Ever watched the tide roll in, á la Smokey Robinson? Every year seems to bring new ways to be entertained and it’s often difficult to be content watching more repetitive phenomenon, like a crackling fire or a sleeping baby. Yet both of these can be transfixing, and as more people practice mindfulness they discover the peace that comes with centering on a recurring act.
I think of watching high tide rise. In typical American fashion, I am searching for the apex, that point where it will go no higher. How high will that be? How will I know?
Lesson One: No Constant Rise
It’s really hard to mark the moment the tide peaks. It’s not like it just get a little higher with each wave. Instead, as with all progress, some come higher, some lower, overlapping and retreating and just as there comes a sense that the median reach is constant, a bold burst surges forward, extending the boundary.
This sure looks a lot like other kinds of progress, especially self-improvement. We feel stuck, convinced we’re making the same mistakes that we’ll always be making. But one day we finally say no when we’re maxed out or we sign up for open mike night or turn down the extra drink or enter the contest. And maybe, like the ebbing of waves, it seems like it won’t take, that it was a one-off gesture. We slip back. But it’s really the new high of a waxing tide. The next waves may not seem to measure up but the flow will expand. There will even be another rise, and another until the summit is reached. It’s really hard to tell what is happening, but it doesn’t mean there isn’t progress.
Lesson Two: Non-Striving
It’s human to create a narrative, even for something as cyclical as the tide. Where is it going? When will it get there? Mindfulness-based skill remind us that this relentless goal-seeking prevents us from being present in the moment. Someone focused on the high tide marker is missing a lot. Any child can tell you that all the good stuff is revealed when the water recedes. So we step back, stop worrying about where something out of our control is going, and look around.
Sometimes this self-help stuff seems really obvious, but we don’t live like we know it. It’s like once we leave the inspiration-giving space, the thoughts go the way of the salty smell and peaceful feeling. Or maybe it just seems that way. Maybe we are getting better. Maybe the process is just more gradual than we expect.