Your Very Own Self

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It starts innocently enough, perhaps the first time you recognize your own reflection.

You’re not yet 2 years old, brushing your teeth, standing on your steppy stool by the bathroom sink, when suddenly it dawns on you: That foam-flecked face beaming back from the mirror is you. You. Yourself. Your very own self.

It’s a revelation—and an affliction. Human infants have no capacity for self-awareness. Then, between 18 and 24 months of age, they become conscious of their own thoughts, feelings, and sensations—thereby embarking on a quest that will consume much of their lives. For many modern selves, the first shock of self-recognition marks the beginning of a lifelong search for the one “true” self and for a feeling of behaving in accordance with that self that can be called authenticity.

A hunger for authenticity guides us in every age and aspect of life. It drives our explorations of work, relationships, play, and prayer. Teens and twentysomethings try out friends, fashions, hobbies, jobs, lovers, locations, and living arrangements to see what fits and what’s “just not me.” Midlifers deepen commitments to career, community, faith, and family that match their self-images, or feel trapped in existences that seem not their own. Elders regard life choices with regret or satisfaction based largely on whether they were “true” to themselves.

It’s also a cornerstone of mental health. Authenticity is correlated with many aspects of psychological well-being, including vitality, self-esteem, and coping skills. Acting in accordance with one’s core self—a trait called self-determination—is ranked by some experts as one of three basic psychological needs, along with competence and a sense of relatedness.

Yet, increasingly, contemporary culture seems to mock the very idea that there is anything solid and true about the self. Cosmetic surgery, psycho-pharmaceuticals, and perpetual makeovers favor a mutable ideal over the genuine article. MySpace profiles and tell-all blogs carry the whiff of wishful identity. Steroids, stimulants, and doping transform athletic and academic performance. Fabricated memoirs become best-sellers. Speed-dating discounts sincerity. Amid a clutter of counterfeits, the core self is struggling to assert itself.

“It’s some kind of epidemic right now,” says Stephen Cope, author of Yoga and the Quest for the True Self. “People feel profoundly like they’re not living from who they really are, their authentic self, their deepest possibility in the world. The result is a sense of near-desperation.” From an article by Karen Wright http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200804/dare-be-yourself

Here I sit showing the signs of age: reading glasses, mostly gray hair (but grateful to still have hair!), untouched natural lines on my face, memory not as razor-sharp as it once was, a paunch at my waistline, a few ages spots on my arms and so on. I have never given serious thought to changing any of it except losing 25 pounds. All of it is me just as I have naturally evolved.

It’s a personal thing, but I think for me there would be something dishonest about hair dye or plastic surgery. As a man it would be bothersome if I did remade myself synthetically and other guys found out. I’d not casting aspersions toward men who do, just saying that it’s not right for me.

Being real and authentic has become more and more important to me as the years have passed. I’ve earned every line on my skin and every gray hair. My face and body is an accurate living record of my life. I am 100% grateful to be who and what I am. It took a lot of hard work to get there.

The authentic self
is soul made visible.
Sarah Ban Breathnach

Knowledge, Wisdom, and Insight

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Knowledge is really about facts and ideas that we acquire through study, research, investigation, observation, or experience.

Wisdom is the ability to discern and judge which aspects of that knowledge are true, right, lasting, and applicable to your life. It’s the ability to apply that knowledge to the greater scheme of life. It’s also deeper; knowing the meaning or reason; about knowing why something is, and what it means to your life.

Insight is the deepest level of knowing and the most meaningful to your life. Insight is a deeper and clearer perception of life, of knowledge, of wisdom. It’s grasping the underlying nature of knowledge, and the essence of wisdom. Insight is a truer understanding of your life and the bigger picture of how things intertwine.

In a nutshell: If knowledge is information, wisdom is the understanding and application of that knowledge and insight is the awareness of the underlying essence of a truth. Sadly we can gain a lifetime of knowledge, yet never see the wisdom in it. We can be wise, but still miss the deeper meaning.

