I recently received a lovely note from a dear friend thanking me for my sending her Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, a book I have treasured since I received it as a gift in 2003. I try to re-read this book every couple of years (it’s that good) but it became of particular importance when I moved to Key West.
My friend writes: “You were in my thoughts as she talked about shedding, simplicity, and islands of solitude as you took the courageous step of doing it all at once.”
“Perhaps middle age is, or should be, a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego. Perhaps one can shed at this stage in life as one sheds in beach-living; one’s pride, one’s false ambitions, one’s mask, one’s armor. Was that armor not put on to protect one from the competitive world? If one ceases to compete, does one need it? Perhaps one can at last in middle ago, if not earlier, be completely oneself. And what a liberation that would be.” –Anne Morrow Lindbergh
My shedding experience was indeed courageous but crazy and not recommended for those faint of mind and body. It was radical. I left a very large house and a very long marriage to live small in a very remote place. And while seemingly impulsive to many, it was not; I did my homework and then acted upon it; action, the operative and scary word. I have never had much ambition so the shedding of such behavior was not an issue. And shedding the shells of accumulation and possession is not as difficult as many think. I have fond and loving memories of people and places with only a handful of framed faces and souvenirs, my love is no less with fewer objects, my lifestyle is in no way compromised because I only have five vases instead of fifteen. Lindbergh writes:
One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can only collect a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few. One moon shell is more impressive than three. There is only one moon in the sky. One double-sunrise is an event; six are a succession, like a week of school days. Gradually one discards and keeps just the perfect specimen, not necessarily a rare shell, but a perfect one of its kind. One sets it apart by itself, ringed around by space—like an island.
For it is only framed in space that beauty blooms. Only in space are events and objects and people unique and significant—and therefore beautiful.
I also shed a marriage, which is another post entirely, stressful to say the least, an act that rattled the ego something fierce. Shedding the shell of ego is a work in progress. I take tremendous ownership regarding my actions, a pride that borders on cockiness, and I often find that I am bloated with self, judgmental and vain. But living alone requires the help of others, be they hired workers or a comforting shoulder, and while I sometimes think that I can do just about anything, I am humbled by the revelation of how limited I am. I laid down the mask and armor. It is beyond liberating; it’s the birth of a full-grown woman.
My friend continues: “A change is upon me and have been meditating on allowing it to flow. I often think about On the Edge of Old, and realize I might have gone over it. Feeling healthy and bright most of the time and a change is afoot.”
Change, change, change; the buzzword of the 60-something set. Again, I take great ownership regarding change and I’m offended by all the memes and platitudes one sees on Facebook that minimize change to a few pithy words or some celebrity’s spin on life. You want change? Prepare to work. While I fully support mediation and the natural flow of the cosmos, change will not wash over you like a spring of warm water. Change only comes with courage and action, with tears and hard work, loneliness and doubt, with getting up every ding-dong day and doing some dumb-ass task that moves you closer to the change you envision. And therein lies the real problem—identifying what you want that change to be. Determining the source of our discontent is often difficult, and meditation would certainly help in that regard.
I was able to identify change through my work with the amazing Laura Oliver of St. John’s College. In one of Laura’s classes, she asked us to write a paragraph of 250 words under the prompt of, “I want …“ This was not to be a list but prose, a meaningful and thoughtful look inside, as in, “I want to live by the water for it soothes my soul, it makes me feel maternal and strong” and/or “I want to be free of my body as burden, to be light and mobile and healthy.” I highly recommend this exercise. My wants on paper were simple, pure and attainable. The brevity of the writing made it manageable, made it so only the important wants shone brightly. “One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can only collect a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few.” And then, if you do indeed want changes in your life, and are not just on occasion battling the boredom of aging or enjoying a good pity-party, let the work begin. And keep a copy of Gift from the Sea as your guide.
Apologies for the in-your-face marketing, the only link I was able to successfully place is this monster below.