Thursday, May 20, 2010

Starfish destiny

Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning that is at one with your life's desire. John O'Donohue

I have always loved the story of the Starfish. The boy walking on the beach, methodically, rhythmically picking up starfish left behind by the tides withdrawal and carefully throwing them back into the sea.

"What are you doing?" asks a man walking by.

"The tide left them behind," says the boy. "I'm throwing them back."

"But there are so many of them," says the man looking at the thousands of starfish scattered across the sand. "You can't save them all."

The boy watches the man for a moment. Scans the beach, stoops down to pick up another starfish and toss it back into the sea. "Maybe not. But for that one, I made a difference."

I have always loved that story, its meaning, the subtle subtext that we can't just 'do nothing'. We must do something. So, I was really excited to discover that within last night's meditation was the invitation to explore our own inner starfish connection.

I was excited -- I grounded myself in meditation, sank beneath the surface of my mind and, as can only happen within the creative space of my imagination, I stood in the beautiful sunshine, surf roaring in, miles of deserted beach, except for one lone woman. She was old. Bent. Stooped. She was dressed in black. In one hand she held a tall staff of driftwood that she leaned on as she bent and stooped. Bent and stooped. She wasn't very happy at her task. In fact, she was quite sad. She would bend and stoop. Pick up a starfish and with a sigh, toss it into the surf. Bend and stoop. Pick-up. Stand up. Sigh. Toss. Bend and stoop. Pick-up. Stand up. Sigh. Toss...

I approached her and asked, "Why are you throwing the starfish back into the sea?"

She turned and gazed at me, her eyes deep and dark above an aquiline nose. Her mouth a downward facing crescent moon. She sighed, deeply, before speaking. "I've been doing this all my life. Someone has to and," she paused, looked around the beach. "I don't see anyone else racing to do it." And she began to bend and stoop and toss. "You might give me a hand," she said as she struggled to pull a starfish from where it had connected to the sand.

I watched her for a moment. Sadness engulfed me. She was old and tired. I could help her. At least for a little while. I eyed the miles and miles of starfish studded beach. I eyed the surf dancing at water's edge.

I could help her but in helping her, I would harm the starfish. They didn't need my help. This was part of their flow. Lying in tidal pools, waiting for the sea to return. In the moment, they were exactly where they were meant to be in the order of nature. I didn't want to toss them back. This was their sleeping time. Their time for rest under the sun. Yet, I wanted to help the woman. To ease her load, her pain, to lift her burden.

And I couldn't.

I left her, sadness following me as I continued down the beach, the sun beckoning me to raise my head, the surf calling me to dance.

What is this sadness?

This morning, the sadness sat heavy on my heart. I decided to re-visit the woman in my morning meditation. To explore the story from another place and time. As I sank into a meditative state I opened my imagination up to returning to the woman on the beach.

She was still there. Sadly tossing starfish into the sea. Her repetitive motions a black mark in an otherwise brilliant blue sky day. Each movement of her black clad body a sibilant hiss upon the gentle ocean breeze. Bend and stoop. Pick-up. Stand-up. Sigh. Toss.

I approached and as she released a starfish I gently took her hands in mine. "Stop." I implored. "Please stop."

"I can't," she said. "This is my destiny."

"It doesn't have to be," I whispered, my tears mingling with the salt spray caressing my cheeks. "You can give yourself permission to change."

"No. That is not possible. I am doomed to walk this beach forever and a day. It is written."

"Where is it written?" I asked. "Can you show me?"

She paused. I watched her eyes as she tried to focus on an answer. "Show you where it is written?"

"Yes. If it is written that this is your destiny, the decree must be etched somewhere."

She shook her head. "I don't know. I've never seen it. I do this because my mother did this before me and her mother before her. It is our way."

"Do you enjoy it?"

She laughed. A gentle tingle of sound like a wind chime ringing in a garden. "I don't particularly like it at all," she replied. She tried to straighten up. "It's hard on my back."

"Then stop. The starfish don't need your help. Their path is to be part of the ebb and flow of the ocean. Your constant tossing them back into the ocean disturbs their flow. It is not nature's way."

She turned away for a moment. Surveyed the length of the beach. Looked out towards the surf sparkling in white frothy ecstasy at land's edge.

"It's beautiful. I never realized the beach was so vast and lovely. The water so inviting."

She turned back to look at me and as she did, she handed me her staff. "It is also written that when a stranger comes to offer help, I must take it." She released the staff to my grip and stepped back. "It is time for me to go." And she turned towards the water. "And it is time for your to meet your destiny," she called back as she slipped into the water and disappeared into the surf.

I stood and looked out to sea. I smelt the fresh salty air. The caress of sea brine against my cheeks. The sun danced upon the surface of the water. The surf roared in and out, a thunderous symphony of joyous freedom on the move. I looked at the beach. The starfish lying beneath the sun, in tune with the Universe, at one with their Nature.

I felt the old woman's staff in my hand. It was curved and smoothed where her hand had gripped it throughout time. I could feel where she had begun, higher up on the staff when her back had been straight. When she had stood tall. I followed her journey through time, constantly moving down the staff where her hands had worn the it smooth as she became more and more bent.

I felt the smoothness. The warmth of the wood. It held a story. Secrets. It called to me to make a difference. To get busy doing what the woman had done and the woman before her and before her. It called to me and called back, "I see you. I love you. I release you."

This was not my destiny. I was not called to walk a starfish studded beach doing what others had done before me.

I put both hands on the stick and began to roll it back and forth, back and forth between my palms, pushing one end further and further into the sand. When I knew it was secure, I scoured the beach for 'pickings', like a magpie hunting for shiny objects. Dried up strings of seaweed that danced like feathers in the ocean breeze. Old ropes tossed up onto shore. Glass buoys. Bottles. Anything I could find to mark the sea's passage and man's journey through its waters. And with each item collected I began to decorate the staff. To create a beautiful tribute to life at water's edge.

And then, my artpiece complete, I began to dance. Naked. Free. To let the wind and sea and surf and sun caress my body. To let myself be carried into my soul. Deep within where I cast off sadness and sorrow like a a boat casting off to set sail from the dock that kept it secured to shore. I cast off and let myself move to the rhythm of the ebb and flow of the sea calling me to dance.



Maureen said...

What pictures you create with words this morning.

I see that staff at water's edge, the starfish, the tide coming in/going out, the bent woman, the handing off of the staff, the casting off. . .

The handing off of the staff conveys a message at the heart of this piece.

(This would be wonderful reimagined as an e-visualization tool, a slideshow of images with a voice-over of accompanying words.)

S. Etole said...

He came to set the captives free ...

Anonymous said...

not a boogaloo, no, not the mash potato or the twist, not even the swim, but a beatuiful beach dance all your own.

JoAnne Bennett said...


You sure have a way with your poignant words, like a beautiful ballet. My favorite sentence,"She laughed. A gentle tingle of sound like a wind chime ringing in a garden."
As always, thanks for sharing!

Joyce Wycoff said...

Wow! You answered the question I've been grappling with and wrote about this morning before I read your piece. What a powerful message this morning. Sometimes things are the way they are because that's the way their supposed to be. Thanks.