Ah, spring break, that long-standing college tradition of a spring vacation on a warm, sunny beach. It’s a tradition we cling to even as adults when we need a break from the gray skies and damp chill of March and early lure of sunshine and beaches is hard for most of us to resist. San Padre Island. Puerto Vallarta. Siesta Key. It’s the crystalline beaches of South Maui that call to my Soul.
One of my favorite books was written by legendary aviator Charles Lindbergh’s wife while on a Florida beach vacation many years ago. Gift From the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, was first published in 1955 but the book’s themes of simplicity, inward attentiveness and self-care in relationships still speak to a modern day yogi like me. Lindbergh reflects deeply and honestly on topics such as love, marriage, aging, and motherhood by using seashells she finds on Captiva Beach to symbolize the roads one takes for inner harmony. Her words are so timeless, they still serve as answers to the many conflicts facing us today.
I received my first copy of Gift From the Sea in the spring of 2001 from a woman named Molly. My husband and I had just purchased a summer cottage in Marblehead and the book was a house warming gift to me, from her. She was a retired librarian after serving nearly 40 years in the Bay Village Public Library and I was an unseasoned 29. Despite the age difference, we were kindred spirits who shared a keen passion for books and had much to talk about!
I was too inexperienced to fully appreciate what the book had to offer the first time I read it. I had yet to be at the mercy of many of the vagaries of life...the rollercoaster of marriage, work, family, and loss...that Anne Morrow Lindbergh had already experienced. But Molly was a wise soul, and she knew what she was doing when she gave me the book. She knew life would throw me many curve balls, and she knew I wasn’t prepared for it!
Back then I was immersed in the frenzy of buying stuff and more stuff, meeting people and more people, building a business and being a social butterfly. My life was a tangle of material consumption, work, and an all-too-shallow social life; overly structured, overly-committed, and lacking in joy and spontaneity. I hadn’t learned yet that money buys stuff but not a lazy morning cuddle, that work can devour you, and most of the social-climber “friends” I was so busy collecting didn’t have my back.
Lindbergh’s own life was pretty complicated at the time in her life when she wrote the book. She was 43, had five kids, a famous husband, and ran a bustling house with the help of a housekeeper and a cook. She reflects: “The bearing, rearing, feeding and educating of children, the running of a house with its thousand details, human relationships with their myriad pulls – woman’s normal occupations in general run counter to a creative life. The problem is not merely one of Woman and Career, Woman and the Home or Woman and Independence; it’s more how to remain whole in the midst of the distractions of life, how to remain balanced, no matter what forces tend to pull one off center, how to remain strong no matter what shocks come and tend to crack the hub of the wheel. For life today in America is based on the ever-widening circles of contact and communication. It involves not only family, but community demands, national demands, international demands on the good citizen, through social and cultural pressures, through newspapers, magazines, radio, charitable appeals and so on. My mind reels in it! What a circus act we women perform every day of our lives.”
Lindbergh wrote these words back in 1955. 1955! If things were that hectic then, just imagine what she would think about life today in America – which is so much more chaotic than in her era!
When she wrote Gift From the Sea, she was a successful, high-achieving woman with a multitude of friends and acquaintances. She had a charmed life. Yet she was tired, restless and unfulfilled as she states: “The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting, one is wearing a mask. I have decided to shed my mask.”
So she made a brave, warrior like move – she rented a tiny seaside cottage on Captiva Island all by herself – for two whole weeks. No kids, no husband. No chatty girlfriends to drink cocktails with. Just the ocean and sunshine and seashells. Each day she wrote down her thoughts, meditations and reflections on womanhood as it correlated to whatever shell spoke to her on her daily morning walk. Now keep in mind this was 1955. Women didn’t leave their families and go off by themselves for two weeks to the beach. Heaven forbid! Self-care just wasn’t done in Lindbergh’s generation; women would have felt guilt and shame for doing something totally for themselves. But she reflects: “Women need solitude in order to find again the true essence of themselves.”
Her purpose for taking this two week sojourn away from her family was simple:
“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 my obligations and activities as well as I can. I want to live “in grace” as much of the time as possible. I am not using this term in a theological sense. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God.”
And there is it. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, a modern maven of 1955 high society, realized even then that you “can’t pour from an empty cup.” You can’t be of service to your family or friends or community until you take care of your own needs first.
Since receiving Gift From the Sea from Molly back in 2001, I have reread it every year. Like Lindbergh, I find there is a quality to being alone that is much like practicing yoga - incredibly healing and restorative. Lindbergh believed that regardless of our modern day lives, woman must come of age by herself. Even if only for an hour a day or maybe a week or two away. She must find her true center alone. Re-reading the book once a year reminds me of this gift I give to myself – the gift of self-care. Like yoga, self-care is progress, not perfection. And practicing self-care requires patience, much like Lindbergh writes about our relationship with the ocean: “The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as the beach – waiting for a gift from the sea.”
The last few years of my life have been a test for me to replace fear and control with faith and flow. This year, on the morning we arrived in Maui for our annual vacation, I took my first sunrise walk. And while I strolled the beach holding my husband’s hand, breathing in the salt air, listening to the shush of waves, I came upon a pristine shell. Every year, the Sea has been good and generous to me. This year, the Sea gifted me the beautiful Cowry Shell you see in the photo above. This particular shell is symbolic of womanhood, its elegant shape representing the female form. It’s rounded top is reminiscent of a pregnant woman’s belly, representing fertility. Never a person to turn away anything the Sea has floated my way, I picked it up, tucked it in the palm of my hand and smiled. For although I’ve never been a mother in the physical sense, I know the shell was God’s way of telling me that teaching yoga is a divine way to be present at the birth of wonderful transformations in the lives of my students.
This spring break, where ever you go, whatever you do, I encourage you to spend some time alone so you too can find your true, authentic self and live in a state of spiritual grace.