Reflections on a Spring Day: The Song of Impermanence

A WALK AROUND ST MARY’S BAY, KENT…….ALONE

The vast, blue expanse of sky, stretching out to the sea’s horizon, holds no clouds. The sun is blazing down and I can feel intensely its powerful rays on my body. There are too many days when I lack confidence in the weather, not really knowing how its patterns will shift and change, but today I feel somehow secure in its presence.

Surprisingly, given the bright, clear weather, there are very few people here today. I stroll along the beach observing how my feet sink into the soft, damp sand, compressing the moisture out and leaving temporary imprints that stretch back marking my hitherto journey. The tide is still going out which allows the unfolding of an enormous vista of beach that shimmers and radiates in the morning’s heat. This is the place of my past where I spent so many enthralling moments spent in childhood innocence, fully engaged in playful activity and cherished in a sense of belonging. The words of Eliot then resonate in my mind over and over again….

” Dawn points another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning. “

As I journey on my foot treads on the remains of a sea shell and compacts it into the sand. I crouch down and pick it up for further examination. This crustacean, this once life form lived and flourished in the sea and played a part in the reproductive cycle that encompasses an entire ocean but now it is reduced to a thin crust, just recognizable as a shell, eroded by the elements of wind, tide and beach. I cast it aside thinking that within a relatively short span of time this shell will not be visible anymore, will not exist anymore as we know it, as it is further reduced to particles of sand indistinguishable from all the others on this lonely stretch of beach. Was this crustacean’s life futile or does the memory of its existence reside in the sea I wonder? Certainly its life passage, with all its attendant suffering, was marked with a strong silence. The wind then suddenly and unexpectedly blows up causing me to tremble with cold.

This mysterious cycle of existence that we are all pulled into carries on incessantly, unceasingly, unremittingly, despite any protests that we may voice. All is constant transformation and change. In the human life cycle there is the ‘ egg ‘ – ‘ fetus ‘ – ‘ embryo ‘ – ‘ baby ‘ – ‘ child ‘ – ‘ adult ‘ but these terms just represent convenient, shorthand approximations. In reality they are not fixed, separate, independent states, otherwise there would be spaces between them, boundaries, demarcation lines, but none can be seen.
Our lives are just part of a seamless transition of quite inexplicable, evolving, ‘ energy ‘ that knows no real beginning or no real end. And to be fully awake to this reality, to be fully engage in a process of sensitization where we are open and receptive to all that the natural world can offer us in terms of spiritual insight, is to be fully alive.

I pass a large section of concrete breakwater and memories of me, as a young boy lost in this area on a busy, Bank Holiday, come rushing back. Feeling alone and very scared I remember I started to wander along the beach in search of my parents. Feelings of panic soon set in and I started crying but eventually, with enormous relief, I sighted the figure of my Dad on the promenade waving to me with a huge smile on his face – a visible landmark representing all that I felt secure with.
Dad is dead now.
Recalling this little episode I’m suddenly overcome with a sudden rush of emotion, a positive charge of gratitude for all that I love that is here today and all that I love that is no longer here and somehow not quite knowing the difference.

I’m not certain of time or how long I have been walking as I continue on my journey…..
In my childhood time seemed so substantial, forever there to greet me in all its never ending magic but now, with age, it has brought me a different feel, a different perspective. Hours can come and go, days can come and go with such rapidity, such fierce tenacity, that it leaves me quite breathless knowing that my life is eroding away. But what exactly is time? Where does it come from and where does it go? Can it ever be recaptured or does it evaporate into nothingness? Are our lives solely bound in time, defined in time, or are there gaps and spaces that we can locate where time does not penetrate?
So many questions asked in a lifetime of asking but still no answers, only remorseless silence.

The stillness of the day is gradually shaken by another bout of wind that is blowing up and sweeping across the Bay. Deep in reflective thought the landscape of beach and sea and sky fade from my perception as I’m pulled into the world of feelings. Too often I gather up all my sensory experiences and attempt to express them intelligibly into words but not right now……..
Images of playing on this beach with the long summer unfolding slowly before me come vividly to my mind. As a young, energized boy I used to build large, elaborate sand castles that somehow represented, in my mind, stability, strength and permanence. To undertake this work I would elicit the help of any other children that I could befriend. Our ‘ construction work ‘ always seemed to be a race against time as the incoming tide would increasingly wrap around the base of our fortress to eventually undermine the entire structure. And despite all our frantic efforts to save our castle it would inevitably return to the sea. Now, in looking back, I understand that what we built was an edifice based on one supreme axiom – that of anicca ( impermanence ). And this word is eched on every grain of sand, is emblazened in the sky, shakes the very landscape on which I stand but I am still filled, as I was then, with the incomprehensibility of it all. Anicca is such a small word for such an all encompassing reality. A profound and at times immensely disturbing phenomenon – the permanence of impermanence.

Lying down on the beach to rest for a while, before journeying on, a strong breeze whips up again ‘ shot blasting ‘ my body with sand and eroding minute fragments off my skin. The sand also erodes everything else in this landscape. The breakwaters that sweep around the Bay were made from huge timbers cut from Kent forests that took centuries to grow but now many are reduced to stumps and some have gone forever. Where are the timbers now? Where are the trees now? The physical landscape takes me into deeper thought which I reverentially absorb in silence.

” Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrol and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.”

T S Eliot

Listening to the wind as it appears to curl in many directions, listening to the surf lapping and sizzling on the beach’s edge, inhaling the fresh brine, infusing my nostrils with its array of evocative ‘ fragrances ‘ that triggers off so many memories, I ask myself: ” Is there music unfolding here – is there a coded message, right here, in this very spot, for my deeper appreciation, my deeper understanding? ” I cannot reply…..

Is the truth that we seek and yearn for situated in the talk of politicians, bureaucrats, people who operate in the market place, or is it here in the manifesto of silence and stillness that surrounds this natural world?
Two seagulls are circling high above me in a language of playful activity and I find myself absorbed until they sweep away on the wind.

What is the truth of our existence: annihilism ( the total extinguishing, at death, of all that we are ) or eternalism ( the endless journey of our immortal selves ) or ………?
This mystery is not ready to reveal itself to me, if ever, so I search for the threads that weave through my life that somehow stretch into the distant past and reach into the present connecting me with a feeling of indebtedness and thankfulness for all that has enlarged and enriched me. And although I am still immersed In a restrictive comprehension of all that surrounds me, all that constitutes this life of mine, I have managed to get beyond the view of myself as a separate, fixed, independent entity and penetrated the concept of my location in a vast web of interfused life that embraces everything.

I have now reached a stretch of desolate coastline with steep, shingled banks; a place where people and the tide rarely seem to visit. I glance down awhile and my eyes are drawn to the waste that is scattered here in this lonely, bleak spot. There is the neck of a broken beer bottle, with dulled edges, slowly disappearing back into sand through a process of erosion. Strong smelling clumps of black, dried – out sea weed are attracting flies. Nearby is the carcass of a seagull just barely recognizable through the shape of the beak. A few, small pieces of drift wood are lying around now completely lost from their former identities as ship timbers or the like. An upright bird’s feather that is lodged in between some stones, then quickly makes its departure on a brisk current of wind. Abruptly this awakens me to the presence of my place in time and I decide to start on my return journey back very much mindful of how the attrition of this time has worn away my day, my life, this landscape, everything – Tempus edax rerum.