We went to the beach my mum was evacuated to during the war.
It is a beautiful, clear, sandy beach. I remember my mum telling me how she used to “watch the weather come in” from the farmhouse on the hill where she was billeted. As a child, when I heard that story, I didn’t know what she meant, but now I do. You can see the clouds changing over the mountains or rolling in from the sea, bringing the weather with them.
I left the kids to play in the dunes, imaginary games of camping and spying, and walked out to the estuary mouth to find the waves and the sea.
At the edge, I stood and let myself be in the sun, listening to the waves and breathing. Still. No thoughts. Empty.
As I walked on, the sea behind me and the mountains in front, I thought of my mum. She too had walked on this beach. She too had looked out to this sea. She too had looked to those mountains to see the weather coming in. Her feet had also sunken into this sand.
For one brief moment, there was no difference between her eyes seeing all this and mine.
Over the years, I have read about non-duality, and I have an intellectual understanding of what it is. It’s when our sense of self as a separate “I” dissolves into the presence of all that is. When our perspective as a “special” human being looking out at the world shifts to consciousness-seeing, or being part of consciousness itself.
Intellectually, the concept partly fries my brain and partly makes sense. I understand that I am not really separate from all that is. I get that I am made from the same energy and matter that exploded in the big bang and created everything. That is logical, but also mind-blowing.
However, that day on the beach I actually got it. I didn’t think it or understand it—I was just on the beach, seeing. I saw, but I couldn’t see the seer. I could just see what there was to see. My sense of “me” dissolved and became part of the scenery. My sense of self was no longer the “seer,” but something to be seen.
Just as the sand, the mountains, and the sea were able to be seen, so too were my feet walking, one in front of the other, and my hands swinging by my side. There was no separation between the mountains and sight. I couldn’t draw a line differentiating what I could see and who (or what) the “I” was that was seeing. Just as the mountains were over there, so was my foot down there. At the same time, the mountains were not over there, but in me—in my sight, in my eyes. So too was “I” in me—in my sight, in my eyes.
So, “me” and the mountains were the same; both things being seen. I guess this is what people call consciousness. Consciousness seeing consciousness.
But then, another experience began to unfold, one I had not read about. Not only did the separate “I” collapse for a few moments, but so did time. The time distance between me and mum as a young girl seeing these mountains, collapsed as if I were seeing through her eyes, and she through mine. But really there was no “hers” or “mine”—just stuff to be seen.
Then, through this collapse of the “I” and of time, my relationship to my children was momentarily different. As I approached “my” kids on the beach, I knew, of course, that they were not really mine at all. I could see them as if they were just kids—not mine, not anyone’s. Just kids. Just as the sand was not mine, and the sea was not mine, and the mountains were not mine, and my own eyes were not mine, these kids were not mine either.
At last I understood what Kahlil Gibran said in The Prophet:
“Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.”
Suddenly, it felt true. I have no more claim on those children than I do on the sea.
I finally saw the impermanency of all things, and yet also the permanency. My mum would have seen people on the beach and those mountains, and I see people on the beach and those mountains. No real change. The sea still looks like the same sea my mum saw, but also it can never be the same sea, because it is always changing. So too are my kids and I changing.
Because everything is always changing, and yet nothing is.
So, having meditated and read and thought about this stuff for years, when I finally emptied out my head on that beach, I “got” it. I directly experienced it. Just for a moment. And it was so obvious, so clear, so normal, so absolutely apparent in that moment. It happened without trying; it came and went like the clouds across the sky. Naturally.
Then “I” returned, and tried to put it into words. It still blows my mind.
Author: Julie Leoni
Image: Oscar Keys/Unsplash
Editor: Callie Rushton
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