It wasn’t until my fourth and final walk on the beach over this past holiday weekend that I heard it. It sounded like tiny windchimes each time a wave rolled in. We were in Florida on the Gulf of Mexico where there are a variety and quantity of seashells like nowhere else I’ve ever been. When I paused to listen again, I realized that the tinkling I was hearing was the sound of thousands of shells gently being dropped on the beach by each wave. I stood there smiling in the warm sun enjoying yet another detail of this stretch of beach that I’ve come to know so well and love so dearly.
It’s always special when you notice something new about someone or something that you think you know completely. I’ve spent hours slowly combing that beach for sand dollars and conchs and gingham clams and a whole palette of colorful scallops. I know which drifts of shells (honestly, some of them are like snow drifts) contain treasure and which just broken bits and pieces. I’ve figured out where the sand dollars and shark teeth hide. And I’ve learned the art of un-focusing my eyes “just so” so I can better spot a tiny whelk amid a crowd of scallops.
In other words, I thought I knew this beach inside and out. Discovering something new about it didn’t just make me love it even more – it made me want to explore it further and to get to know it better.
I’ve had the same experience and reaction to my yoga practice. While I practice one of the same two series of postures each day, I’ve never grown bored. If you had told me sixteen years ago that this would be the case, I’m not sure I would have had enough experience to believe you. In the beginning, I thought it was possible to fully understand these postures. I though it was possible to achieve perfection in them. I thought, I suppose, that they were finite.
Yet despite sixteen years of practice, I am still learning details and nuances in each of these postures. I am learning about alignment, about how to make tiny shifts and changes in which muscles I am contracting or releasing, about technique and about intention. I am learning about effort – what is too much and what is too little. I am learning from successes and failures. I am learning from long stretches of health and (mostly shorter) journeys through injuries and illness.
In short, I am never bored. I am always learning. And each time I learn something new my craving and yearning to keep on exploring and learning about this practice that I love is intensified.
What would our relationships – with dear friends, siblings, spouses and parents – be like if we approached them with this same keen passion to know more? What if we allowed the people in our life to surprise us in this way? What about our jobs or our studies or our hobbies? What about ourselves? What if we were able to stay fascinated and curious about who we are, how we think, what we believe and what we love?
Everything in life has the capacity to engage us in this way. When we strip away the notion that there is a finite amount that we can learn about anything, our whole outlook shifts. We become perpetual students – always learning and always growing. It’s as if, as I have learned to soften my focus while walking the beach so I am more likely to glimpse the special shells hiding in the piles of “normal” or “expected” shells, we are softening out focus as we gaze upon the world around us and the people who fill it.
When we choose to see this way, we are better able to recognize and to receive the often surprising gifts and insights being offered to us.