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Slack Tide

As I write these words it is Saturday morning, and it is summer, and the sun is shining. So why am I in front of my keyboard? Because I am waiting for a phone call from someone important to discuss something important—I think. And as I wait, I have been thinking about waiting….

So many of my clients recently have spoken of feeling that one phase of their life or career is drawing to a close, yet also feeling unclear about their next direction, passionless, withdrawn. “I’m not feeling drawn to anything, and I don’t seem to care the way I did,” one woman said to me a few days ago. “The aspects of life I was passionate about aren’t calling to me now. Yet I’m not unhappy; I don’t feel depressed. It just feels as if I’m waiting for something.”

Several others have echoed that feeling… and in some ways I’ve been feeling it myself, as if the frantic pace of living and learning has slowed these past few weeks; as if some old chapters have been completed, and the new ones haven’t even been thought of yet, let alone written. Some part of me would like to move on, to experience something new and exciting unfolding in ways that draw me eagerly and passionately forward. “Omigod, I’m always so passionate about what I do, and right now I can’t call that up. Is that okay?? Could I be burning out? Am I too old, too tired, too uncaring, too cowardly, too lazy, too….?”

And then my thoughts come to rest in a memory of my native West Coast oceanscapes, and another part of me says serenely, “Remember the slack tide.”

Those who haven’t grown up by the sea tend to think of the tide as having two phases: ebb and flow. The tide comes in, it goes out. End of story. Those of us who’ve spent a childhood mucking about in the shallows, however, remember the third phase. The tide goes out, and if the slope is gentle, or if there are sandbanks, you can watch it retreat, each wave curling up a little less, a little less… until it stops. It rests. There’s a minute or two where nothing happens at all: the waves come up to the same point over and over again, the tide neither going out nor coming in; just resting. And when the heavens above have shifted in just the right way, the waters beneath slowly and inexorably begin to move back in toward shore.

The same thing happens at the full tide: for a few beats, the waves cease to make progress up the shore, yet they are not losing ground either. They are simply waiting for the heavens, waiting for divine momentum to gather. They rest.

And do we humans also need that rest time? Well, if our breath patterns are any indication, we do. If you meditate, perhaps you’ve found yourself paying close attention to the natural pattern of the breath: in, then rest a moment, then out, then rest a moment…. And maybe, in other less serene times, you’ve also noticed that without those rests, if we force the breath to go in-out-in-out-in-out without the mercy of that little interval at each end of the cycle, we begin to pant, to hyperventilate, and will probably end up becoming dizzy and disoriented. We can even lose consciousness from relentless breathing!

Fortunately the breath pattern, unless we deliberately mess with it, is automatic; the rest intervals will take care of themselves unless we consciously interrupt them. But what about the larger picture of our lives? Is rest available there too, perhaps just as automatically if only we do not interfere with it?

As I sit here waiting for that phone call, I sense that the answer is already here, in the waiting. When I wait for something, my sights are on what is supposed to be coming, emerging. I may feel I am waiting patiently for what is “supposed to” manifest, or I may be in dread or joyful anticipation, or I may be impatient and irritated, even angry that the anticipated event or change hasn’t occurred yet. What I am not doing, when I “wait,” is resting in the space that is here between the breaths of my life. I am not resting in the slack tide before a new direction; instead, I am tiring myself out, wasting my energy mentally pushing the waters.

So what if I stopped waiting and just rested? What if, instead of casting my busy mind forward to what is “supposed” to come next, instead of counting the minutes, hours, days, weeks, instead of wondering what changes may come and trying to anticipate them, I simply took the rest that is offered each time there is a lull? What if each time passion slows, each time energy is lower, events come more slowly, the looked-for flow becomes a trickle, I remained conscious that each slack tide presages a turning, new directions, new currents of grace moving in my life? And what if I said yes to the unknown in that moment? Rather than waiting impatiently for what is “supposed” to show up, what if I simply came to rest in the rejuvenating stillness my life automatically provides for me?

I am not saying here that I should become a passive spectator in my life. My passion for living is a tremendous gift! Yet passion is a liquid thing. Like the tide, it ebbs and flows. And when it has ebbed, for the moment, when energy has ebbed as I have breathed it out into the shaping of my life, why not realize that there is no issue here? Why not simply rest in the slack tide, not even “waiting,” casting no thoughts forward or back, just resting in the stillness until the next impulse from from the heart of life itself brings a clear call to action?

Yes, I do actively influence the events of my life; in fact, at whatever levels, I participate in creating them all. Once these tides are set in motion, though, it is silly to try to push the water, or pull it to me. The tide of events will run as it does, as I have already put it in motion. There will be slack tides. And when my passion, my energy, my sense of direction, slow into stillness, what if I just slowed with them? What if, instead of semi-patiently waiting for the next thing, I just rested? What if I did this not only when the big tides change, but also in the small, almost unnoticed intervals in my life… like sitting waiting for a phone call? What if now it becomes “resting before” a phone call instead? How much more grounded, oriented and deeply connected with the vast ocean of life, of breath, of graceful energy, will I be when the call for action comes?

Only one way to find out. Maybe I’ll remind myself when I catch myself “waiting” for something, or bewailing my lack of momentum, that this may be a life-given opportunity to drop all thought, all useless striving, and simply rest. If the ocean does it, if it is here in every breath, why not tap into this lovely gift of the slack tide?

The phone will ring soon enough. Perhaps I will stop typing now, cease trying to fill the space between the breaths, and just be still.

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