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Gift from the Sea

Ancient treasure

Starfish on the beach
Gift from the sea

In the 70s, when I was in my early twenties and living in California, I bought Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The binding has collapsed, its pages are brown around the edges, and my maiden name inscribed inside with demure curlicues has faded. But it still has a special place on my bookshelf, where it sits, held together with an elastic band.

I’ve read the book many times over the years, and the sentences I underlined with pencil way back then still speak to me now.

But I want first of all . . . to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these [life’s] obligations and activities as well as I can.

Am I at peace with myself? Have I resolved the contradictions between what I want to be and how I really am?

Will I ever get to a point where I can say, ‘I’m finally done,’ meaning, ‘I’m finished, I’m what I want to be. Shoot me now before I mess it up again.’

Humans aren’t like buns in the oven. We don’t get done. There’s no such thing as “the point of perfection” — when we’re removed from the heat of life, beautifully risen, lightly browned and smelling divine. Instead, we go in and out of the oven of life every day. Some days we’re underdone, some days we’re okay. Some days we burn, and everyone around us rushes to open doors and windows to let out the stench of our personal choices.

Further down the page, in the chapter titled “Channelled Whelk”, Lindbergh writes that she wants:

. . . to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible . . . by grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony.

(This is written by a famous aviator and writer, whose baby son was kidnapped, held to ransom and murdered.)

Then she quotes Socrates:

May the outward and inward man be at one.

Eckhart Tolle is often asked, ‘What is the purpose of life?’ His simple answer is that humans have a primary purpose and a secondary purpose. The primary purpose is to be present. The secondary purpose is whatever you choose to do with your life — barber, bar tender, boat builder. So be what you’ve chosen to be — cut hair, serve drinks or build boats — but, above it all and through it all, be present.

The secondary purpose is the outward man. The primary purpose is the inward man.

To be at peace with myself is to know that what I show the world outwardly is what is truly within. A worthy goal for someone in their twenties. A worthy goal for someone in their sixties.

So, how can I do this? How can I be at peace with myself? By being present, no matter what I’m doing. Then it’s inevitable that my outer life (secondary purpose) will reflect my inner life (primary purpose). There will be no contradiction.

Living this way gives me singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote about and longed for.

It’s time to put the elastic band around this old but wise book, put it back on the shelf, and dress for work. My outward life is to organise individual social support for people with dementia during this time of social distancing. But if I want to be at peace with myself — and bring peace to others — I will be fully present with my inward life, connected to my deeper self, all day.

With love, Marlane

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