Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Slurping Slushies by the Seashore- Finding Meaning in the Meaningless


It is really easy to find meaning in powerful words or images. Every day we are bombarded with information whether it be on television, radio, newspaper, internet blog, water cooler gossip… or by our own wander through life.

We are often told to stop and smell the roses, coffee, whatever. Slow down. Life is what happens when waiting for something else to come along, etc. ad naseum.

To a large extent 95% of our days are just routine. Of that time spent in routine, I would hazard a guess based on my own experience that 99% of the 95% goes by with nothing worth remembering happening. It is no wonder then that it takes something happening outside of our own life to spark our attention.

The entire news and entertainment industry is successful solely because we are drawn to things that snap us out of our routine existence.

The domination of stimulating our minds by seeking out the fortunes and misfortunes of others has created a large dull section in our brains. We want and need to be told of other people’s “big stories” to have something...anything to think about except what we want for dinner. We regard out own lives as unthinkable. Not in a too bad to contemplate sense but unthinkable in the not worthy of thinking about sense.

Hearing, the old adage “don’t sweat the small stuff, because it is all small stuff” makes us pause briefly, ponder its truth for a second, then move on to the next big thing, like making sure we hit the brakes at a red light so we don’t plow into the car in front of us while we are lost in thought. If we paused for a more than a second (say 20 seconds at the red light waiting impatiently for it to turn green because we are late for an appointment) and got our mental arms around this adage we would reflect longer on the universal truth to this statement and cause the person behind us to honk their horn.

What is a beach? Seriously… define a beach. (pause tape here)
My definition of a beach is: ______________________________________

Finished? You probably defined a beach by recalling mental images of your most memorable experiences at the beach. Warm days frolicking in the surf. Getting broiled by the sun. Watching hunks or babes getting broiled. Drinking beer and boogie boarding with your buds. Digging a big hole, throwing your little sister into it and covering her up to her neck in sand. Making love by the moonlight. Sunrises at the beginning of vacation and sunsets at the end. Solitary sitting on a wind swept dune. Sipping slushies at a tiki bar. You get the picture.

Yes, you get the picture. A mental image of events that you experienced at the beach. But my question was, “what is a beach?” A scientist would have a different definition than a tourist. A scientist would say that a beach is a type of earth comprised of jillions of rock and shell particles that have been deposited on the edge of a land mass by the action of the waves ( or something like that.. I am not a scientist so I am just making up what I think a scientist would say).

Where is the mental stimulation of that definition? Yet, if it wasn’t for the zillion grains of sand piled on top of each other, we wouldn’t have a physical beach to sip a slushie on. The point is, we think of the beach as a memorable event, not a stretch of pulverized rock.

Our personal beach is made up of goobillions of grains of daily experiences. While squishing our toes through life’s granules, we occasion upon items that draw our attention. We might find something that pleases us like a nice seashell, a pretty babe (or hunk, to keep this gender neutral)(Okay a hunky babe to really be gender neutral!). Or we might find something that disgusts us (like a dead whale), saddens us (like a dead whale), or even hurts us (falling into a big hole some kid dug to throw his sister into). The total beach itself does not draw our specific interest except that it acts landing place for life's notes in a bottle. Yet, we talk about going to the beach, not we visited a stretch of land by the ocean made up of gazillions of pulverized rock particles.

I guess you know where I am going with this. We need to pay more attention to the everyday, mundane, taken for granted minutia of our lives. Well, yes I am going there, but if we paused to examine every grain of sand in our lives, we would never get to the tiki bar. Our brains are obligated to record and respond to every second of every minute of every hour of our lives. Thankfully it sifts out all but the significant events and lets the rest settle into the cull pile of forgotten time.

The upside is we don’t have to sift through tons of meaningless beach to walk through life. We just keep the pretty sifted shells and avoid the dead whales. The downside is we allow the holes in the sifter to get bigger and bigger until we let some meaningful moments fall through. If the holes become large enough, almost every pretty shell ends up in the cull pile and we avoid the dead whales because they are too disgusting to be around, not to mention how big the sifter would have to be to deal with them. Then our lives consist of only the cull pile and the meaningless is so mixed up with the meaningful we become coverd by a dune of despair, not knowing what life is all about.

When we are frantically sifting sand and finding no seashells, we find tired old clich├ęs like “stop and smell the coffee" meaningful. But even then it is only for a second (especially if it is that stinky old dead whale). Then it is back to shaking the holey sifter and I don’t mean this in a theological sense… but it does apply sometimes. Hmm, I’ll have to stop and think about this (pause tape here)

Where was I? Something about shapely Shirley sullenly sifting shells and slurping a slushie down by the seashore. Shirley was sullen because she only sifted seven seashells and considered the day at the beach a wash. But, she was creating quite a nice pile of sand under her sifter.

Shortly shapely Shirley saw shabby Shawn sitting sorely in sandy shorts near the surf. Shawn was sore because the sand in his shorts chafed his bruised butt he bonked while boogie boarding.

Sullen Shirley sauntered over to sore Shawn to see if he had any seashells she could sift. Shawn said he didn’t have any siftable sheashells with him, but he had some back at his shack. Sullen Shirley was no shill and gave Sore Shawn the short shrift when Shawn showed Shirley his sore spot in his sandy shorts. Shirley, shocked by Shawn’s schtick, showered Shawn with her slushie and they fell in love.

Life lesson: It is short-sighted to shunt sullen seashore sifting or sandy short sores.

a robservation