anna brones

writer + artist

Coffee Outside, by the Ocean

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Coffee Adventures Outside is a collaboration between myself and Alastair Humphreys, released each month somewhere around the new moon. We hope you’ll join us in our coffee adventures, wherever you are. 

These monthly creative coffee musings, matched in time to each new moon, have made us pay more attention to the lunar cycle than ever before. That noticing is a good thing, but we also keep catching ourselves thinking, “is it time to write an essay AGAIN? We’ve only just finished the last one!”

Because despite all of the good intentions hatched during the past fallow year to streamline life, we seem to have already fallen back into our old ways of chasing our tail and juggling too many balls at once. And so down to the sea we must go; to swim and then to sit, coffee in hand, and stare out at the waves for a while. For you should sit by the ocean for 20 minutes whenever you can… unless you are busy, then you should sit for an hour. If you are not close to the ocean then any water will do just fine. You can perch by your river or by a lake. And if you live in the middle of a desert, well lucky you—let your eyes and mind look up to the horizon.

Away from the beach, we enjoy the serendipity of bookshelves. As much as we enjoy a Kindle for its-on-the-go ease, we prefer the way bookshelves look over us while we write, nudging us, reminding us of their lessons through their titles and colourful spines. We often reach to take a book from a shelf and find our eyes drawn to another book. Holding the two books in our hands sparks new connections. Browsing old favourites ferments new ideas.

And so it was today with Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. We write these essays collaboratively across thousands of miles of ocean, but both separately rediscovered and loved this book recently. 

Gift from the Sea is a wise book set by the ocean. It is a book about balancing life, work and family; about finding space to think and breathe. It is a simple narrative of inspiration taken from shells on the seashore; reflections familiar to many of us during a holiday [vacation] about the busy-ness of life and the need for space in order to pause and be creative. Last month we offered the challenge of a coffee with a wild swim, but in these summer months, the shores call to us again, this time with more lessons. 

“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient,” writes Lindbergh. “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 a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.” We want to find our way back to that slow, calm, expansive, place, the one where patience and curiosity abound. So when we swim, we must be sure to float too, creating a time of quiet within us. Summer is our opportunity to float, whether it’s in the water or not. When we float we are untethered, unrestricted. There are no deadlines, no to-do lists. We all need more time to float, physically and metaphorically.

When we sit by the water we pick up pebbles, turn them in our hands, discard some and keep only the one or two that just feel ‘right’. Lindbergh also yearns to pare things away: “I have learned that certain environments, certain modes of life, certain rules of conduct are more conducive to inner and outer harmony than others. There are, in fact, certain roads that one may follow. Simplification of life is one of them.

I mean to lead a simple life, to carry a simple shell I can carry easily – like a hermit crab. But I do not. I find that the frame of my life does not foster simplicity.

I remember again, ironically, that today more of us in [the West] than anywhere else in the world have the luxury of choice between simplicity and complication of life. And for the most part, we, who could choose simplicity, choose complication.”

We too often make the mistake of slipping into living a frantic, unreflective life, chasing deadlines for books and artwork and forgetting to celebrate the achievement of completing those creative endeavours. 

“What is the answer?” Lindbergh ask herself. “There is no easy answer, no complete answer, I have only clues, shells from the sea. The bare beauty of the channelled whelk tells me that one answer, and perhaps a first step, is in simplification of life, in cutting out some of the distractions. But how? Total retirement is not possible. I cannot shed my responsibilities, I cannot permanently inhabit a desert island. I cannot be a nun in the midst of family life. I would not want to be. The solution for me, surely, is neither in total renunciation of the world, nor in total acceptance of it. I must find a balance somewhere, or an alternating rhythm between these two extremes.”

And so too with us. For the duration of this coffee break by the waves we are experiencing the simplification of life as a beginning. If we appreciate how this feels we can pick up the scent and follow it where it leads into the rest of our lives.

While you drink your coffee, dig in the sand with your toes for a seashell to take home, as Lindbergh did. “It will sit on my desk in Connecticut, to remind me of the ideal of a simplified life. To ask how little, not how much, can I get along with. To say –is it necessary?– when I am tempted to add one more accumulation to my life, when I am pulled toward one more centrifugal activity.

Simplification of outward life is not enough. It is merely the outside. But I am starting with the outside.”

Perhaps these turbulent times –where the tide rushed out and now rushes back in– are, or should be, “a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego. Perhaps one can shed at this stage in life as one sheds in beach-living; one’s pride, one’s false ambitions, one’s mask, one’s armour. Was that armour not put on to protect one from the competitive world?”

As we finish our coffee by the water and think again about our hectic lives, slip a shell into your pocket, and prepare to tackle the busy tasks of your day, but doing so with a fresh perspective and priority.

Share photos of your adventures with us: #coffeeadventuresoutside

Written by Anna Brones

July 10, 2021 at 08:26

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