Although I live in the landlocked State of Oklahoma, I would to like offer up the following ocean analogy as my metaphor of life. I benefited from writing this blog as it forced me to organize my thoughts. I hope those of you on a journey towards your own enlightenment will find a useful takeaway from its text. Here it goes…
Imagine, if you will, a vertical cross section of the ocean (top to bottom) divided into three parts. The top part is the surface of the water. When you’re there, you’re bobbing along on the waves. Most of the time it is hurricane season and those waves toss you to and fro in gale force winds. The people and debris floating on the surface collide because it is unavoidable. Further down that vertical column of water is the second part. It’s a little calmer. The water is still being pulled back and forth but it’s calm enough to push against the current and move in the direction one desires to go. It’s manageable. The bottom of the vertical water column is the third part, the ocean floor. It’s perfectly calm with no indication of the storm raging overhead. One can walk along the bottom of the ocean as easily if you were on dry land. It is tranquil, peaceful and you’re not constantly responding to bombardment like on the surface.
Admittedly, I’ve spent a lot of time on those surface waves. We’ve all been provided with a flotation device that is comprised of our genes, life experience and cultural expectations. We’re floating in our own boat, some a little more seaworthy than others. It’s tempting to stay in that boat because, after all, it works! We may be living in choppy and tumultuous waters but we’re afloat. It’s all we know. Being controlled by external circumstances requires no effort on our part. We can stay there, on the ocean’s surface, but we’re not in control of our own direction and we’re always responding and colliding with the things around us. At some point, we need to modify the homemade boat (genetics, experiences and culture) we’ve constructed and delve deeper in search of calmer waters.
For a long time, I only knew about the surface waters. I didn’t know there was an alternative or that the boat I’d constructed was incapable of going deeper. I don’t remember how I discovered the layer just below the water’s surface? I’m not sure if I was thrown overboard and discovered it by chance or if I was exasperated living on the surface and went deeper in search of more calm water? The point is, I found another option but it required change if I wanted to remain there. While I couldn’t change my genetics, I sought to understand them. I embraced the tools I’d been given and relinquished those I did not possess. I realized my life experiences were unique and mine alone, not necessarily the same as that of others. This introspection served me pretty well although I’d accidentally float back to the surface occasionally, I knew I didn’t want (or have) to stay there. I’d readjust my course and settle back down to the more calm waters below. Then, the epiphany happened once again. By chance or by design, I discovered an even deeper realm than the surface or the second tier I was in.
I thought I had gone as deep as I could go but no, if I redesigned my boat (genetics, experiences and culture) I could go even deeper all the way to the ocean floor. At this point, the boat morphs into a submarine. I previously discussed tweaking the perception of my own genetics and life experiences so now I studied my cultural expectations. It required me to examine the extent to which culture defines my identity. I accepted the fact my reality is shaped by the latitude and longitude of my birth but questioned how deeply am I influenced by the culture I am in?
Cultural influences are not limited to the things we can observe but it includes the subtle nuances we cannot easily detect. Like the phrase, “You don’t know… the things you don’t know”, there are elements we are unwittingly influenced by. Societal forces influence us on a subconscious level for good and bad. The search to ferret out clandestine cultural influences that negatively shape my perception of the world is an ongoing challenge for me.
Unfortunately, awareness takes both time and energy and those are found far below that allegorical ocean’s surface. It’d be great if I could spend all my time down on that tranquil, peaceful ocean floor but I perpetually keep floating back up to the top! Maybe that’s just how it is and we’re destined to resurface to those tumultuous surface waves every now and then? If for no other reason than to appreciate the stillness of the depths below? I’m going to do my best to remain anchored so that when I do float back to the surface, I can immediately return to deep calm waters. And who knows, maybe I haven’t really discovered the ocean floor? Just like before, as I spend more time there I may be fortunate enough to discover an even deeper, more enlightened level lies just below?