Back in 2003 I had the good fortune to live in L.A.’s famed Topanga Canyon for about six months. Sandwiched between two of So. Cal’s most exclusive beachfront neighborhoods - Malibu and Pacific Palisades - the canyon’s played host to a whole mess of cultural icons over the decades: Woody Guthrie, Neil Young, Dennis Hopper, and Humphrey Bogart to name a few.
Topanga’s peaceful, laid back Bohemian vibe was a welcomed escape from the manic hum of the city after work each day, and a particularly invigorating ‘retreat’ each weekend. But more than the canyon’s rich historical heritage or all those blissful moments of wonderful solitude, it was actually my morning view of the Pacific Ocean I remember best during my short stay.
I don’t recall how many actual commutes I drove while living in Topanga - I’m guessing at least 100 or more between September and March - but every morning as I weaved my way down through the mountains and onto Pacific Coast Highway for the long haul south into Hollywood for work, I was greeted by an endless ocean laid out before me . . . and it never looked the same from one day to the next.
From deep cobalt blues to brilliant aquamarine tones gilded with gleaming hints of violet, jade, or amber, the mighty Pacific was something altogether new and unique with each sunrise drive past Santa Monica’s deserted beaches. Just when I imagined that I’d seen the full range of the ocean’s vivid palette, I’d encounter another stunning mixture of hues the following morning that would so capture my sense of wonder and awe that I’d nearly drift into the next lane.
Even the motion of the waves themselves changed from one day to the next, the entire tableau showing off with its endless variety of undulating ripples and brilliant colors . . . almost as if Nature itself could never reach the fullest expression of its creative possibilities no matter how many dawns came and went over the eons. The whole experience of seeing the Pacific Ocean anew every day proved to be one of the more lasting spiritual lessons I’ve yet come across in my Life:
For those of us with the patience to look deeply and thoughtfully at ALL things, nothing in Nature - including YOU - remains the same from one moment to the next . . .
No matter how many trips around the sun Mother Nature gives you - even if you hit the jackpot and reach the Centenarian mark - a human life is still exceedingly brief . . . the quintessential ‘blip’ on the Cosmic Radar. And yet despite this undeniable truth, to which no man or woman escapes, most of us wile away our precious days on planet earth locked in autopilot. We cram our waking hours with feverish activities at every turn until no matter how busy our lives become, it all just ends-up looking like an endless ‘To Do’ list of duties and chores. We’re so caught-up in reaching some illusory set of goals perched far off in the distance that we miss out on the other 99.9% of the overall equation: the passing journey itself. And what an amazing journey it is . . . if only we’d take the time to notice it more.
It’s entirely likely that very few, if any, of my fellow commuters noticed the varying colors of the sea all those years ago. More likely, most were probably preoccupied with getting ahead of the car in front of them, fidgeting with the radio, or simply lost in the fathomless matrix of their own worrisome thoughts to ever bother with something so seemingly unimportant as the sheer grandeur of Life itself. Not that I would recommend drivers deliberately taking their eyes off the road while careening through traffic, but when was the last time any of us parked near the surf and watched the waves crash upon the shore, or stood anywhere in a natural setting and simply admired the breadth of it all?
Definitely hold fast to your dreams, but teach yourself to slow down once in a while. Take a few deep breaths at various points in your day and just pay close attention to whatever bits of the drama are unfolding right around you. Notice the shifting patterns of light crisscrossing your front yard; the remarkably subtle, yet unmistakably distinct, personality quirks of your beloved dog or cat; the lone ant scurrying across a dusty windowpane; or the rising and falling of your chest as you inhale and then exhale your next breath of air.
Through the eyes of someone who cares enough to notice it ALL with gratitude, appreciation, and deep attention (that’s YOU hopefully), the entire world and everything within it is nothing short of an absolute miracle of creation . . . an extraordinary tapestry set in constant motion, ever becoming and dissolving away from one moment to the next, always brimming over with the possibility for each of us to Awaken . . . if only we’d just get out of the fast lane once in a while and simply pay attention.
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