Last week I asked my friend Chris, who I’ve now known for 22 years, if it makes sense that I would have a desire to swim or go to the beach — like “is it consistent with my teenage self that I would obsess like this” — I think I was expecting something like “well you liked the water then, but it was never crazy per se.” He surprised me with something I apparently said when I was living with him and his wife, which was “I haven’t been to the beach in 4 days, I’m getting cranky.”
Friends are great for time capsules like that. I didn’t remember saying that, but moreover, I don’t remember feeling that in such a way that I’d be able to verbalize it. I’ve been adept at ignoring my feelings and wants over the course of my life, channeling those things into less positive obsessions, notably food.
So the current mania for swimming I have is a neat surprise, and one much with much more positive health effects. Though having my vision be blurry for whole days because I was refusing to swim underwater without goggles in chlorinated pools was probably not the best thing.
On the days I commute into L.A. and take the coastal route I get a charge, every time, from seeing the Pacific Ocean. There’s something huge and wonderful and horrible and beautiful about the expanse of the ocean. In many ways the scale of the sea is imponderable, like trying to imagine the distance to Saturn, or the National Deficit — I don’t have a sense of scale when directly confronted with it.
This gets me pondering the notion of something like baptism, and how it taps into a psyche like mine. I think of the fact that I am a godparent to Chris’ son. What does it mean to cleanse by water? What do I believe about what is happening in a religious ritual like baptism, whether by sprinkling, pouting, or immersion? If you want more information about the uses of water in religious practice, check the wikipedia article on baptism. It’s actually quite amazing.
One particular example: early in my relationship with Leah, I attended Tony’s Mormon baptism, which was quite fascinating. I found the outfits — white jumpsuits — somewhat silly, and the age of baptism unique, but the ceremony was quite reverent and lovely, with the whole family taking part. I enjoy the symbolic nature of such events.
The varieties of religious belief and practice and are sort of daunting, perhaps as daunting as the varieties of the appearance and attitude of the Pacific.
As I walked a spiritual path from Catholicism, to agnosticism, to atheism, and back, I felt a great many things. At times I was moved deeply by stirrings and notions whose nature I do not necessarily understand. The correlation I am hamhandedly making in this writing this morning is something about the awe one feels for a deity, or for a large and scientifically unmeasurable quantity — what is the sum total of love? how grand is the Pacific Ocean? what is the basis for faith or art or trust? To make a long rambling story short, I get sustenance from the water – from seeing the ocean, and from swimming — sustenance whose character I am perhaps only beginning to understand.
Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains,
and waters as waters.
When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point
where I saw that mountains are not mountains,
and waters are not waters.
But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest.
For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains,
and waters once again as waters.
Have a good day.