I was on a beach walk the other day and I happened upon a scattering of seashells. As I kneeled down to admire and observe, I was reminded of a funny situation that happened last spring and I thought I would share.
It was May of last year and I was on the beach with my mom, my sister, and my sister’s kids. We were spending an afternoon enjoying the healing power of the ocean after a tearful memorial service dedicated to my late father. There was a melancholy air surrounding us and we were quietly relishing in the vibe. The beach was pretty much empty and the kids were running around and enjoying the space although still somewhat affected by the weight of the morning.
We noticed that my sister’s six year old had found something in the water along the shore break. After a few moments of observation, she sprinted towards us to share her treasure. In her hands she held up a remarkable piece of perfectly bleached coral. “Look what I found”, she said. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
And it was quite beautiful. Although my mom, sister and I all found it a bit strange since we were on the beach in Virginia Beach, Va...and one doesn’t typically find coral on the mid atlantic coastline. But who knows…stranger things have happened.
My niece set the coral down on the towel and skipped back to the waters edge. Within seconds, she picked up something else up from the shoreline. Overflowing with enthusiasm, she ran back to show us another shell. This time it was a perfect fan shaped shell the size of her palm covered with the colors of a sunrise. Pretty magnificent, and again quite unusual for Virginia Beach.
Again, she found another shell. And again, and again, and again, and again. By the time she was finished, we had a pile of close to 15 pretty remarkable seashells sitting in front of us. We were quite perplexed, but very happy that the afternoon had brought smiles and some laughs. “Maybe Grandpa sent them”, she says. And we smiled at the sweetness of the moment. My niece didn’t get a chance to know how much my Dad loved the beach, so she wasn’t really aware at how poignant her statement was. Maybe my dad did send them after all. It sure made for a fine thought.
A few minutes later, I noticed a girl walking past us on the sand. I looked closer and I realized it was a friend of mine so I called to her to say hello. (Long story short, she was going through the heartache of a pretty tough divorce and had recently located back to Virginia to be closer to her family.) She made her way over and we chatted for a while. I told her about my Dad and that we were down at the beach receiving some healing energy from the ocean. She said she was doing the same. As we said our goodbyes my friend glanced down at the pile of shells and paused.
“Where did you get those?”, she asked.
“My niece found them on the beach”, I told her. “It is so unusual to find shells like this here, so we decided that Grandpa must have sent them from Heaven. I mean, where else could they have come from?”
She started to laugh. Then she proceeded to tell us that part of her healing that morning had consisted of discarding the seashells that she and her ex husband had collected during their marriage. One by one she had tossed the shells back into the ocean as a symbolic process of letting go and moving on. A quite effective process, might I add. That is until you finish your therapy and find all of your shells together again sitting in a pile on your friend’s towel staring back at you saying, “Still here”.
What does that say? What does that mean? That seems pretty unfair, right? As I filed through the possible symbolism that could be drawn from the situation, I had an epiphany. It means absolutely nothing. In the self-help psychobabble I can get wrapped up in, I am so accustomed to finding meaning in EVERYTHING…from chakras to traumas to centipedes. But the truth is, it means nothing at all. The drama we create around a situation ends up being a form of attachment and can work against us as it keeps us in the past. And the past should stay in the past. If I allow a seashell to represent my father, then loss of the shell or damage to the shell can stir up grief and sadness. If I allow the seashell to represent an ex-husband, then the seashell can trigger anger and heartache. And it is JUST a seashell….A really beautiful seashell that I willingly gave significant power over my life.
One of the sub limbs of the yogic path is aparigraha or non-attachment. Aparigraha refers not only to material objects but also to the reality we paint for ourselves to make us feel safe and ok. We search for reasons and excuses to support our choices and emotions, when in reality a choice is just a choice and an emotion is just an emotion. It’s really that simple. Attachment disguises itself as symbolism and convinces us it is healthy. We think It helps us understand the world, but in reality it keeps us from it. Symbolism and attachment live in our words and in our heads blinding us to the truth that exists only in the present moment. Life only happens in the present.
Soooo, I am not sure what should be taken from all of this except that a sense of humor can be really helpful in our human experience. Fortunately, we all had a sense of humor that day on the beach. We shared a good laugh at serendipity’s expense and went home with 15 new seashells and a pretty funny story.