Lessons written in the sand really stick

Growing up in New Zealand more or less comes with compulsory beach experience. I was a child growing up in the 70’s when the only sun tan lotion was coppertone with a maximum SPF of 6 and flannel was a highly respectable form of beach attire. My first surf board was polystyrene and whilst buoyant rubbed against your skin to produce lumpy red rashes which were dutifully treated with Qtol. Experiencing discomfort was part of the joy of riding the waves. Getting dumped and your sinuses flushed with sea water was accepted as right of passage. Looking back I see now just how much I learned through these experiences that masqueraded as fun.

Nostalgic as this sounds I am hoping it rings true for others as we race from one event to another even our ‘beach time’ has become interrupted with technology and other paraphernalia that detract from the connection with nature and the lessons it can impart.

Something I have been thinking about is the challenge of dam building. Whilst futile against a rising tide it provided for an amazing opportunity to explore the tension and illusion of control. My Dad was heavily invested in maximising this and had my brother and I furiously throwing sand into piles like our lives depended on it. He would laugh hysterically as we the incoming tide would tease by sending the odd rogue wave to test the structural integrity of our dam. Teasing would give way to a full on onslaught of relentless surges and we would accept defeat by lying down in the natural pool that would form temporarily before the power of the ocean erased any trace of our presence. We’d retreat, regroup, and start again further up – taking our lessons from the first encounter and altering our technique, timing and teamwork.

It was serious business for a 5 and 7 year old! It was our version of “The Matrix” a chance to play with creative power and accepting there were forces beyond our control that if used appropriately could add to our understanding of pushing boundaries and perceptions of success and failure. Being aware enabled us to en-joy the process without falling into the illusion. The adults around us modelled how to play and be free from attachment to our sense of self-importance.

I still build dams, perhaps a little less vigorously but with no less intensity – I don’t even need a child present to enjoy myself. Why bother? It’s my ‘red pill.’ It keeps my ego in check by reminding me I cannot exist in isolation. It serves as a physical metaphor of the ‘social structures’, beliefs and values I might hold onto in one particular shape, might be reshaped after evaluating their effectiveness at providing me with a particular experience of life.

The flannel might not have returned and I am grateful that sun block is SPF 15+ these days. Some things never change though – people who shake their towel without checking which way the wind is blowing deserve the ‘squinty – sand in my eye – evils.’

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