Knowledge is knowing how to manage your money, budgeting, spending, saving.
Wisdom is understanding how money impacts the quality of your life and your future.
Insight is realizing that money is simply a tool to be used, that it has no inherent meaning beyond its usefulness.

Knowledge is learning how to paint and using that skill to cultivate a livelihood.
Wisdom is expressing your passion through painting and understanding that art is a form of communication that touches the lives of others.
Insight is perceiving that all things can be art and that creating your art contributes to the understanding and the expression of the essence of the world around you.

Knowledge is knowing which things, practices, people, and pleasures make you happy.
Wisdom is knowing that while those things may bring you pleasure, happiness is not derived from things or situations or people. It’s understanding that happiness comes from within, and that it’s a temporary state of mind.

Insight is knowing that happiness is not the purpose of life, that it’s not the marker of the quality of life—it’s merely one of the many fleeting states of mind in the spectrum of full emotions. Those emotions don’t make up our lives; they are merely experiences.

Knowledge, wisdom and insight all are valuable and all have a place in our lives. The difficulty lies in the fact that many of us are unclear as to their differences, often perceiving the terms and their application to be interchangeable. Being clear and consciously aware of how our minds are engaged may be important to getting the most out of all three. While acquiring and applying information is valuable in and of itself, we also need to distill and judge that information, and ultimately find the deeper meaning and relevance to the whole of our lives. Perhaps the truest form of knowing is in acquiring all three, and understanding how they each enhance the quality and experience of life. Taken from an article by Royale Scuderi, http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/what-are-the-differences-between-knowledge-wisdom-and-insight.html

Ever read something that was stunning in its clarity? Did every word seem like it was written for you? Did the message alter your way of seeing things? For the better? The words above did just that. The writer is Royale Scuderi who specializes in cultivating human potential for happiness, health and fulfillment. I am grateful to have come in contact with her thoughts. They truly widened my perspective and sharpened it at the same time.

I am strong, because I’ve been weak.
I am beautiful, because I know my flaws.
I am a lover, because I’ve been a fighter.
I am fearless, because I’ve been afraid.
I am wise, because I’ve been foolish.
And I can laugh, because I’ve known sadness.
Anonymous

First Official Day

After-a-While-Poem
I found this poem… sometime around my junior or senior year of high school. I’m sure I thought it applied to something going on in my life at the moment although I can’t remember what. Aren’t all things in high school trivial? But it really meant something to me. So much so that I’ve kept this exact paper clipping for at least 17 years… I find it from time to time tucked away in an old journal or notebook, in between pages of my Bible or this time at the bottom of a drawer in my bedside table.

The overall message seems to be about the end of romantic love, but I think it is about much more than that. I think it’s about things like friendship, insecurity, being unsure of a situation or just in believing in your self instead of relying on other people for happiness. To me, it’s more about learning from everything you live through. Good or bad. Kami Bible http://kamibible.me/2010/04/28/even-sunshine-burns-if-you-get-too-much/

After a While by Veronica Shoffstall

After a while, you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul;

And you learn that love doesn’t mean leaning,
And company doesn’t always mean security;

And you begin to learn that kisses aren’t contracts,
And presents aren’t promises;

And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head up and your eyes open,
With the grace of a women, not the grief of a child;

And you learn to build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow’s ground is too uncertain for plans,
And futures have a way of falling down in mid-flight;

And after a while you learn
That even sunshine burns if you get too much;

So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul,
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers.

And you learn
That you really can endure,
That you really are strong,
And you really do have worth,
And you learn,
And you learn;
With every goodbye you learn.

No longer am I surprised when the exact thing I need appears at just the correct moment. And so it was today. Searching for something completely different I came across Kami Bible’s blog about Veronica Shoffstall’s poem. Here on the first official day of my semi-retirement I am grateful for the perspective this brought to my morning at precisely the time I needed it.

Are these things really better
than the things I already have?
Or am I just trained
to be dissatisfied with
what I have now?
 Chuck Palahniuk

Just Me, All Along

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I am Me.

In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me.

Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine,
because I alone chose it.

