Patience and Wild Things

Patience and Wild Things

How impatient we are as a species.

In the morning light, I stood on a rocky shore called Granite Beach (‘beach’ is a highly inaccurate misnomer), an arc of sea cove populated with thousands of small, rounded granite stones washed up against the low cliffs.

I had chosen to spend a good part of my morning at Point Lobos State Reserve, just south of Carmel-by-the-Sea, not far from my little artist cottage. The reserve derives its name not from any wolves (“lobos”) that once roamed the area but rather from the colonizing Spaniards’ name for this rocky spear of land––el punto de los lobos del mar, where the barking of the sea lions could be heard in the rocky coves (in old Spanish they were called ‘sea wolves’ rather than sea lions).

As I walked, the sky was flatly hammered tin that pressed down upon a restless sea. After roaming barefoot along various trails on the water’s edge, stopping every now and then to converse with some tree, bush, or bird, I made my way to the sheltered cove of Granite Beach, descending on a dirt track through a small, narrow ravine that smelled of resinous pine, dry brush and summer dust, and then emerged on the rocky expanse of shoreline.

A deep, still emerald, the water of the sheltered cove shimmered and lapped softly near my feet with a gentle, repetitive chant. How curious that only a few coves away, either north or south, the Pacific waves rolled and crashed with gusto, yet where I stood all was the model of gentleness and tranquility.

For a while I watched the black cormorants on the far side of the cove, scrambling along the cliffside to their nests or launching into the air only to alight in the waters and paddle about or to dive for their meal. On several large rocks, silkily plump harbor seals had emerged from swimming through their submerged world of swaying kelp forests, and rested awkwardly exposed in poses that looked decidedly uncomfortable. Apparently they have enough blubber that the rough, uneven ridges don’t feel sharp, but my body breathed a quiet sigh of relief that I don’t sleep on such an unwelcoming bed.

Despite the wealth of interesting stones beneath my feet, the various birds and the sleeping heron_kelpseals, the evergreen beauty of the windswept cypresses on the cliffs, the murmuring voice of the ocean breeze and waves gently breaking at my feet, my attention was most drawn by a grey heron. He stood on a shifting mass of floating brown sea kelp some twenty yards away from me. Subtle, balancing movement sequenced through the long legs and his body as it rode the gentle rising and falling of the thick, dark fronds—all the while poised in stillness, scanning the jade waters for food. Long graceful neck craned forward, he peered into the tangles of seaweed with only the occasional, slightest turn of its head—a model of poise and anticipatory movement about to unwind dramatically into fully expressed motion.

Handfuls of sunlight diamonds flashed on the surface of the water as he patiently waited, and in my own musculature and breath I could feel the winged one’s readiness.

Gulls cried in the air, the cormorants dove and then took again to the sky, the seals occasionally made loud, snorting exhales (perhaps they were seal farts, I don’t know) as they shifted their ungainly positions, and I wandered up and down the shoreline that shifted and rolled beneath my bare feet. Occasionally I stooped down to lift and examine some rounded stone that caught my eye, turning its cool, quiet song over in my warm palm, but my gaze kept returning to the heron on the floating kelp and his still, watchful pose.

As I have been many times before, once again I was struck by how patient every wild thing must be as it waits or hunts for its next meal. And how impatient humankind is. Myself included.

Even if hunger rumbles in its belly, or it is tired from a night of little sleep as the winds howl, the rest of nature embodies a willingness to wait in a way that we do not. I think of my own impatience when I am tired and unfed, of the countless instances of wanting something and wanting it now. There are times when ‘in a few hours’ or, perish the thought, tomorrow, simply won’t do. Breath is shallow and my body reveals a constricted angst and anxiety, a far cry from the heron’s watchful poise. What I do really know about waiting?

How restless, fretful, and agitated we are. How unaccustomed—and unwilling—are we to simply wait, to let things come to us when they may. We live in a society hooked on nearly instant gratification, when the information, entertainment, or distraction we want is merely a few clicks away. Sex, even. Our impulse purchases can arrive tomorrow via express overnight shipping. We fuss if our Internet connection is slow, or if we have to stand in queue at the grocery store or post office. Our modern lives move at blazing speed (when not snarled in traffic) both day and night, a pace totally disconnected from the natural world from which we evolved.

Navigating carefully across the shifting stones, realizing that my little expedition along this sealshoreline was probably not good for my slowly healing foot, I moved on from the jade cove with the hunting heron and snorting, sleeping seals. I felt drawn to wander north a bit towards the lone standing stone on a bluff that I spied from a distance, something Old World in its stature and demeanor, as if it belonged on a green plain in Ireland or Britain, calling out from the realm of spirits to me or its far distant kin.

