The Metaphor of the Wave

Coffee Bay-7

One of the things that’s instructive about travel is that it both condenses and intensifies experience. In the best and worst of travel, life is lived in high relief, its occurrences ripped from the moderating, elongating current of dailiness and amplified. In this amplification, the crests of life’s various triumphs become heightened, and stand as pinnacles from which we can behold the realm of possibility stretched out below us — who we could be, where we could go, and what we could do. This heightening comes as a form of clarity, in which we realise that our actions in life are constrained not so much by limitations of will, but of vision, and that what we lack is first and foremost a clear sense of possibility. Naturally, the converse is true as well: we get buried at  times under the pressure of deep troughs, the waves piling up on top of us as we struggle to gain a breath in the middle of the churning; and in these times we find that we are not lacking the strength to swim so much as that we do not know which way to swim at all.

That’s the crux of life, then: this up and down, this motion of the Ocean. Often, because of the moderating and elongating effects of dailiness, we lose a clear sense of this cycle, of the way that the Ocean, in its turn, lifts us up or drags us under, whether proceeding from our actions or from simple chance. But to behold that cycle, to behold it clearly such that you grasp its essence, is to see that that motion is inescapable, and to know that to be awake is nothing more or less than to be a skillful surfer in its midst. Then you see, once you are able to perceive the heave of waves and troughs, that you can use the vision gained at the peaks to position yourself, seeking the rising of the next wave  to your future advantage. You perceive from the peak of  your present wave the great web of possibility, its topology, and see clearly from that height what dreams and plans could manifest.  Having that moment and holding it, having that clarity and holding  it, is the essential heart of agency, and it takes you out of crashing blindly from crest to trough and back again, and into riding with intention the tide of churning energy and history and possibility that propels and generates events.

There’s really nothing more than that. And here’s the thing: sometimes, no matter how skillful you are, you’re going to be underneath it all, pressed beneath the waves, struggling to get out. There’s really nothing for it: it’s the Ocean, and it’s bigger than you can truly see or understand or act against. But still we have to strive to be skillful: recognising the rising of a wave, recognising a tide of possibility, even as you sit beneath it, is the wisdom of that moment. And wisdom is always the wisdom of a particular moment.

Take a breath and look around: where are you in the cycle right now, and what is the wisdom of your moment?


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