EVERYTHING & NOTHING | EXISTENTIAL RUMINATIONS UPON THE SEA
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security
– Albert Einstein
While floating on my board, I looked above my head at the thick cloud cover, then fixated on the seagulls circling overhead, only to stare out into the sea. I had been feeling empty, down, and defeated. Oftentimes, my attitude towards situations in my life can leave me in an all too familiar melancholic state. Like a boxer who’s taken one too many blows to the head, I can feel dizzied, stumbling into a humbled unconscious state.
There I was, sitting, lonely, and the words didn’t resound like thunder, they gently nuzzled in my head, the same way the smallest of waves caress the shore at high tide.
I’m so small out here. I’m everything and nothing, all at once…
Was my brain simply regurgitating some words I had read somewhere else or was there something more profound being conveyed in this thought?
The vastness of the ocean can easily put me in a state of reverence, while also giving me an appropriate perspective in reference to my place on Earth, and the somewhat insignificance of my problems of the day. Yet sometimes, no matter where my vantage point, the issues of life don’t seem insignificant, especially as they build upon one another, and I begin to feel as if I’m suffocating beneath them.
I’m so small out here.
Memories flood my head from my childhood, bursting the dam of forgetfulness. My remembrance plays like a short film in my mind that only I can witness.
I’m running towards the ocean with my board underneath my right arm, I hear a barrage of voices behind me.
The lifeguards and police officers in this small New Jersey coastal town urge me not to paddle out, but the call of the roaring surf beseeches me, and I leap onto my board fiercely paddling through the oncoming shore break. Why was it that life on land oftentimes felt like a noose around my neck? Why all the melodrama? After all, I was only a young boy of 12 years.
Yet there was something hollow, dead, and shallow I saw in the so-called modern world, but I had no means to articulate what was an instinctive feeling. I was young, full of emotional turmoil, and yet the ocean had served to put something inside of me at ease. The soothing power of the ocean went beyond the simple exhilaration of paddling out into a large swell, when the authorities on land urged me to stay out of the water. There was something primordial, visceral, and human about the experience. I had felt so alien and alone in many aspects of my life, while entering the ocean felt like going home, and it was ok to be so small out there.
I’m everything and nothing all at once…
My mind has always been overactive, oftentimes uneasy, from time to time like a screaming monkey swinging from branch to branch.
I imagine most people that surf, love surfing. I also tend to imagine most surfers feel they need to surf. I too, like most who surf, both love the act, and feel I need to participate in it. There is a therapeutic quality to surfing, that for me, has become an essential part of my life. It’s not to say that surfing cannot be somewhat hedonistic, as it is very pleasurable, but beyond the simple pleasure that comes with riding waves, there is something much deeper to be tapped into.
I have an immense amount of gratitude towards surfing, for as I have loved it, it has loved me back many times over. There is a healing to be found in the water, amongst fellow surfers, and gliding upon the waves. I work through the words, trying to describe exactly what that is, but I know I haven’t quite hit the nail on the head. Not hitting the nail on the head is fine with me right now, it keeps me writing, it keeps me surfing, and it forces me to go deeper with both practices.
The above thought I’ve now pondered for two weeks. As I kept coming back to finish this writing, I have left each day before today, with a blank space behind me. I could connect with what I was feeling when the thought entered my head, but felt unable to describe that feeling in words.
At first this may seem like the thought of megalomaniac, but I assure you it is something very different.
Sitting upon the water, floating on my surfboard, there was, even if only momentarily, the experiential understanding that I am one with all things on this planet. It is not only a philosophical musing, but a direct encounter with a profound reality of human existence.
Our lives are inherently, by nature, connected to all other living organisms, as well as so-called inanimate objects on this planet. In the ocean our senses open up to this awareness, as we witness the fish, birds, and from time to time the larger inhabitants of this watery world. There is also the relationship we start to have with the more subtle energies and elements. The sun, the moon, the tide, and the water; along with the pulse and dynamic properties of the waves. The rock, the sand, or the reef bottom have an affect on the way the waves take shape and break. This is yet another testament to the connectedness of all things.
Although the human being has tried, in vain, to set itself apart, or in a superior position to it’s natural surroundings, the repercussions of this “illness” have become glaringly apparent. I would imagine, as a species, if human beings could foster the understanding of our “everything-ness”, we may be better equipped to deal with adversities we now face based on our own actions.
I am everything. I am one. Interconnectedness and interdependence are my nature. Nature is my nature.
…and NOTHING, all at once…
To think of myself as nothing, seems like a self loathing declaration, the thoughts of a nihilist; but it is something quite different.
In the ocean, upon a planet that is whirling around the center of our galaxy, in a universe that is estimated to have one hundred billion galaxies, I sense the everything and nothing of my existence. The “everything-ness” is easier explained and more palatable.
The human body is strikingly similar in it’s make up to the planet we inhabit. Water covers roughly 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, while water also makes up nearly 70 percent of our bodies. Elementally speaking, our bodies are very similar to the planet. It’s as if our bodies are tiny planets, inhabited by the animating energetic spark that has become conscious of itself.
The astronomer, Carl Sagan, said:
“Our Sun is a second- or third-generation star. All of the rocky and metallic material we stand on, the iron in our blood, the calcium in our teeth, the carbon in our genes were produced billions of years ago in the interior of a red giant star. We are made of star-stuff.”
So there seems to be some validity to the notion that I am everything on bodily level, from dust to dust. The body has come from “everything” and will once again return to “everything” in death.
On an energetic or spiritual level, again, it seems I am one with everything. Energy is not created or destroyed, it is eternal, yet transmutes, or changes form. At the time of death, it makes sense to me that the animating energetic spark leaves a no longer suitable “vehicle”.
Is consciousness eternal or simply a flash in the pan? I cannot say with any authority, but it’s reasonable to me that the ENERGETIC continues on in some way, shape, or form.
Nothing and nothingness.
As I look at the standard definition of these words, they make no sense in context to what my feeling behind the word “nothing” was.
In the realm of Zen philosophy “nothingness” takes on a different meaning that fits more into what I was feeling. It is the conceptual nothingness, not a physical nothingness. I exist not in independence, but within relation to, our interconnectedness to, other living beings. The everything and nothing are the same. The everything and nothing are the oneness of all things.
I am everything. This statement sounds lofty and grandiose.
I am nothing. This statement seems melancholic and self defeating.
This explanation of no-thingness, although heavy, shines a light on the feeling I am having such a hard time putting into words.
Just finding that “I am nobody”… and that’s how existence is. What is a marigold flower? What is a rose? They are both nobodies. And we belong with them. Once this settles in you, the idea of nobodiness, silence starts descending on you. There is no idea, no picture — no Jesus Christ, no Krishna, no Buddha: You are utterly empty. And in this emptiness is the light. In this emptiness is enlightenment. -OSHO
The nothingness is the humbled opening to allow truth to enter. I felt this, although only momentarily, and in trying to give a written explanation to the feeling, I am humbled once again.
I know this written offering may seem disjointed, muddy, and inconclusive; but I’m accepting that fact, and offering it to you anyway. I can only hope after spending the time reading it, there is something that you may walk away with that rings the bell of awakening within your own heart and mind.
All photos: Dylan Jurusz
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