I own everything about me: my body, my feelings,
my mouth, my voice, all my actions,
whether they be to others or myself.

I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears.

I own my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes.

Because I own all of me, I can become intimately acquainted with me.

By so doing, I can love me and be friendly with all my parts.

I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me,
and other aspects that I do not know,
but as long as I am friendly and loving to myself,
I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions
to the puzzles and ways to find out more about me.

However I look and sound, whatever I say and do,
and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time
is authentically me.

If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought, and felt
turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is unfitting,
keep the rest, and invent something new for that which I discarded.

I can see, hear, feel, think, say, and do. I have the tools to survive,
to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense
and order out of the world of people and things outside of me.

I own me, and therefore, I can engineer me.

I am me, and I am Okay.
Psychologist Virginia Satir

It was a huge step forward when I began taking responsibility for myself without pointing to external factors of why I am the way I am or do what I do. No matter how much influence someone or something has over me, the majority of every choice is mine. In realizing no factor on this earth has influence over me unless I allow it was the beginning of freedom.

How ironic it is now to realize it was my own excuses and reasons I needed to be freed from. When external justifications no longer answered the “whys” of my thoughts and behavior, only one explanation remained; “ME”. I will be always grateful for the insight that connected my past, present and future; that allowed me to finally feel whole.

I’ve figured out now that it was never them
that made me feel that way.
It was just me, all along.
Maggie Stiefvater

Reminiscence Bump

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I remember days when I was fifteen or sixteen years old that occupy more memory space than some entire years of my adult life. There are teenage first experiences that I recall as vividly as if they happened two days ago, especially those I cherish most or regret a lot. I remember clearly my unaccompanied first airplane flight, making out with a girl all night long with our clothes on, the initial time I had my heart-broken and the earliest heart I hurt. The interior of my first car is memorized even today.

As we grow older, we tend to feel like the previous decade elapsed more rapidly, while the earlier decades of our lives seem to have lasted longer. Similarly, we tend to think of events that took place in the past 10 years as having happened more recently than they actually did.

… curiously, we are most likely to vividly remember experiences we had between the ages of 15 and 25. What the social sciences might simply call “nostalgia” psychologists have termed the “reminiscence bump”… The reminiscence bump involves not only the recall of incidents; we even remember more scenes from the films we saw and the books we read in our late teens and early twenties. … The bump can be broken down even further — the big news events that we remember best tend to have happened earlier in the bump, while our most memorable personal experiences are in the second half.

The key to the reminiscence bump is novelty. The reason we remember our youth so well is that it is a period where we have more new experiences than in our thirties or forties. It’s a time for firsts — first sexual relationships, first jobs, first travel without parents, first experience of living away from home, the first time we get much real choice over the way we spend our days. Novelty has such a strong impact on memory that even within the bump we remember more from the start of each new experience.

Most fascinating of all, however, is the reason the “reminiscence bump” happens in the first place: Hammond argues that because memory and identity are so closely intertwined, it is in those formative years, when we’re constructing our identity and finding our place in the world, that our memory latches onto particularly vivid details in order to use them later in reinforcing that identity. Interestingly, Hammond points out, people who undergo a major transformation of identity later in life — say, changing careers or coming out — tend to experience a second identity bump, which helps them reconcile and consolidate their new identity. From “Why Time Slows Down When We’re Afraid, Speeds Up as We Age, and Gets Warped on Vacation” by Maria Popova http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2013/07/15/time-warped-claudia-hammond/

Memory is a tricky thing. I have realized over time I tend to unconsciously make adjustments to what I recall. Memories that come to mind most become the most indelibly stamped on my brain. My greatest joys are made grander and the most painful memories are mentally sculpted to be more distressing. The primitive part of my mind dedicated to survival makes an over-sized issue of the latter. I am grateful to be reminded that pain tries to remembered far more than joy. In making my way forward it’s important tto reverse that tendency as much as I can; focus on the joyful memories and think less about the painful ones.

