Have you ever dreamed that you’re watching a high wave surging inexorably towards you? Psychologists often link this common dream with a fear of being overwhelmed. But although I often dream the dream, I’m never afraid in it.
Right now I’m sitting on a slab of granite in a small Cornish cove, watching waves roll in from the Atlantic and crash on the rocks just before me. Apart from a freak surge, I know they can’t touch me other than throw spray in my face.
‘That’s why I can dream big waves so calmly,’ I think. ‘Because I’ve sat like this so many times, watching them crash right in front of me, knowing I’m out of their reach.’ And at one level it’s true; that’s ‘why’ my mind’s eye can conjure this image. But dreams operate at several levels. I also know how to detach from emotionally charged situations in order to keep myself safe. This is something I had to learn to do my work effectively, after years of throwing myself in fully, and crawling out with bruises more often than not.
In a few days I’ll know whether I’ve been selected as parliamentary candidate for my constituency. I really want this opportunity to fight for what I believe in. I also know that I will be challenged hard; tested. If I am chosen, I tell myself, I’ll use this image in difficult times: ‘I’m on solid rock, and the sea can do nothing to me, except throw spray in my face.’
Beautiful places often induce in me spontaneous outbreaks of yoga, and this cove is a beautiful place. With each posture my attention is brought to a different aspect: now the blue horizon, now the dizzying cliffs rearing back up to grassland, and now, right in front of my nose, the black glistening underbelly of this thickly veined rock. In a moment of awe I renew my commitment to service of the Earth in all her guises: serene, lovely, damaged and dangerous.
I finish with the ‘dancer’ pose, facing out across the wild cove as I stand on one leg. It’s surprisingly difficult to get into the posture: lots of wobbling that I haven’t experienced since I began practising yoga. The surface of my granite slab may be flat, but its context alarms my body – in the same way that jumping a metre over a raging mountain stream is terrifying like jumping the same metre on a grassy field could never be. I take my time, come into the posture slowly.
A cormorant pops out of the swell like a cork. I gently drop the pose and watch as it floats the tumultuous surf, looking about itself before upending and diving. Powerful, agile and streamlined, it’s a master of its environment: moving with the surge, adjusting continually, not waiting for towering waves to pass but plunging right into the heart of them.
I watch it diving and surfacing until dusk blackens the water and the cormorant disappears. And once again I’ve had my lesson from the living world (these lessons are always there for the taking, if we are only open to them).
There will be times, if I’m selected as parliamentary candidate, when posturing on rocks will be important, and keeping a safe distance may sometimes be necessary.
But if I’m to be effective, I’ll also need to enter the tumult fully – not allow myself to be sucked under and dashed against the rocks, but wilfully immerse myself and learn to negotiate with ease a way between worlds; apprentice myself to the cormorant, and discover whether I too can become a master of liminal places.