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If you don’t become the ocean you will be seasick every day.

Leonard Cohen

I first put on a snorkel and fins at the age of 30. The friend I was with at the time couldn't believe that I had never enjoyed this remarkable experience. “What do you mean you've never snorkeled?” she asked, somewhat astonished. I was a bit ashamed, feeling like an unsophisticated landlubbing bumpkin. But not everyone grows up snorkeling, I reasoned. My early years were not spent gallivanting on tropical beaches with family and friends but instead working a series of jobs to make money. I started babysitting at age 13 and then worked in a local camera store during summers and school holidays so that I could earn some shekels of my own. In fact, the first time I ever flew on a plane I was in high school, flying not to some exotic snorkeling locale, but to Pittsburgh, where I was attending a summer session for high school students at a local University there.

But back to the water. That first day of snorkeling my friend showed me how to secure the snorkel and how to breathe with it on. She directed me to a little shelf of rocks maybe 50 yards from the beach and from that moment on I was hooked. The beauty of the colors, the weightlessness, the sound of my own breath. A slow and measured in and out, in and out, in and out. It was the first time in my life that I was conscious of my own breathing. The melodic, repetitive, even sound gave me gratitude for my own breath - for the unconscious ability to breathe, something which I retain to this day. And the sights! The colors! The underwater fauna blowing in the current’s breeze, the shells and rocks and even the spikes of forbidding sea urchins, the clearness of the water as seen through the mask. I absorbed it all in a state close to rapture. As I floated there, spellbound, I began to appreciate all the different types of fish I was observing. Even the dark looming shadows of the not so cute fish were thrilling to me. There was an entire vibrant underwater universe waiting for me. A universe that I had been completely unaware of for my first 30 years on planet Earth. When I’m snorkeling I lose track of time, I’m almost never cold, and I wonder if this is what heaven feels like: floaty, magnificent, awe-inspiring and relaxed. Now I snorkel whenever and wherever I can.

A few months ago over Christmas break I was snorkeling in less than ideal conditions. The water was cold and choppy, not all that clear as there was a storm out at sea, and the turbulence of the water was kicking up a lot of sand, obscuring the normally pristine waters. But I was undaunted. I pulled on my flippers and mask and headed out, alone.

There were not many fish out that day but the fish that I did see amazed me with their calm and dedicated adherence to not getting ruffled. To not getting annoyed. The first large fish I came across was a parrot fish. A fish that I love for its color, its funny little mouth and the fact that on a clear day in flat water you can actually hear them munching away on their favorite snack, algae off of the coral reefs around which they congregate. But this was not a calm day. It was a rough day. So rough in fact that I had to hold on to a rock formation jutting out of the surf with both hands in an attempt to not be swept away. The parrot fish had no such recourse and I watched him in amazement.

There Pierre (as I christened him) would be, happily eating his lunch, when a strong underwater current would push him away from his coral buffet, far away in some cases. And yet, after being flung from his spot, he would return, time after time, wave after wave, seemingly unperturbed, back to the exact same spot. Again and again and again. As I floated there watching Pierre, and marveling at his diligence and steadfast determination to get what he wanted, I saw that Pierre was by no means alone. There were several dozen other fish gathered around these rocks. One medium sized tile fish, bi-color damsel fish, cute little pork fish, grunts, drum, and shy little almost black angel fish. Even a happy little group of sergeant majors who seemed as interested in me as I was in them.

Several of these fish were hiding in holes or had pressed themselves up against the coral and rocks, waiting for the storm outside to pass. But the currents were fierce and often they would, all at once, get sucked out of their hiding places and straight into the violent currents, where they certainly did not want to be. But these fish were special in that they were all practicing, in unison, the Buddhist art of non-resistance. They did not seem to be, as I was, annoyed or particularly frustrated by the conditions. They were exceedingly, in their fishy ways, calm, cool and collected. They were getting pushed around, swept aside, yanked this way and that, pulled way out of their comfort zones and hiding places. But none of them grimaced, or complained, or made a “why me?” expression. In fact, with their un-furrowed brows and equanimous expressions they seemed to say “why not me?” and then get over it and move on. They seemed to not react at all to their abrupt change in circumstances. Once out away from the reef and in the open water they simply readjusted their bodies, swam fiercely or placidly back from whence they came, and returned to the task at hand, that being eating, hiding, or resting.

So I watched them all. For a long long time. Until my hands and feet were blueish white and pruned and I realized to my surprise that I was freezing. Shivering. It was time to head in. But I was loathe to leave. I knew I was learning a valuable lesson from these little guys, even as I was witnessing it. I was watching, in real time, the art of non-reactivity, the art of going with the flow.

And then I remembered, on my chilly-choppy swim back to shore, that line of Leonard Cohen’s. About becoming the ocean or risking a life of seasickness. And I finally got it, thanks to my fishy friends. The unpredictable currents of life will do that to me. Shove me around, take me places I don't want to go, suck me out of my hiding places. The current will always keep on moving, taking unexpected twists and turns, whether I like it or not. There will be calm glassy days as well as days (and even months) of scary and daunting peaks and troughs. There will be conditions I certainly don’t think I can handle. But if I follow the example of all the fish I have come across while snorkeling I see that if I don't struggle, if I don’t resist life and its wily ways, and if I consistently and calmly return to the place where I know I am meant to be, everything should work out just fine. I only need become the ocean.


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