“Well, I was born in the sign of water, and it’s there that I feel my best. The albatross and the whales they are my brothers. It’s kind of a special feeling when you’re out on the sea alone, staring at the full moon like a lover.” —Little River Band, Cool Change
Eight years ago, when my daughter was still a baby, our little family of three took a vacation to San Diego. It was actually a work trip for my wife, but my baby girl and I got to tag along. I had lived in Southern California many years earlier and had fallen deeply in love with the ocean, so I was not about to miss that trip. On the day that my wife was free from meetings and told me I got to choose our adventure, the words could not have come out of me faster: “I want to go surfing!”
It was a grey, chilly afternoon at the beach—no one was on the sand but us—and as my wife and daughter bundled up on the towel, I ran across the street and rented a board and a wetsuit, then sprinted back and jumped into the frigid water. I was home! Every neuron was firing at maximum capacity, and my entire being was flooded with adrenaline. The little taste of saltwater on my lips was like taking a sip from a cup of lightning. I was overwhelmed by the enormity of this mysterious beast I was now a part of.
I had always, in my journals, referred to the ocean as The Power, and in that moment, I could feel exactly why. Even though the waves were small that day—I had been thrashed by dangerously large breakers at the same beach several years before—it was obvious that, by comparison, I was like a single speck of sand in a vast desert. The Power could have its way with me any time.
That vastness, that power, that whirring sense of danger that danced in the background, these are the things that lit my soul on fire as I dove into the cold water that afternoon. A few minutes later, after paddling out a ways in hopes of bigger swells and sitting up on my board to scan the endless horizon, I found the part that settles me into the deepest Peace. It is the suddenly obvious connection with All That Is. I knew that I was in the same water that touched the people swimming in China and India, in Australia and Antarctica and Argentina and Angola and Alaska and Algeria. It was this water, and the elements that composed it, that allowed LIFE to happen on this tiny little planet floating in the vast cosmos. That connection, that Peace–even more than the wild exhilaration–has always made the ocean home for me.
It is why that cold afternoon in the Pacific was so memorable for me. I was home.
That was eight years ago. I haven’t seen the ocean since.
Oh sure, I have been at the water. I go to the lake every Summer for some days with my family. I take my kayak out to the neighborhood lakes a few times per year. I swim laps at the gym. I used my free hour on my birthday this year to hike along a local stream. I love all of those things, and each time I am reminded of the enchanting power that water has always held over me. I am always so grateful to be there.
But a lake is not an ocean.
My kids are 6 and 8 now. After all these years of being too busy, too broke, and thinking what a hassle it would be to travel with two little ones, my wife and I decided it was time to give it a shot. So, several months ago, we finally took my parents up on their yearly offer and booked plane tickets to visit them at their home in Florida during our Spring Break. I then immediately put the trip out of my mind.
That was October. Now, it is March. Spring Break is in March.
As the month began, I officially gave myself permission to think about the trip: to daydream, to fantasize, to get excited. When I have had those free moments, I watch my mind as it travels. It has only one destination: the ocean.
Swimming in it. Listening to the waves lapping the shore. Watching the sun set over it. Swimming in it some more. And more. And more.
Intellectually, when I try to pull myself back from those thoughts, I can recognize that there are so many parts of the trip to look forward to: hanging out with my parents every day, watching the kids play with their grandparents, seeing one of my best friends who has lived down there for a few years, learning a whole new area I have never visited, feeling warm, swimming in a pool, taking adventures with the kids, and simply being on vacation. All of those sound fabulous and well worth some daydreaming smiles.
However, when it is time to let my mind wander and my eyes glaze over, all I can think about is the water. The beautiful, powerful salt water and the endless mirroring sky above it. That is what calls to me.
I can see now that I have turned off part of my soul in all of these years when I have not had either the time or the money to get there. I convinced myself that I didn’t need it, that I was self-contained, that everything that fills me is right here in my presence. I wanted to be that mentally strong, that disciplined, that stoic.
This week’s daytime revelations have shown me that I have been mostly in a state of denial all these years. I have been working hard to resist the ocean’s natural pull on my soul. I have used my visits to nearby lakes and streams to calm the calling. I have convinced myself that they are enough, that my heart doesn’t ache for more. My laser-focused daydreams of late tell me I have been fooling myself.
I have been missing something that, in this moment at least, seems so essential to the vitality of my spirit. It is a tank that needs to be refilled more often than every eighth year, obviously. I have been running on empty for a very long time and simply making do without it. I can feel now that even my visions of the ocean are beginning to refill the tank, beginning to revitalize me. My spirit soars with each fantasy. It is a delight in my mind.
This makes me certain that the real thing—that first taste of salt water on my lips as I plunge below the surface—will infuse my soul with the most profoundly exhilarating Joy and Peace. It will be a magic beyond measure. I am already grateful for it. It is exactly what I have been missing!
How about you? What have you been missing in your life? Open up your journal and shine a light into the areas you may have been hiding from. What are the things that your soul longs for but that you convince yourself you can do without? The range of possible answers for this one is as broad and diverse as we are. It could be a specific person, a community of people, a place, a thing, a vacation, a treat. I think mostly that it comes down to a feeling, and that the person, place, or thing we long for is what gives us that feeling. What is the feeling you long for, the one you have been missing lately? Relief? Peace? Forgiveness? Companionship? Inspiration? Fulfillment? Permission? Freedom? Connectedness? Challenge? Exhilaration? Gratitude? Worthwhile? Do you know what you need to do to get there? Is it a trip? A conversation? An acknowledgment in your own mind? How big of a risk or sacrifice will it require? How much of your longing can be curbed by better use of your mind? For example, regarding my ocean, does my excitement over my recent fantasies speak to a need to better use my imagination—to daydream with a purpose—to get my fix for these soul-fillers that are difficult to visit in person often enough? Can you get what you are missing without going anywhere? Does the thing you are missing have relatives (e.g. I know that I would have a similar experience in preparing for a Summer camping trip to the mountains of Montana, another place that feels like home to my soul but that I haven’t visited in ages)? How much denial do you live in about the things you miss the most? Does that denial protect you? Is there anything you have uncovered in this process that you could go after? What step can you take today in that direction? I dare you to move! Leave me a reply and let me know: What are you missing in your life?
P.S. If today’s letter stirred you up, I hope that you will share it with someone who might appreciate a stirring, too. Blessed be.