I don’t want to repeat my innocence.
I want the pleasure of losing it again.
From “This Side of Paradise”
by F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Burdens of Another

686786-car-for-a-homeI was driving home from a meeting this evening about 5, stuck in traffic on Colorado Blvd., and the car started to choke and splutter and die – I barely managed to coast, cursing, into a gas station, glad only that I would not be blocking traffic and would have a somewhat warm spot to wait for the tow truck. It wouldn’t even turn over. Before I could make the call, I saw a woman walking out of the “quickie mart ” building, and it looked like she slipped on some ice and fell into a Gas pump, so I got out to see if she was okay

When I got there, it looked more like she had been overcome by sobs than that she had fallen; she was a young woman who looked really haggard with dark circles under her eyes. She dropped something as I helped her up, and I picked it up to give it to her. It was a nickel. At that moment, everything came into focus for me: the crying woman, the ancient Suburban crammed full of stuff with 3 kids in the back (1 in a car seat), and the gas pump reading $4.95.

I asked her if she was okay and if she needed help, and she just kept saying ” don’t want my kids to see me crying,” so we stood on the other side of the pump from her car. She said she was driving to California and that things were very hard for her right now. So I asked, “And you were praying?” That made her back away from me a little, but I assured her I was not a crazy person and said, “He heard you, and He sent me.”

I took out my card and swiped it through the card reader on the pump so she could fill up her car completely, and while it was fuelling, walked to the next door McDonald’s and bought 2 big bags of food, some gift certificates for more, and a big cup of coffee. She gave the food to the kids in the car, who attacked it like wolves, and we stood by the pump eating fries and talking a little.

She told me her name, and that she lived in Kansas City Her boyfriend left 2 months ago and she had not been able to make ends meet. She knew she wouldn’t have money to pay rent Jan 1, and finally in desperation had finally called her parents, with whom she had not spoken in about 5 years. They lived in California and said she could come live with them and try to get on her feet there. So she packed up everything she owned in the car. She told the kids they were going to California for Christmas, but not that they were going to live there.

I gave her my gloves, a little hug and said a quick prayer with her for safety on the road. As I was walking over to my car, she said, “So, are you like an angel or something?” This definitely made me cry. I said, “Sweetie, at this time of year angels are really busy, so sometimes God uses regular people.”

It was so incredible to be a part of someone else’s miracle. And of course, you guessed it, when I got in my car it started right away and got me home with no problem. I’ll put it in the shop tomorrow to check, but I suspect the mechanic won’t find anything wrong. Sometimes the angels fly close enough to you that you can hear the flutter of their wings…

That story has made the rounds for years now. It was touching the time I first saw it although I had no idea if it was true or not. This morning a friend saw fit to place it in my ‘in-box’. Being moved again by the tale, I searched on-line for its validity and surprisingly found the story may be true. For instance, snopes.com called it “undetermined” but noted that a spokesperson for Hospice of Metro Denver indicated “one of its doctors was the author”.

Even with all the imposters, panhandlers and crooks working to fleece people of their money, I still believe there are a few who are honest who deserve help. Just last weekend a friend and I were approached by a man with a sob story about an injured child. Usually I don’t give such people any money, but this time I took a chance with $5 telling the man “if you’re dishonest and just working me for money, shame on you. It’ll be your bad karma.” My intentions were pure and good. Ultimately that is all that matters. I am grateful for my soft and caring heart.

No one is useless in this world
who lightens the burdens of another.
Charles Dickens

Three Thoughts for Monday

crossroads-signHere and there I come across another writer’s words and find they say exactly what I wanted to say. To go any further and use my own words would at best be redundant, or more likely only a pale semblance of my actual thoughts. So here at a major crossroads of my life are three quotes by Anne Lamott that express my feelings clearly.

It’s funny: I always imagined when I was a kid that adults had some kind of inner toolbox full of shiny tools: the saw of discernment, the hammer of wisdom, the sandpaper of patience. But then when I grew up I found that life handed you these rusty bent old tools – friendships, prayer, conscience, honesty – and said ‘do the best you can with these, they will have to do’. And mostly, against all odds, they do.

