14 December 2011

The Salt Water Cure

"The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea." – Isak Dinesen, 1937

This week, two friends on Facebook posted the same quote from Out of Africa. It struck me, first, because neither knows the other, although they both possess a love of great books. And then the reality, the veracity of the quote hit home. Because really, regardless of the depth of the problem I am facing, sweat, tears or the sea always make me feel better.

Crying isn’t something I do very often anymore, but there are times when it is the only way to express sadness, anger or frustration. And crying isn’t often a choice – it comes from something primal, something within, and it is often a first reaction to bad news, as we all know too well. It’s what we do after we cry that determines our true response to something beyond our control.

And by moving, doing, accomplishing something that takes real effort and work, we can find a purpose and a sense of achievement. Find something that needs doing, and focus on what can be done, rather than what can’t be undone.

To look out across the ocean and to see its immensity puts life’s problems back into perspective. Somehow that vista forces me to understand that my place in the universe is very small and insignificant – and it may seem ironic, but that brings me some level of comfort. I feel the same way in the Grand Canyon, among that ancient stone, that relentless river, and that sky the stretches on forever. I suppose that what I feel is a sense of continuity, that whatever issue I’m dealing with in my personal life is nothing in the grand scheme of things; that this, too, shall pass.

And of course, it doesn’t have to be the ocean or the Grand Canyon that cures us. It can be any connection to the natural world, no matter how small: a collection of stones or leaves, a bouquet of flowers, a field, a sunset or sunrise can be equally empowering.

Another of my favorite quotes is from the author of one of my favorite books, The Little Prince:

“If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Something about inspiration and self-reliance in both of these quotes speaks to me. There is so much in this life that we cannot avoid, cannot help, cannot change. But when we can find, within ourselves, responsibility for our own happiness and unhappiness, that is when we can begin to change our world.

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