Several years ago I took some friends out for a trip over to Oaks Bluff. The crew included the free spirited captain (me), my equally fearless 10-year old son, his Sunday School teacher, her husband (who has “water issues”) and their studious 14-year-old son. My wife took one look at the seas and decided to stay home with our daughter (more about discernment in another blog).
As we neared Martha’s Vineyard, the seas were a little wobbly but not a big deal. Because of my love of the ocean and attraction to “adrenalin moments,” I have a fair amount of boating experience in difficult waters (particularly for someone who grew up on the plains of Kansas). As we were departing from the island, we encountered 12-foot waves running almost back-to-back (standing up, all I could see was a wall of water). Big waves are less threatening when they run further apart. These waves were running unusually close together. This means little time for corrections and adjustments before encountering the next wave.
As we engaged the first wave, I pushed the throttle forward to make sure we didn't take a one over the bow and swamp the boat. The old Sea Ray launched off that wave and went completely airborne. For a brief moment, it felt like we were suspended in air as if someone had hit the “pause” button. Then as quick as the press of a button, we dropped and the boat’s hull landed against the ocean with a jarring impact and spray of water. I let out an exhilarated "Wow!" The 14-year old standing on my left looked over at me and said, "This is way beyond Wow!"
Turning around to check in on the rest of my crew, I noticed that my son’s Sunday-School teacher was now the student, following his lead on how to stay inside the boat during rough seas. They were both hunkered down. Her husband Mike was sitting at the stern (backseat) looking surprisingly calm for someone who can’t swim. I wondered if he was numb with fear or living in a state of “ignorance is bliss.”
To my surprise, he later reported that he was just enjoying the ride. A buddy of mine who is a psychologist in New Jersey has written a short, simple and yet meaningful book entitled, “Enjoy The Ride” (Dr. Lee Monday, http://www.leemonday.com/) When I get around to my own book, it may be entitled “Embracing the Wow!” This story and Lee’s writing share in common the theme that life is a gift. When this gift is opened we share and experience joy, beauty and pleasure. Yes, there is pain, struggle and difficulty. But when we “embrace the wow” we find that moment of getting outside of ourselves where time stands still if for only a moment.
One of my favorite writers on Creation Spirituality calls this moment “ecstasy.” He writes, “Ecstasy is a memorable experience of forgetting oneself, of getting outside of oneself. Our ecstatic experiences are the memorable experiences of our lives. Ecstasy is our getting high, standing outside of ourselves if but for a brief moment – getting lost in time.” (Matthew Fox, Whee, We, wee All the Way Home…)
There are many natural divinely created paths to moments of ecstasy or wow: nature, friendship, intimacy, creating, sports, contemplation, travel, celebration and yes work as a labor of love. For others spiritual arts like service, prayer, fasting, meditation and study provide moments of grace
Anxiety, addictions, traumatic memories and depression are all conditions that can derail the capacity to see life as a gift. When feeling stuck, therapy can be a safe place to explore emotions, negative beliefs or memories as a way to get unstuck and discover what gives your life meaning and the capacity to “embrace the wow!”