You will lose someone you can’t live without, and your heart will be badly broken, and the bad news is that you never completely get over the loss of your beloved. But this is also the good news. They live forever in your broken heart that doesn’t seal back up. And you come through. It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.

In the first quote I am reminded that doing the best with what I have is all there is. The second one explains why past love is so indelibly stamped on my heart. And now a third quote from Anne Lamott is a help fending off my tendency toward perfectionism.

Clutter and mess show us that life is being lived…Tidiness makes me think of held breath, of suspended animation… Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friend. What people somehow forgot to mention when we were children was that we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here.

Anne Lamott is an American novelist and non-fiction writer
and a progressive political activist, public speaker
and writing teacher based in the Bay Area of Northern California.

The Key to Cultivate, Know and Appreciate

__by_unusualdream-d3el04tOthers have known greater emotional pain than me, but my life has included a healthy share of it. I used to think my allotment was enough to make me a “special” case. For a long time I thought the quantity of pain that came my way was more than most. But I learned better.

It’s self focused to think I know how the pain I have encountered compares to what others have been faced with. Every life is a unique experience and how a person reacts to difficulty is individually distinctive. As different as each life is, one thing is certain: pain hurts and everyone gets their share. The painful experiences are the boldest teachers about living if one is paying attention and accepting of the lessons.

Pain is a pesky part of being human.

I’ve learned it feels like a stab wound to the heart,
something I wish we could all do without, in our lives here.

Pain is a sudden hurt that can’t be escaped.

But then I have also learned that because of pain,
I can feel the beauty, tenderness, and freedom of healing.

Pain feels like a fast stab wound to the heart.

But then healing feels like the wind against your face
when you are spreading your wings and flying through the air!

We may not have wings growing out of our backs,
but healing is the closest thing
that will give us that wind against our faces.
C. JoyBell C.

Learning to appreciate emotional turmoil was a giant step forward, for it is one of my life’s most profound teachers. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” And so it was with me.

When the pain to stay the same exceeded the pain to change, I changed. Recognizing the teachings of pain was a breakthrough toward happiness. I will always remember the month and year: October, 2007. It was then I gratefully began to grasp that happiness does not teach about being happy; pain does. It is the painful parts of living that are the key to cultivate, know and appreciate peace and contentment.  I am grateful to know happiness is impossible without anguish, sorrow and grief plowing the ground for it to grow in.

It’s so hard to forget pain,
but it’s even harder to remember sweetness.
We have no scar to show for happiness.
We learn so little from peace.
Chuck Palahnuik

Invented Self vs. Real Self

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Western philosophers have sought some pure and enduring touchstone of “I-ness” ever since Socrates began interrogating the citizens of Athens. He famously asserted that the unexamined life is not worth living—but left vague exactly what insights and actions such inquiry might yield. Aristotle later connected the fruits of self-reflection with a theory of authentic behavior that was not so much about letting your freak flag fly as about acting in accord with the “higher good,” which he regarded as the ultimate expression of self-hood.

Spiritual and religious traditions similarly equated authenticity and morality. Enlightenment philosophers secularized ideas of selfhood, but it took the 20th century’s existentialists to question the idea that some original, actual, ultimate self resides within. To them, the self was not so much born as made.

“The philosophical question is, do we invent this authentic self?” says [ethicist John Portmann of the University of Virginia]. “Or do we discover it?” Socrates believed we discover it; the existentialists say we invent it.

“There isn’t a self to know,” decrees social psychologist Roy Baumeister of the University of Florida. Today’s psychologists no longer regard the self as a singular entity with a solid core. What they see instead is an array of often conflicting impressions, sensations, and behaviors. Our headspace is messier than we pretend, they say, and the search for authenticity is doomed if it’s aimed at tidying up the sense of self, restricting our identities to what we want to be or who we think we should be.

Increasingly, psychologists believe that our notion of selfhood needs to expand… An expansive vision of selfhood includes not just the parts of ourselves that we like and understand but also those that we don’t. There’s room to be a loving mother who sometimes yells at her kids, a diffident cleric who laughs too loud, or a punctilious boss with a flask of gin in his desk. The authentic self isn’t always pretty. It’s just real.

