped into some ancient arena? Was this a Perseus polishing up his Andromeda rescue skills? That is after all, Jaffa, or Joppa just down the beach. “Is Everyone seeing this??”

On the fourth circuit, I thought, “Certainly he must be done?”

He dropped to the beach, and performed  gut wrenching, core building isometrics. It was these maneuvers that seemed to finally blast out any remaining remnants of being a “mere human.” Then and only then did he stop, to face the dying sun and quietly paddle his board back to the marina. I have never witnessed such endurance. Maybe it’s the water, or maybe the hummus.

There is great strength here.

 

 

Last Day

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We have reached the last day of our last week here. It was miraculously spent in a square duplex cottage, built optimistically on stilts, on the apron of beach edging a thin spit of land called, by some: Palm Island.

This is a quiet place, most days the beach sees more birds than people and the prevailing sounds are the waves and the wind. This center section of Don Pedro Island is set apart from the mainland by the inward tracing of the intercoastal waterway, a thin green river lined with impenetrable Mangrove colonies denying access to the casual boating interloper. What keeps this island quiet is a short ride on a car ferry whose $50 price tag for cars really curtails one’s desire to come and go.  You only get to stay, if you have the clams to pay.

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Ours is one of the more modest perches, in a fine position on the sand. We could share breakfast conversation with our right hand neighbors were we to be able to hear them over the sound of the surf. There is nothing so precious as close proximity to the sea, especially to these decade long desert dwellers in the winter. Walking briskly, one can walk from Gulf to Bay in about 4 minutes from this vantage point. Crashing waves and windy bluster on the west side, peaceful green water, manatee and kayakers on the East.  It would be hard to be more one with water without being in a boat.

southbeachBuilt over the past 20 years with typical human hubris, this community is a neighborhood of Beach Houses; human poachers in the land of perpetual metamorphosis.

There are many massive multistory edifices here, many empty and more with For Sale signs than without.  They all stand on impossibly tall Heron legged pilings to keep them safe from the whim of moving water.  We hear from the old timers that those without feet came and went about 10 years ago. These sand castles will stand in this golden and blue-green place…until they don’t.  All barrier beaches move, sometimes across centuries, sometimes in a few days.  Ask those from Long Beach, NY, a place where more than one in our family /friend circle saw the unthinkable happen. (www.businessinsider.com/hurricane-sandy-flooding-pictures-2012-10)

We are grateful to be a visitor, to hear waves all day and all night, to witness the beauty in front of us “right now.” And is that any different from anyone’s life? Is anyone’s existence much different than a beach house with its toes pounded into the sand? Does anyone really have more of a guarantee of safety and longevity than this?

Thinking deep thoughts is easy when time is relative and days defined by sunrise and sunset.  Weather is the mist on your face and the flotsam at your feet. Wind and wave is a whole body experience best studied with wet feet and no agenda.  Each day brings new topography and new shells; the colorful refuse of life out there. Soft white Angel wings, pastel periwinkles and cockles of all sizes are tossed up like handbills for upcoming miracles.  It is nearly impossible to pass up these treasures, except when the dolphin passes by, or the Osprey dives for dinner, close enough to get you wet.

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Being surrounded by water on three sides washes the soul in its most fundamental element. Standing at the edges is to walk in both worlds of me and us. There is magic in awareness of a single human’s diminutive status in the overall scheme of things, and the coexisting sense of Unity with the flowing body of the mercurial and magnanimous Gulf of Mexico.  Under these conditions, the precepts of present human culture as we know it are “all shot to hell.”

As they should be. Thanks Mama Cocha