I watched the heartrending scene on the television unfold with one hand clapped over my mouth and the other gripping my heart to keep it from falling to shards.
I wanted to be there, in person. To help, somehow.
And then, in an acute and visceral way, I realized this ecological tragedy held a tender wisdom for all of us.
The television showed a remote beach in the Northern Islands of Hawaii littered with scads of plastic debris—human carelessness washed ashore. Crowding the white sand and reaching as far back as the eye can see was verbesina: an all-consuming vine introduced by human hands.
Like a silent battlefield, the beach was filled with the bodies of far too many dead Albatrosses, scattered among the trash and the encroaching weeds.
With a wingspan of up to 11 feet and a body shaped like a missile, the Albatross is built for the long haul. It is the Boeing 777 of the bird world, often soaring for hours with little or no movement of their wings. When fully expressed and alive, they are faith in motion.
Unlike other winged creatures who learn to fly by falling from the nest, the fledgling Albatross requires open space and uncluttered stretches of land to learn to become the magnificent creature they were uniquely evolved to be. However, the invasive verbesina entangles the burgeoning Albatrosses—they become lost, overheated and blocked from spreading their powerful wings. Flotsam from the Great Pacific Garbage Patch washes ashore, and the birds ingest it. With no ability to digest what does not belong in their reality, they are poisoned and suffer.
Like every roaming, swimming, climbing, and soaring creature on the planet, the Albatross’ adversity has something to teach us.
As my heart ached for the Albatross, I considered the invasive, strangling vines of our own lives. The heaps of garbage we unwittingly or willingly ingest, the trash that grounds us.
I rubbed my tightening throat as the connection fully took hold in my mind and spirit. For myself and most others, fear, doubt, and lack make up the trifecta of strangulation in our daily lives. Whether self-seeded or introduced by those well-meaning around us, we feel responsible for giving these notions and practiced beliefs fertile growing conditions in our lives. We allow ourselves to be stuck and huddled and overheated in the tangle of runners and roots hooked to a dead past or an imagined future.
While watching these majestic seabirds struggle, it’s easy to recall times when the trash and flotsam of dominant world views churned and disagreed with my higher purpose. All too often, we are unable to reject what conflicts with our deepest knowing, to regurgitate it like a piece of garbage accidentally ingested. We become afraid to make a mess, and so we continue to gorge on a steady diet of plastic falsity and oily desperation.
Why do we nourish our choking vines and swallow the trash? And then wonder how we have grown so ill, pained, and malnourished of spirit?
I watched the humanitarian souls on television gingerly pluck fledgeling Albatrosses from the depths of their weedy constraints. Tears streamed down my face as they spread their young wings like a deep breath. The stunning span reminded me that we are each capable of immense expansion—yet unlike these young birds, no one else is responsible for our disentanglement.
No one will rescue our true selves but us. There is not another soul who can discern between what will nourish our spirit and what will make it sickly.
And so, as a new year begins, it makes me wonder if it’s possible for us to dig deeper than resolving to lose 10 pounds or to buy a new car. Perhaps we can choose to discover in our spirit the emotional dexterity required to remove the vines, eliminate the garbage, and ultimately find the distinctive span of our wings.
It might require slowing down, being fully present, or becoming totally still to begin unwinding the sticky tendrils. But who knows, the sweeping stretch of runway we desperately need in order to fully express ourselves may be no more than a breath away.
And beyond that, we may indeed find the sea breeze to lift us, the universal ocean to sustain us, the swelling waves to thrill us.
Author: Melanie Maure
Editor: Callie Rushton