We all have multiple layers of self and ever-shifting perspectives, contends psychiatrist Peter Kramer. Most of us would describe ourselves as either an introvert or extrovert. Research shows that although we think of ourselves as one or the other (with a few exceptions), we are actually both, in different contexts. Which face we show depends on the situation.

“Whether there is a core self or not, we certainly believe that there is,” says social psychologist Mark Leary of Duke University. And the longing to live from that self is real, as is the suffering of those who feel they aren’t being true to themselves.

Inauthenticity might also be experienced on a deeper level as a loss of engagement in some—or many—aspects of your life. At the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts, where he often teaches, Stephen Cope opens his programs by asking attendees to reveal their deepest reason for being there. “Eighty percent of the time, people say some variation of: ‘I’m here to find my true self, to come home to my true self,’ ” he reports. That response is as likely to come from young adults struggling to build careers and relationships as from people in midlife reevaluating their choices. “They say, ‘Who am I? Now that I’ve had a decent career and bought a house and had a marriage, I’m still feeling profoundly unfulfilled.’ by Karen Wright http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200804/dare-be-yourself

Such a thoughts as “who am I? and “what is the real me?” used to spin in my head like 10 peopleall talking all at once. That experience is not completely gone, but the ongoing inner dialogue is not constant and down to a voice or two. To wonder “what and why” is dependably human but any more I don’t ask such things of myself a great deal. My conclusion? Allowing me to mostly just be as I am is probably the best practice I ever began. As the “real me” has shown through, my discovery has been I like most of what I have found. I am grateful for those life changing insights.

Knowing yourself
is the beginning of
all wisdom.
Aristotle

Looking at the Surface

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Life is actually simple. It’s principals are straight forward and uncomplicated.

Nature will always be its natural self and never a pretender or a poser. Trees are simple. Flowers are uncomplicated. Dogs and cats are predictably the way they are. Elephants look like elephants, sound like elephants, move like elephants and can be counted on to act like elephants. Weeds grow like weeds. The sun rises and sets. The moon comes and goes. It is humans that are otherwise.

Human beings are always complicated on the surface. The only apparent thing predictable is we are unpredictable. Humans are prone to be unhappy in some manner with the way they look, sound, move and act. We don’t grow uniformly and our coming and going is hard to forecast. The world is really not a complicated place outside of human kind’s effect upon it. Only through stillness in a present moment can one person truly see another in simplicity, honesty and love.

There is so much more to all of us than the obvious.

A few times in my life I have gotten a glimpse of the real self of a person. It was only for an anguished moment and only because I looked with eyes of love.

But for an anguished moment I looked with eyes of love and I saw. I cannot say what I saw, but I knew that is was something inexpressibly beautiful. I shall always believe I was looking at being as it really is, and I saw beauty naked.

I believe that is what I would see if I saw the real self of you. But I have to look with eyes of love.

That is why lovers go around starry-eyed. They have seen through what is form to what is real, and it has left them dazzled. They can only murmur, “Beautiful.”

We look at what they are looking at and wonder how they can see so much in such a plain creature. But it is our vision that is imperfect.

Love raises vision to a higher power that eye charts cannot measure.

People are like that. They, too, glow with a kind of hidden luminosity when you get past the obvious. From the book “Look With Eyes Of Love” by James Dillet Freeman

My perception of the complication and difficulty of life remains a blinding illusion unless I look beneath it, around it, over it and under it to realize most that is difficult to sort out is man-made. To take people only at the face value is lazy, unimaginative and lacking in inspiration. Instead, I remind myself to look beyond what a person shows and postures. I am grateful that beyond the obvious there is always goodness and beauty in every person I encounter if I can look deep enough to see it.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying looking
at the surface of the ocean itself, except that
when you finally see what goes on underwater,
you realize that you’ve been missing
the whole point of the ocean.
Staying on the surface all the time
is like going to the circus
and staring at the outside of the tent.
Dave Barry