The drop of ocean teaches us about integrity and faith because, no matter how churned up it is, it never loses its transparency or its ability to go clear. As transparency and clarity are intrinsic to the true nature of water, integrity and faith are intrinsic to our true nature. Regardless of how churned up we are, restoring our transparency will enliven our integrity, and restoring our clarity will enliven our faith.
As one drop of the sea contains the entire ocean, each human being contains all of humanity. When churned up and full of trouble, we are disconnected from this living heritage and things always feel worse than they are. When transparent and clear, we reflect and reveal all of humanity and are able to draw strength from the living heritage we are a part of. This is why we need to discover and inhabit a personal practice of transparency and clarity that will return us to our true nature by restoring our integrity and faith.
All the spiritual traditions offer rituals and practices, including all forms of meditation, in order to support us in our ongoing task of returning to our true nature when the roughness of living challenges our assumptions. How do we personalize these practices? How do we create our own? What is your own history of being churned up? What are the ways by which you have restored your own transparency and clarity? Who and what helps you return to your true nature?
That the drop of ocean will churn and go clear for Eternity does not make the ocean cruel or evil or unfair, just natural. Likewise, that each soul in its journey on Earth will churn and go clear, over and again, does not make life cruel or evil or unfair, just natural. And integrity and faith, enlivened and practiced, help us find our place in the wave and current of life.
Resilience, for the drop of ocean, resides in its ability to change shape without ever losing itself. And resilience, for the drop of soul carried in a body, resides in our ability to grow and transform without every losing our core being. For being alive requires that, like the drop of ocean, we grow and transform without losing our essential nature. This is especially challenging as, being human, we are capable of vanishing in our insatiable need to be loved and to belong.
The need to be loved in the face of being churned up by life leads us to do many unhealthy things in an effort to hide from the harsher aspects of life. All understandable, though seldom helpful. For how can a drop of ocean hide from the ocean, any more than a soul can hide from the current of life? Hiding only makes us more afraid and more alone.
When afraid of being churned up, we tend to judge those who are churned up as being less than. When hurting and in tumble, we tend to envy those who are clear for their momentary peace. But living with an open heart is the practice of accepting that we all take turns being churned up and going clear. And compassion stirs us to lend our clarity to those who are churned up, while humility breaks us open enough to ask for help when feeling like we are about to drown.
More deeply, it is the churning that allows a wave to crest and thin its way back into clarity repeatedly. Paradoxically, it is the churning of life that allows us to crest and thin our way back into clarity. We are shaken free of all that is unnecessary until only what is clear remains. Over time, the mind offers its drops of thought that churn and crest into transparencies we call insight. And, in time, the heart offers its drops of feeling that churn and crest into authenticities we call personal truths.
Inevitably, no drop of ocean stays churned up forever, as no drop of soul churns in trouble forever. Our aliveness depends on our devotion to inwardly endure the recurring movement from being churned up to going clear.
The truth is that no drop of ocean can escape this robustly natural process of churn and clear that happens to all water all over the world at once. Nor can any soul escape the rough tumble through hardship and grace that happens to all souls all over the world at once. The holy challenge and call is how to endure the churning—of mind, heart, and circumstance—until we go clear.
So welcome the churning, welcome the cresting, welcome the going clear. And do whatever you can when in trouble to restore your transparency, to enliven your integrity, to maintain your faith that you are clear by nature, even when you are churned up by experience. This is the human journey: to awaken, churn, crest, and go clear. We can, when struggling, bemoan and blame the churning and idealize the cresting and going clear. But to be alive is to be a wave. Let’s ask everyone and everything we meet—how.
A Question to Walk With: Describe a time when you were churned up by life and how you eventually went clear.
This excerpt is from my new book in progress, The Promise of the Inner World.
*Photo credit: Sebastian Voortman