I’m not a strong swimmer, I’m sea-sick in boats, and I’m creeped out by fish; but I love the ocean. Hearing the waves crash against the shore and rhythmically recede back into the water makes me sigh with wonder and relief. (What makes you happy every time you heard it?) When the waves are gentle, I imagine myself floating in the center of my experience and am reminded of the magnitude of the ocean. I’m reminded that nothing is forever (even my suffering) and everything in nature undergoing continual transfiguration thanks to the waves and rhythms of the water.
When my family and I went to Hawaii in February, I found myself transfixed by the waves. I didn’t actually spend that much time IN the ocean (I did get to swim with giant sea turtles, though!) but I could sit for hours on the beach, listening to the water rush over sand and wash over the beach. In a few places, it washed right over a rock, moving it slightly, depositing that same rock only a few inches away. The rock didn’t seem to mind. It seemed to float in the middle of its experience and remain calm.
Through the practice of Meditation, we can do the same. We can learn to float in the middle of our experience– despite the enormity of what we are feeling– and learn to sit with our experience until we feel a sense of calm. I’m not saying this is easy. It is most certainly a challenge for me when I am experiencing fear or anxiety. But I can’t figure out anything else that works better to calm myself down than sitting, focusing on my breathing, and staying in one place until I feel like my thoughts are a calm ocean.
This guided Meditation is adapted from Matthieu Ricard’s book Happiness and is one of my favorites. You can use its imagery as a way of nurturing an uncomfortable emotion so that you don’t get washed away in the storm of the emotion. There is no time limit to this meditation. You’ll want to sit with it until you feel as though you are floating in the center of your experience.
There are three district stages of this Visualization Meditation. If you aren’t a fan of being in the ocean, visualize yourself on the beach near the shore (I’ll be sitting there with you! That water is too cold!) Allow the images to crystallize in your mind’s eye as you visualize yourself floating in the center of your experience.
1. Dive in: Watch your thoughts come and go. Do not control or manipulate. Do not change or rush. Notice that the thoughts are like waves. They arise out of the ocean of consciousness and then dissolve right back to where they came from. They were never separate.
2. Get Wet: If there is one wave that is particularly strong, big, or threatening, do not turn your back on it. Allow the wave to wash over you. Even if the wave crashes on you, as if the emotion is particularly strong, stay with it. Do not swim away. Let the wave crash and the water droplets re-join the ocean.
3. Float: Whenever new thoughts arise, like waves raised by the wind, watch them dissolve back into the ocean. Allow yourself to float in the center of your experience. Eventually, your thoughts will be like a calm ocean.
When you feel ready to integrate back into your daily life, do so slowly and mindfully. Take a few minutes to be on vacation from worrying and then float through your day.