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Flights of Fancy

Kindly contributed by John Alger


Earlier this week, about midday, I was at the beach enjoying the sound of the surf crashing against the shore, the smell of the sea hanging heavy in the air around me. The afternoon was just begun, yet fog still clung tight to the shore, like a child hugging its mother's leg, reluctant to leave the comfort of the known for the uncertainty of independence.

As I sat and watched, simply observing what the world was up to without the benefit of my desires or directions, I started noticing birds gliding by in the air around me. I first noticed a small flock of seagulls hovering in the air above the beach, an occasional wing flap when needed, but mostly allowing the air currents to keep them suspended above the sand. Aware now, I watched as one gull floated in the air above me, wings spread wide, outer feathers spread apart, flexing as they fine tuned the bird's direction and altitude. The gull was a master of the thermals and updrafts unseen in the air around me.

After watching the gulls floating in the air around me, I looked out over the water as three pelicans flew northbound, hugging the water at the wave line. Watching, awareness shifting from the air around me to the waves offshore, I noticed the pelicans sailing single file, barely above the waves. They flew great distances using only the rising air currents off the waves to keep them airborne. At times, they were so close to the waves, it appeared their faint, fog-muted shadows, were physically part of the birds that cast them. They rose and fell with the waves, showing no effort as they sailed unseen currents.

How different from us, I thought. Man hurtles himself through air with a furious expense of noise and energy. Moving, always moving. Expending great effort to maintain forward progress so the inevitable crash to earth can be forestalled or, at best, controlled. Seldom relying on available currents, happy instead to force the air to support us, bending it to our desire, all too aware that if we judge poorly or miscalculate, the natural rhythm of life will bring reality crashing into our awareness.

The birds didn't fight nature, they used it and benefited from it. The thermals and updrafts that were nature's gifts, unseen, but there for those who could sense them, allowed the birds a freedom from the bounds of earth. My awareness turning inwards, I started realizing how often I am unaware of the resources and assistance available all around me. Because they were unseen by my physical eyes, they did not exist, so they were unavailable for my use. What would my life be like if I were aware of, and benefited from the manifold gifts offered by the world around me? How much greater could this life be if I could effortlessly and with grace, use the unseen gifts, like the gulls hovering over the sand or the pelicans sailing the seas of air? How much useless effort am I expending by trying to force the world to do things my way, rather than being aware, and gently bending my effort to flow with the nature of life?

Once again, I bowed my head, humbled by the wisdom life allowed me to see. Nature in its innocence was once again a gentle teacher. Smiling, I stood up, brushing sand from my clothing and headed back to my car. The world of work and commitments waited only a few feet from the sand, but it was a different world than it was an hour ago. A gentler more giving world, but a world that hadn't really changed: it had allowed me to.

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