Be the Coconut
We are all of us born with knowledge provided by instinctual abilities, for example: to breathe, to move our bodies, to eat, to express joy, pain and laughter; and to swim because we are buoyant with water and air. As we grow our number of abilities increases, and certain things we never forget how to do, like breathing. Oddly, some of these intrinsic skills that we are born with wane over time, aging out of us like missing rings in our tree trunks. Some of us unfortunately forget how to float, let alone swim.
Circumstance dictates the way we grow, and what we are “lucky” or “unlucky” enough to experience in our time travel. Some humans are born with proverbial stars on our bellies that enable us to move throughout the world with a greater degree of ease than those without. And this isn’t to say that star-bellies such as I have always had it easy. It just means that I might be advantaged in areas wherein those without are not.
I had the fortune to be raised around water. A tale often told by my parents throughout my life was of hearing a sudden splash, running in deathly panic to the back yard pool, and finding toddler-Dan doing his best dolphin impression. With persistence at the skill of swimming and some advanced instruction, I grew better at it.
Through the teachings of my first step-father, I eventually became comfortable in the open ocean. I learned what surf I could survive in and what my limits were. I learned the glee of riding the waves and the ensuing feeling of terrible panic after wiping out, being repeatedly driven down into churning chaos by pounding breakers. The seconds feel like minutes when one is not free to take a breath and is concerned another opportunity to do so might not present itself. Young me fortunately figured out that thrashing made me sink further, and panic only sped the process of running out of air.
One has to stay above the undertow. Swim parallel out of the rip. Dive under the waves. Get eyes on the swell before drawing that first breath upon surfacing.
This last week I was in Mexico and a weather system in the eastern Pacific had spurred swells that created some relatively intimidating shore-break for my fellow vacation goers. Few people ventured out to play in the waves. But seemingly every day I would see a coconut right outside in the water, bouncing harmlessly off the rocks, being either pulled out beyond the biggest part of the swell or rolling back and forth on the beach.
As I’ve begun to make sense of this time in my life (commonly referred to as the dreaded “Middle Age”), and have spent many, many hours pondering existential concepts or practicing mindfulness to center myself - so that I don’t panic when I think I steal a rare glimpse at the code in the Matrix that is existence - it’s been visions of the ocean that have persisted far more than others. It might be both a riddle and the answer.
The metaphor isn’t a challenging one to wrap one’s mind around, nor do I think I am the first enlightenment-seeker to come up with it, but sometimes when the undertow is too gnarly or the breakers are crashing down on your head, you gotta be the coconut. You know how to float; just do that and you’ll get back to shore eventually. And, if you want, you can let the current carry you back out for another ride.
I'd like to dedicate this post to filmmaker Warren Miller. I think he figured it all out much quicker than the rest of us. RIP.