Something Small & Bright
Last week I took a legitimate vacation. An honest to goodness, leave-the-computer-at-home and pack a sun hat, vacation. Those just don’t happen all that often for me, I can probably count on one hand the amount of real vacations I’ve taken in the past decade. But something inside was tugging like a sailboat in wind to be cut free so I loaded up my pack basket with my camping gear, weighed my car down with snacks, and headed to the wilds of Florida for a week.
I’ve been in a love affair with Florida for years. An entanglement that never fails to set my heart aching whenever I think upon that pastel stretch of earth whose very name, the land of flowers, is a droplet of poetry. Florida, wild Florida, is a dreamscape in hues of tropic— hibiscus, emerald and aquamarine. There are roadside thickets full of tangerines and crystal clear springs so deep, blue and clean that they’ve been likened to the eye of an angel. Upwellings of water straight from the heart of the earth that form entire rivers, clear as glass and warmed to a perpetual 72 degrees.
Florida itself is something small, and infinitesimally bright. A disappearing peninsula gifted from the sea, submerged, revealed, shaped and changed countless times over the eons by the touch of ocean waves. What we know of as Florida is just a tiny flicker in the monument of time. A coastline that will always return, sooner or later, to the sea. It is a place of microhabitats, hammocks filled with dwarf-sized trees, middens made from shell fragments, and springs that glitter in the shards of a thousand crystals.
I went to Florida to remember, in blessed relief, what I truly am – something small and infinitesimally bright. And it was a kind of bliss. To strip down my thoughts to simple, light-filled things. Like how far I wanted to paddle for the day or when to feed the fire with palmetto fronds. Noticing how much closer to the horizon the north star is this far south, the tiny diamonds of the Pleiades. Small things, like the whole constellation of seeds in a single wild tangerine. Or the tiny bits of Spanish moss the cormorants carry, beak by beak, back to their collective rookeries.
I gathered seashells, one at a time, and at night I gazed up at the sky, remembering that there are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on all the beaches of this earth. Before sleep I found myself repeating, I am cozy inside this world. And every morning I woke up, clear as quartz.
When we become small, when we acknowledge that we always have been, a truly incredible thing begins to happen. We can allow ourselves to be cared for. We remember that to be on this earth is to live in a cradle of nourishment. And Florida, land of flowering abundance, is a place that shows you how very deeply we can be cared for when we cherish our minuteness.
The Calusa, the native people who built a complex and enduring civilization across Southwestern Florida, lived inside this knowing. The Calusa are unique among the large civilizations of native North and South America in that their vast society was never sustained by agriculture, but by the sheer bounty of the ocean. With nets and boats and vast estuaries, they lived solely off the shoals of the sea. The water teemed with such life there was no need to spend much time cultivating fields of sunflower, corn or squash. They ate heartily, with their hands, from what was offered. Which was, in short, everything.
It is a luxury that is hard to imagine these days, but it is also not a luxury at all. It is what it means to relish the seed of one’s being, to embrace one’s smallness in the wider orchard of this world.
Our perceived bigness in this time of human history is a burden that ripples out devastation in its wake. A cultural ethos of primacy and grandiosity that is a heavy weight indeed. So what a relief it was, for a week, to put aside being anything but tiny, being anything but me. To let go of the feeling like I must always be wide enough to hold all the responsibilities of the world. As if it were up to me to change the unchangeable, to shift the tides.
Like many indigenous peoples, the Calusa believed in reincarnation, but their hue of rebirth looks very different than what has become our common vision. For the Calusa, reincarnation began with being human. And instead of getting larger, wider, and more expansive with each go around, our selves, instead, got smaller. Once you shed the skein of being human you could become a jaguar, an alligator, a deer. From there you might pick through the marsh as a heron, run under the waves as a pinfish and finally, alight upon the world as a mosquito, the ever-present wetland companion that is known to those who live here as swamp angels. Until, one day, you became so small and so bright you simply disappeared into the vast light.
There is something so liberating about this to me. Instead of the pressure to become larger, what if we are actually here to get smaller?
This one idea has helped me so much upon my return. To let go of multitasking, the impetus to be always expanding my attention out to what will be, what might be, what I should make happen. Instead, since I’ve come back, I’ve let my attention be small and bright. Alighting only on the task at hand, moving like an egret, one foot at a time, through the pond of my day.
I let go of big ambitions, the need to be grandiose or successful or even seen. The endless scrolling and complexity. I let it be simple. I let it be… just me.
So if you are feeling overwhelmed, join me in this place of the small and bright. Give yourself permission to take on tiny tasks, one at a time. Go outside to feel the sun on your face and remember how deeply you are cared for.
It is a blessing to be a grain of sand with you here in this wide and wondrous world.