An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of July 31, 2011
Written at Mayan Beach Garden Inn 20 km north of Mahahual
on the Yucatán Peninsula's eastern coast just north of the Belize border,
in the state of Quintana Roo, MÉXICO

  WAVES

wave about to collapse onto beach

Every day, usually soon after sunrise, I spend some time watching the waves come in. You pick one out maybe 50 feet away, watch it swell as it approaches, then right before hitting the beach it sucks up white sand and sort of trips over itself, its white, foamy crest dramatically collapsing before it. Above, you can see what such a typical wave looks like at that very moment.

Watching waves come ashore is a soothing, esthetically pleasing experience that roots me in placidness for the rest of the day. Also, I think it's one of those many occasions when Nature "teaches" us how reality is structured -- "imparts her paradigms," as sometimes it's expressed.

What does watching waves teach? Maybe the most powerful insight comes from seeing how the ocean, with all its irregularly shaped and sized waves arriving at irregular intervals, in the end reveals itself as a smoothly functioning, law-abiding system. We can even be mathematical about our approaching waves: A wave's speed is the distance between wave crests (wavelength) divided by the time between two passing crests (period). In Nature, there are hidden patterns and cycles that reveal a lot about reality that's not immediately obvious.

Watching waves even helps us order our minds about ourselves. For example, maybe you've done this: You choose a wave a bit out there and say, "I'm that wave; what happens to that wave will predict how my own life will turn out... "

And then maybe the wave joins with another becoming a big wave and seems about to make an enormous splash on the beach, but when it gets there there's such backwash from the previous wave that your wave collapses ignobly into a bunch of disorganized spume well before reaching the sand.

Or maybe the wave immediately begins shrinking, but right before reaching the sand somehow lurches, a rainbow sheen forms inside its curl, and it collapses with great fanfare, washing much farther up the sand than other waves.

No matter what happens to your wave, the wave becomes a catalyst for further rumination on how it's like your own life. In fact, if you let them, waves -- especially those who start off big but then collapse before reaching shore -- can stir up thoughts you'd just as soon not deal with. You can find yourself sitting on the beach consciously ignoring the waves, wanting a pelican to come along for distraction.

But, when I get into that shape, I know I just need to sit there a little longer. That's because always, if you watch enough waves, you get so mellow that whatever story the waves tell, it's OK. You realize that in the end waves are just ephemeral ripples on the vast, timeless ocean. And that's the most profound teaching of all. Facebook Icon.