I was invited to spend New Year’s Day with a group of friends at a home on the beach in Malibu. I hadn’t dug my feet into the sand for a very long time and it felt great to take a sunset walk beside the ocean. We passed a large scattering of dark rocks that hadn’t been
there the day before. They had ridden ashore on the tides, made their way onto the beach, and pretty soon, the ocean would reclaim them.

I stopped beside the rocks and bent down to see a tiny crab skittering among shells and seaweed. I was transported to my childhood summer home, The Tide Rock House, in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. That creaky dwelling had a soul as ancient as the icy sea water that washed against the shoreline several hundred yards from the end of the street. I used to climb the rocks and poke my small fingers into the sudsy tide pools. I upset small fish, miniature crabs with transparent legs, shell chips and seaweed strands,
all scattered amid colorful pieces of broken plastic and the occasional condom that I mistook for jellyfish body parts. As I walked along, I gathered unusual shell specimens and when I got back to my room at the Tide Rock House, I washed off the sand and placed them on top of my wooden dresser.

One time, a tiny crab crawled out of one of the shells. I watched it scramble the length of the old dresser, scale down the side and imbed itself in a crack between two stuck drawers. It was drawn to the darkness, out of sight and free from intrusion, shielding its
destiny from the hands of a curious little girl. I waited for a while, went to have supper and I forgot about the crab until the next day. When I searched for it, it was gone. It might have crawled away or fell to the ground and got stepped on. I like to think the house protected it until no one was around and then somehow helped it get away. There was no way to know. It was a mystery and would remain that way, as certain as the ocean water would continue to batter the shore.

This New Year’s day, being at the beach and watching a crab sidle along the sand and hide in a bunch of seaweed, reminded me how life, like our breath, ebbs and flows, delivering gifts, removing them and delivering new and different ones over and over. I heard the waves crashing against the shore and I realized how little control we have over our lives. The tides move in response to the gravitational forces of the moon and the sun. Besides that, they have no master. They remind us that everything is in process. We have no way to direct it. Like the sea, we have our storms and our times of
peacefulness and then it starts all over again. All we can do is watch and marvel.

During the walk, a friend said, “What do you want to happen this year? How do you want your life to look? What are your New Year’s resolutions?”

“I have only one. I want to leave myself alone.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“I mean that I’m fine the way I am,” I said. “I have no idea what will happen or what will change when I’m not looking and I don’t need to try and be better. The idea of being more productive or working out every day or meditating every morning doesn’t last, just because December 31st becomes January 1st. When you resolve to change yourself, a week later everything goes back to the way it was. I want to stop trying to manipulate myself. It’s useless. All I want to do is be kind, wait for what’s next and and go through it with as much grace as possible.”

A huge wave suddenly thundered against the shore, soaking our feet. We both laughed. “See what I mean?” I said. “We didn’t see that coming, we didn’t choose it, we didn’t try to manifest it, but we can choose to laugh about it or grouse that our feet are wet.”

The tides never take a rest. They were here before we were born and they will still be here when we are gone. They demonstrate that nothing stands still. Everything is always in process. Like Bob Dylan says, “If you’re not busy being born, you’re busy dying.” We get
older every year whether we like it or not but we can also get wiser if we focus our attention in the right direction. If we stop trying to swim against the tides, we can learn from what’s there and avoid unnecessary suffering. Everything happens in its own time: The light and the darkness. Waking and sleeping. Our birth and our death. All we can do is prepare for change and try not to resist it.”

Pema Chodron talks about “groundlessness.” It’s about experiencing change, feeling like the earth beneath your feet is shifting, wanting to resist and then learning to relax into it. She adds, “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to
be continually thrown out of the nest.”

So go the tides that are always and forever moving in and out in the ebb and flow of life.  The work is to feel our feelings, be kind to ourselves and find a way to become one with the never ending motion of existence.