Searching the Expanse
Updated: Jun 3
"If you have been brutally broken, but still have the courage to be gentle with others then you deserve a love deeper than the ocean itself."
I spent at least a solid year alone on the shore before even touching my toe to the water. Waded in but kept close enough to the shore that my feet still touched the ground and I could escape at a moment's notice. Playing in the waves and learning their ebb and flow. My head going under only when I chose for it to do so. Watching the shore vigilantly and fighting my way back to make sure the tide didn't carry me too far away from my comfort zone.
When I decided to venture into the depths I set out alone on a boat and fortified myself in a shark cage for protection as I submerged in the ocean. I could feel the energy of the vastness moving around me. See the other ocean travelers without fully exposing myself to predators. Every once in a while I'd let someone reach through the bars and interact knowing I still held the power to keep them at bay.
When I chose to leave the cage (a moment I remember not as choosing to leave but finding myself outside, choosing not to lock myself back in) I threw on a life jacket, floats, grabbed the life preserver, a buoy, scuba gear including a couple extra tanks of oxygen, a spear, and held on for dear life to the ladder of the boat. I geared up with no intention of ever venturing out. I tried to trick myself into thinking I was an adventurer and that I was free. While I deserve high fives for being in the water at all, I was guarded, weighed down, and clinging for dear life to the ideas and people I thought were keeping me safe but were really there to teach me lessons so I could venture out on my own.
One by one, little by little, breath by breath, I shed my comfort items. As each item was removed I was left exposed and vulnerable. I had to build up my endurance treading water. There were times my head was plunged under water by the waves and current, and I fought the thoughts to just let it take me away and end the struggling. Other times my head was barely afloat and I was gasping for air believing that surely this was the day I would die.
I remembered I could swim. I knew speed strokes like freestyle that could quickly take me out for a short adventure and back to the safety of the boat. I eventually ventured so far that by the time I made it back I wrapped my body tightly around the ladder, not even having the energy to climb into the boat, and passed out hoping the ocean didn't claim me as I slept and recovered.
I remembered recovery strokes. I mixed those into my trips and found myself further and further away from the comfort of the boat and better equipped to stay safe and healthy.
I remembered I could float. I'd float near the boat rather than holding on. I'd float out in the open when I'd find myself in need of rest. I'd float on my back and soak up the sun and watch the clouds and birds go on their way. I'd cautiously float on my stomach and check out the goings on around me. Every once in a while I'd take a deep breath and go deeper but I stayed within eyesight of the surface.
I met some fellow travelers. Some lived in the depths and when we met near the surface they recoiled from the sunlight having forgotten how to breathe air and walk on land. I wondered if they'd ever flown? They quickly retreated into the dark. Some lived in the sky and when a storm knocked them into the water they forgot they knew how to swim. Had anyone taught them they could? They flailed and screamed in terror until they took flight again. Very few had learned to breathe and enjoy the darkness and mystery of the ocean floor while also knowing how to walk on land, and how to fly to the far reaches of imagination. Those that knew glided effortlessly between the depths and heights and I watched and learned.
I had neither flown so high nor swam so deeply without shame and anxiety. I knew how to fly. Somehow that came naturally. I didn't even have to try. I had always limited my distance and height out of fear of attracting attention. When I'd flown too high in the past I'd been shot down or lassoed and pulled back by those who felt that much freedom was evil and misguided. I was shoved in cages and boxes with the message that "good" girls don't think that highly of themselves. I tethered myself uncomfortably to show those around me that I was "normal" and "healthy." Staying grounded, or sticking to approved flight patterns and paths, was the only way to prove my worth.
I broke free from those bindings recently and have cautiously soared as high and as far I could. When I am caught by shame or anxiety I free myself by mentally handing those ideas back to the sender and go on my way. Flying has never been a struggle, or even something I had to think about before doing, so finding my freedom in the heights is relatively easy. The pressure and supposed horror of the depths was a journey that I was warned against by those who had trapped me on the shore and for which I was ill equipped to take without the months and years of prep work I had started when I first dipped my toe in the ocean and learned to play in the waves again.
This is my journey. I have everything that I need. The things I haven't learned yet I'll pick up along the way as I continue to seek answers and truth and trust myself. I've found a travel companion who is eager to learn from their own journey to the highest reaches and lowest depths. We are quick to remind each other that we are safe and that we have the skills and knowledge to adapt to storms and predators and that even if our journeys take us in separate directions that there is a bond of trust that will keep us moving forward together. We share our knowledge and experience. We revel in the joy and comfort each other in the sorrow. We sit with each other in the pain and push the limits of light and love. We are exploring the depths of the ocean, the beauty of the earth, and the vast reaches of the sky both separately and together; soaking up as much love as possible. Giving each other the freedom to find that love and reminding each other that we are each strong enough to thrive on our own.
As I venture into the abyss and find the beauty and tranquility that so few allow themselves to even acknowledge exists, there are moments I forget I know how to breathe and I struggle panicked to the surface. I've rushed, or been pulled, to depths that I didn't prepare adequately for, and the pressure has crushed me until I'm forced to spend time recovering on land purging water from my burning lungs working up the courage to plunge back in. Predators attack and if the wound is shallow and superficial I keep searching. Some wounds require professional attention and expert guidance on how to heal and move forward.
I am accepting that as Stephanie Bennett-Henry penned, "She does everything with passion stained hands. Looks at the world with burning, fire-lit eyes, loves with a splintering chaos, deep in her bones and smiles with a secret mouthful of mischief. She feels everything all at once or not at all, with a soul that runs deeper than any hell and more intense than any heaven you know. The world isn’t ready for the havoc in her blood and the storm on her skin, but she doesn’t stop for anyone… And she walks with thunder in her shoes.”
Learn, adapt, heal, keep growing and pushing. Trust myself. Let others in. Believe in myself. Let go of fear and shame. Give myself permission to get lost as I venture into the depths, follow unknown paths, and fly freely. Be patient with myself when I realize I'm tethered to one spot again by someone else's ropes and didn't notice. Allow myself the time to rest and heal whether it's on land, coasting in the sky, or floating in the water. Live. Live my life. Live my journey. Live my truth. Let love that spans not only the ocean but the universe find place in my heart.
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