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Sea Spirits

Meditations on the stories nature tells in metaphor

Sea Spirits by Dewitt Jones

I’m a hopeless romantic, but the more intently I look, the more stories nature has to tell …

Walking the tideline, barefoot on the tumbled stripe between water and sand, camera over my shoulder. No wind. Hardly a ripple over the vastness of the ocean. Hardly a ripple, except here at the edge, where waves suddenly materialize as if from nowhere.

In effortless, endless succession they come. Effortless … endless … succession. I close my eyes and fill with a great calmness. Why is it so soothing to stand here? Effortless … endless … succession.

When my eyes open, the sea is gone. In its place is a vision of the collective spirit. In this liquid metaphor before me travel incalculable individual resonances, inestimable waves within the sea itself. On the surface, it is calm. Those waves of spirit — strong, deep and prolific — can be seen only on the edges, the tidelines, the places where spirit and matter touch. Here individual resonances are pushed to the surface, concentrated, and their form becomes visible. They curl onto the shore of life, full of power and energy. They hurl themselves headlong upon the sand.

From the point of view of those on the beach, they eventually dissipate and die. From the point of view of the great spirit sea, however, they merely change direction. We can see it if we look. There, sliding underneath the new incoming wave! The old wave, heading out again, setting off on another journey, searching for another edge where it might again take form.

Some of you are saying, “Wait a minute! The wave loses power as it hits the beach. What little goes back may never have the energy to make it to another shore.” I answer, “Hey, this is metaphor, not mentation; symbol, not science. Noetic knowledge, not to be proved, but to be felt. Besides, in my metaphor, there’s no friction anyway. Back to the beach …

All that remains is a line of wetness, a damp memory of the wave now seemingly gone, immediately overwhelmed by the next incoming surge. Traces from the very largest waves linger a little longer above the rest, but eventually those memories too sink back into the sand. Beneath the surface, however, even the moisture of the memory returns to the sea.

My heart can hear the waves repeating, “Endlessly, effortlessly. Over and over and over again. No loss, just different forms. Nothing to fear. Nothing to fear.”

I love it when I begin to see this way. Listening with my eyes and my heart to the stories nature tells in metaphor. Are they real or just games I play with my mind? As I stand here so peaceful on the tideline, it doesn’t matter.

I notice my own breath. Another teacher like the sea. How easily it too rises and falls. Effortless. I’m not really in control. I can momentarily interfere, but I can’t stop it.

A friend once taught me the one-breath meditation — everything I needed to know about life encapsulated in one breath: Take it all in, and give it all back.

If I don’t let myself take it in; eventually, I expire. Guess that would be living the maxim: “If I’m careful enough, nothing good or bad will ever happen to me.” If I take it in but refuse to give it back? Hey, that’s: “He who dies with the most toys, is still dead!”

Endless, effortless ebb and flow — like waves on the beach, like lives on the planet, like breath in our lungs. Nothing to do but take it all in, give it all back … and trust.

I pick up my camera. Perhaps I can find a photograph that might hint at this experience. Or maybe it was enough just to let it expose my soul.

Dewitt Jones is one of America’s top professional photographers. Twenty years with National Geographic photographing stories around the globe has earned him the reputation as a world-class photojournalist. As a motion picture director, he had two documentary films nominated for Academy Awards before he was thirty. Dewitt has published nine books including California! and John Muir’s High Sierra. His most recent book, The Nature of Leadership, was created in collaboration with Stephen R. Covey.