The beach as a church

The beach as a church

Since the start of January, I have been getting up at 6am, twice a week, to head to my favourite local beach (Bar Beach) for a run and a swim.

This idea was born out of my desire to gain fitness and lose some kilos, and to perhaps also conquer my slight fear of the beach. Until I started this regime, I had NEVER been to the beach (any beach) on my own. I had always just gone along because someone else was going and I couldn’t convince them to go to the pool instead!

4 weeks down the track, this new morning ritual has stuck! Amazing really. Despite my return to work and my daughter’s return to school, I am still going! How has this happened, when every other exercise regime I have tried to implement in the past has fallen by the wayside when life got real again?

The secret is, that I haven’t actually gained an exercise regime from this experience.

The first morning that I went, I was grumpy, highly skeptical and ready to “just get it over and done with” so I could just say that I had done something active that day. I arrived in my car and looked at the beach seeing waves that looked small enough that I might be able to have a swim, and enough people to feel safe (but not so many that I would feel ‘watched’). You might say that conditions were perfect.

I started to run and surprised myself by not collapsing within the first 30 seconds! I found myself smiling each time the waves came up far enough to get my toes – I guess it was like a game. I watched the surfers heading out and admired their bravery (the waves out the back will always look way too big to me, I think). Before I knew it, I had made it the whole way along the beach without stopping.

I turned around to run back to where I had left my towel and saw that behind me had been the most glorious sunrise! Pink, orange and yellow moving into a beautiful blue in the sky. How could I have missed it all that time, it was right behind me! Staring at these amazing colours, I actually made it the whole way back to my towel, without even thinking about the running. The beach had forced ‘mindfulness’ upon me, without me even realizing! I have had many a psychologist and well-meaning friend suggest mindfulness to me (particularly when they witnessed how fast I eat!) and I have never been a fan of the term, but here was the proof. My mind was so engrossed in the surrounding beauty that I had forgotten I was even running – something that I assure you does not come naturally to me.

Well, the inner joy I was feeling at this beautiful scene, inspired me to step into the water, where I saw a number of other swimmers – safety in numbers! As I entered the water I realised that 80% of the people around me were at least 30 years my senior! One lady who looked to be in her 70’s was entering the water with a surfboard! These people smiled and greeted me, commenting about the beautiful morning. I have never felt so welcome! It was enough to have me just about jumping for joy as I left the water and headed back to my car, via the beach showers.

Upon heading this way, a man smiled and said to me “I just had to sit on the sand and watch for 20 minutes – fascinating”.

So, where am I going with this long-winded story? I wanted to share that though my body was what took me to the beach, it was my spirit that was most exercised while I was there. It is not every day that a group of strangers speak to you to say hello, let alone about how they are feeling and what they are seeing. I experienced a realm of mindfulness that has never been mine, and left with inspiration to do things differently (especially with relation to looking after this amazing planet that we have). I know, it all sounds a bit cheesy, but it is such a strong feeling that I need to share it, regardless of my worry about what others will think of my words and thoughts.

A good friend of mine once said to me that “the beach is my church”. At the time I thought, “oh yeah, I guess you could sit and look at the waves..”, which of course you can, but I now see that it runs a lot deeper than this. Community. Connection to creation. Thankfulness. Inspiration to keep on keeping on. Wow.