After a sunny, mobbed weekend with cars parked along the road for a mile, the reserve was pleasantly uncrowded on a cloudy Tuesday morning. I was nearly alone as I walked the quiet trails. At one point I stopped to examine something along the path and I noticed my bare footprints in the dust, rounded and singularly different from all the hiking boot imprints that had passed this way and left their rigidly geometric but fleeting stamps.

One of these things is not like the others, I mused. And how fittingly appropriate as a self-description.

Though the well-trafficked artery of Highway 1 lay just a short distance away, as I wandered the dusty trails, the manmade din of the world and its roads seemed far distant. I ambled contentedly like a lover, entranced by the palette of natural colors that greeted my eye, from the flaming red of the poison oak everywhere to the long beards of sage green moss in the oaks and New World cypress trees. From the green conifers against the backdrop of pewter clouds, to the pale scrub and tawny grasses studded profusely with purple flowers, to the shifting hues of the sea that mirrored the changeling sky above, my soul was washed repeatedly in tones of coastal beauty.

Nearly an hour later, returning from the great stone on the rocky bluff, passing the jade cove of Granite Beach below me, I looked down and stopped. The heron was still perched on the kelp in the same spot. Waiting. Watching. From the bluff’s edge, I bowed to him.

“Blessed be, patient one,” I said.

I felt my own hunger stirring, urging me on toward home for a tasty lunch. Accompanying that rumbling was my own desire to put some of my thoughts and observations—scrawled into my little black journal as I sat and walked—into a more coherent and articulated form, and I found myself mentally going over the checklist of things I needed to accomplish in the afternoon. Though if I really considered my list’s deeper merit, a good deal of the work that called was just habit and routine—it didn’t have to be done today—an ingrained cultural impetus toward ‘doing’ rather than simply ‘being’. We’re all tightly wrapped up in our busy agendas, rushing here and there, chasing and grasping at our desires when, truthfully, very little of our busy-ness matters in the larger scheme.

Sometimes I’m better at waiting than at others, and comparatively I’m a fairly patient soul. Yet the graceful grey heron humbled me as he balanced atop the floating kelp. Teaching me. Reminding me again.

I have felt frustrated with the slow turning of the publishing wheels, anxious for my book to roll off the press onto shelves and greet the world. Does it really matter when it arrives? Not so much. Too, I have been impatient in relaunching my coaching and men’s work, wanting doors to open and meaningful connections to appear before they are actually ready to manifest.

Despite the beauty that surrounds me, I can forget where I really am, or be swept up in the tasks of the day, and I find myself in a hurry to get somewhere, to put this particular passage of time behind me. My ego’s time schedule and that of the Larger Story are often at odds—it’s part of the Cosmic Joke which, as I have said before, is always on us—and repeatedly I am given the opportunity to let go of my agenda. Simply wait. Step outside and breathe the unconditioned air. But oh how difficult that can be when I am feeling tired, hungry or simply wanting.

One could argue that patience isn’t the main thing we might learn from nature, that plenty of industrious examples exist to inspire us—bees, ants, hummingbirds, and all manner of creatures that work ceaselessly. Fair enough. Yet I think in terms of balance we might learn more from the patient ones than those who are ever busy. (I would offer that nature has many lessons to teach her wayward, disconnected, human children… especially regarding relationship and interdependence.)

Soul Artists know that life is a balance between ‘doing’ and simply ‘being’. They realize that value exists in learning to wait patiently, that certain things cannot be rushed. From the moment the spark of creation seeds the womb of possibility, a period of hidden gestation must occur. Things do not appear instantly, they must form. In a restless, impatient world shorn of mystery and meaning, blessed are those who learn to wait in beauty with expansive breath. Time is relative, subjective, and easily squandered. Soul Artists realize that the next moment we rush headlong to greet is not necessarily better than this one.

Gentle reader, here’s hoping that you welcome a bit of patience in your day. May your path cross with something or someone—oak tree, round stone, body of water, bright daisy, garden bird, drifting clouds, leafy vine, gentle soul—that reminds you that the ‘real world’, not the artificial one about which we fuss and fret, moves and breathes and blossoms at a different pace. Despite our seeming severance, we remain a part of that world,  natural and healing one, on a cellular and soul level. And there is much Larger Story unfolding.

The season is shifting, days growing shorter. Take a deep breath. Soften your jaw. Relax your shoulders. Whatever you are waiting impatiently for or heatedly pursuing, choose something to savor in the moment with all your senses and soul.

The turning inward begins.