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Zoom out – The calm and the chaos

A neuropsychologist's message of hope and reflection in the midst of life's storms and the current pandemic

Photo by Lindy Fields
Photo by Lindy Fields

I’ve always been in awe of the ocean. 

The ebb and flow of the waves. The tide rolling in and out, choreographed along with gravity and the pull of the moon.

I’ve always been in awe of it – because I don’t understand it.

I just can’t seem to wrap my mind around it.

The ocean – with a hidden world underneath it full of creatures and life that I will never see – fluidly connected with the oceans all around the world, connecting all the earth and flowing continuously and seamlessly. 

It’s incredible to think about.

And I cannot comprehend it. 

I think maybe that’s why the beach has always been one of my favorite places. Ironic – I know – since I literally live as far as one possibly can from any beach… but maybe that’s what makes it so special. 

There’s just no feeling like staring at the expanse of it – its calm, soothing waves or its rough, rocky waters. Every time I stand on the edge of land, toes in the cool sand, sun or moonlight on my face, eyes scanning the horizon trying to find the exact point where the blue water meets the blue sky – it takes my breath away.

Because it makes me think the “big” thoughts. 

Like how we are all connected.

How this was here before us and will be here after us.

How there’s forces and oh so many aspects of life we cannot understand and we cannot fathom.

In other words, it apparently makes me a philosopher.

It makes me think of how calm and chaos can co-exist, one right beside the other in a beautiful dance and a delicate balance. 

Have you ever stood on the beach and looked out over the calm expanse of tranquil ocean waters, listening to the soft sounds of water flowing in and out along the sandy shoreline? I absolutely love doing this. Which is why – in this crazy time of quarantine, social distancing, and landlockedness – I scrolled back in my iPhone videos and watched a video I took in Carmel-by-the-Sea last fall. I watched – and re-watched – calmed by the view of the beach at sunset, the sound of the ocean breeze, and the lull of the water.

But as I watched, I realized that it is more complex than that – that if you watch long enough, the calm lull of waves creeping up on the sand soon becomes a series of large waves crashing and breaking along the rocks and the shore. You see surfers off in the distance – who just moments ago appeared to be gliding effortlessly on a sheet of glass – get jostled by the waves and knocked off their boards with great force, highlighting the strength and the storminess that can exist in what at first glance looked like tranquility.

Isn’t life this way?

There’s tranquility and storm. Calm and chaos. And it’s not one or the other – it’s “and” and “both.” 

So right now, when the chaos abounds and is screaming for our attention, sending our thoughts in a flurry and our lives in a whirlwind, what if we step back – zoom out – and think of the ocean?

Think of how there is no storm or tidal wave that rolls on forever – it always ends.

It is always followed by calm – to a point where we can look out at that same ocean and see the picture of serenity, finding it hard to believe the storm once raged so hard. 

You know that video I took at the beach that day in September – where the calm water was softly flowing and ever so gently inching up on the sand, only to shift in the blink of an eye to towering, forceful waves crashing along the beach in quick succession? Well, if you keep watching long enough, you find that the calm returned…

… as it always does.

You see that off in the distance – off to the far side and nearly out of the camera frame – the same child who had moments before been knocked from her feet onto the rocky sand by the giant waves, she was again running merrily in the sand, giggling at the water tickling her feet, with her Labrador puppy following at her heels. And you see her mother run into view, barefoot, gasping for breath but smiling nonetheless, one hand barely succeeding in keeping her floppy sun hat from flying away in the breeze and the other outstretched holding her phone to record her daughter’s first time seeing the ocean – capturing the epitome of pure joy.

And you see the puppy get distracted by a seagull, running head first into a wave – shocked at first, then deciding to prance in the water awhile longer.

You hear a squeal of happiness and the shutter of a camera, capturing the engagement of a couple not 10 yards away.

You see and hear people soaking in the moment and the calm after the rocky waters receded. 

So here’s to zooming out – seeing both the tranquility and the storm.

Seeing both the calm and the chaos…

… but striving to focus on the calm, knowing it’s up ahead. Knowing the storm won’t last.

Knowing that, if we search hard enough, we can find glimpses of the calm in the present moment…

… in the smile of a loved one on FaceTime,

… the sound of their laugh on the phone,

… the feeling of sun or moon light on our face,

… the heat and crackle of the fire pit,

… or even in an iPhone video of the ocean that we stumble across on a rainy quarantine day that we are oh so grateful we recorded back amidst the calm.

This post originally appeared on TheJoyfulosophy.com

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