Let me try to tell you about a different level of consciousness I recently experienced.
Like so many of life’s great moments it happened on the beach. That’s not surprising given the amount of time I’ve spent there, too much, some would say, but it’s a place I’ve always loved. It’s also a place of renewal, spiritual renewal, for myself.
More recently, however, I’d been going there for physical renewal, you might say. I’d suffered with discoid eczema for many years and it could usually be handled with a potent steroid cream. It had got worse and I was getting tired of ‘carpet bombing’ my skin twice a day, so I thought I’d explore the benefits of seawater.
A warm, dry springtime had led to a warmer summer and I began my experiment in the last week of June. Luckily, if you can apply that word to a skin irritation, it was my lower half that was afflicted. My legs and hips were covered in these red blotches. I didn’t mind how they looked, but they itched like hell and to the point where I was making myself bleed through such vigorous scratching. I was ready to try something different.
I waded in and soon got used to the temperature. I liked the feel of the water on my skin, it soothed instantly, and I knew it would be a good thing. That first session I went waist deep and stayed in there for 15 minutes. It felt nice. I knew it would become a ritual.
I noticed the benefits after only 3 days. The itching ceased almost immediately and the red blotches began to fade. It was working and I intended to keep doing it. I was getting something else out of it, too, the aforementioned spiritual renewal. Life was hard and not rewarding at all, but here was a place where that didn’t matter as much. I’d found my church. I began to think about things in a different way.
As my skin cleared up I got more and more adventurous and after the first week was out there neck deep and ready to go further. I took a breath, leaned forward and for the first time in my life I swam in the sea.
Open water had always scared me but, at this moment, I felt brave enough to try it. Just a few yards at first, back towards shore and then I stood for a minute, basking in the thrill of my first open water swim. I went again, trying to swim around in a circle and then out a little deeper. I didn’t go far, but it was a start.
The following day was cold and I gave it a miss. It was disappointing as I’d been keen to progress. The next few days looked like there would be plenty of good weather.
“Why don’t you join me?” I asked my wife.
“I’m not getting in that water, it’s probably full of shit and radiation and God knows what?” she quickly answered, “Besides, you’re not going leisure swimming, it’s to clear up your skin, remember?!”
“I know but, I’m getting into it.”
“Yeah, well don’t get too into it. You only swam a little in pools after I first taught you, so be careful and don’t fuck about!”
She was right, I hadn’t learned to swim until a few years earlier and wasn’t strong at it, or graceful. But, it wasn’t the Pacific Ocean and I wasn’t going out far.
And I don’t fuck about!
I didn’t have to keep doing it, my skin was much better. Still, there was that other element, the spiritual renewal. It was a nice day for it. The tide was out a little further than on my previous visits.
The beach was a 2 minute walk from my front door so I was dressed for it and left my shoes and towel on the sand. Dodging around the few rocks I walked to the tide in my striped trunks and ‘Point Break’ T-shirt. I was nervous but excited, too. There were very few people around, kids were in school and adults were at work. A few folks were walking dogs and other than that it was very quiet.
I waded in. The water was choppier than last time and not as warm, it seemed. Occasional large waves were breaking on the reef to the north. I looked back to the shore. A train went by and I could see our house. I liked living by the beach.
As I turned around and continued wading I heard the honk of the train as it approached the station. I took another step and there was an unexpected drop. My foot went down more than I’d anticipated and the rest of me followed. I went under and sniffed up a good amount of water. In the same instant a large wave rolled by and tumbled me.
I was disorientated. A panic breath gave me some more unwanted water and I felt something sharp on my shoulder and something hard against the side of my head. I didn’t know if I was upside down, or sideways, or what? There was a brief calm where the water felt warm and still. I thought about a kid I’d known at school who people were mean to.
In the next moment I was flat on my back, on the sand with a bunch of people around me. Some of them looked different.
I thought I saw my mother.
I thought I saw a woman I’d admired a long time ago.
I began to move and then must’ve blacked out.
I came to with the waves lapping at my feet. The tide was up higher and it seemed like evening time. I couldn’t find my shoes, or my towel. Fortunately I was dry and it wasn’t cold.
The beach was beautiful, nobody else around, just waves, a breeze, low light and calm. I sat there for a little while and enjoyed it. The tide didn’t seem to move. The waves were breaking, gently, but didn’t come any closer or go any further away. It was nice to see them and to hear them and the sound of oystercatchers, too.
“That’s what I’d miss the most if I was gone from here, oystercatchers.” I said, quietly.
I got lost in the moment and then suddenly realized I should go home.
I walked back up the beach and along the path. Despite not having shoes it wasn’t so bad. My wife always called me a ‘tenderfoot’, but even coming through the tunnel and along the street didn’t bother me.
‘These feet have got tougher!’ I thought and it amused me to think of telling her that.
As I got near our door I noticed how quiet the street was. It hadn’t got any darker but now seemed more like dawn than evening. I grabbed the door handle, expecting to just walk in but it was locked. I tried it again with the same result. I gave a knock and then another but there was no answer.
“Strange…dusk or dawn she’s usually awake.” I said, voicing a confused thought.
I walked around back and found the same, door locked, no sign of anyone and that ambiguous twilight that seemed neither early nor late. The garden caught my attention, it was neglected, overgrown. She never let it look like that.
I saw something move down the alley and realized it was a person. They looked familiar, like someone I’d known well but hadn’t seen for many years. As I stood trying to remember, they spoke.
“There’s nobody here.” he said.
I knew that voice but couldn’t recall how.
“They’re all somewhere else.” he added.
I knew him, I was sure.
He disappeared along the cut-through back to the street.
“Hold on, wait!” I called and followed him.
As I got around front I couldn’t see him in either direction. Thinking that he must’ve gone through the tunnel under the train tracks I went that way.
Back on the beach there was nobody around. I lay down in the grass at the edge of the sand. I was confused, disturbed, but warm enough and comfortable.
I must’ve slept but didn’t know how long. Nothing had changed. The tide, the waves, the twilight, it was all the same. A train went by with no passengers and no sound.
“I should go home.”
I went back to the street and found everything as before. There was one difference.
Around the back the person in the alley was a woman this time.
I knew her, I remembered her.
I followed as she headed to the beach.
Moving quickly, I was sure I’d see her when I got there, but as I emerged she was gone.
“Mysterious figures, perpetual twilight and mid tide, it’s all very weird. I should make some notes.”
I picked up a piece of driftwood and began writing in the wet sand.
‘Let me try to tell you about a different level of consciousness I recently experienced…’