What should I do to better my physical and mental health? Why do we suffer pain and disease? What is the meaning of life?
I still do not really know the answers. Doctors have told and continue to tell me 'do this', while others say 'do that'. Preachers and politicians alike say the same; a 'do this' or 'do that' depending on their perspective.
Books and articles and blogs like this one are full of words, too. 'Do this' or 'do that' the words say.
In addition to the 'do thises' and 'do thats', the books, articles, doctors and preachers and politicians also often say 'don't do this' and 'don't do that'.
Sound confusing? Yes, few of the words really make any sense to me. Each time I go down one path or I adopt one particular approach I can see there are other approaches offering what I am seeking also. Which one is right? Even though there may be glimpses of a partial answer in one book or one preacher or one politician's words of wisdom, individually all the 'do this' - 'do that' advice falls short of answering my persistent questions.
Should I do a paleo, vegetarian, or vegan diet? Can I eat beans? What about coffee? Should I cover up with long sleeves or catch the rays and vitamin D? Which 'holy book' is really true? Should I be a democrat, republican or independent? Why does one doctor say 'no way you can drive a car' while another says 'no reason you can't drive a car'? What church, if any should I pick? Will my aorta heal itself eventually or am I destined to, as I somedays fear, drop dead soon in the middle of some unlucky day? Who should I vote for? Why do I have so many questions?
Its hard to make a connection between all the words of wisdom offered by politicians, preachers, doctors, books, and the blah, blah and blah internet.
I'm confused and don't really know the answers to anything anymore.
Of course, there is the heart-lung-machine-pumphead-excuse for me not getting 'it'.
But the questions continue to bug me. The fact that I can walk around with a ripped aorta is amazing. The world around me is amazing. The people around me are amazing. The fact I am a human is amazing. I really want to know why life is happening and what I can do to maximize my human experience despite health challenges.
Lately I've been spending more time outdoors. The Gulf of Mexico's gentle waves rolling in across jingle shells or ridged and colorful scallop shells relaxes me. I've been faithfully using sunscreen and wearing long sleeve shirts in the sun. Salt air, colorful sunsets, gentle breezes and turquoise blue waters bring peace to my anxious heart and pique my artist eyes.
|Relaxing sunset at Bunche Beach. Sanibel is in the background.|
To the east of the beach, ancient slow-flowing, dark water swamps overgrown with bromeliads, orchids, giant cypress, strangler figs, wading birds and alligators create another positive respite for my body and mind. Quiet jungle calls floating on the thick, warm humidity relax and reset my body too.
In between the sugar sands of gulf shorelines and cypress strands lie the mangrove swamps, a place so full of life the salty estuaries rival mighty rain forests for plant and animal biodiversity. Within these backwater ebbs and flows our kayak expeditions do more good for my blood pressure, sanity and spirituality than all the books ever written, sermons ever preached or prescriptions ever scribbled out.
These close encounters with wildlife and wildflowers inspire me to draw. I like colored pencils, paper and vector art on the iMac.
For the last year I've been drawing; first, Florida wildflowers and native plants, then important urban ethnobotanical plants and finally most of the plants mentioned in the Bible.
My last drawing was a cypress dome. I've been working on it for about a week now. The vector art begins with me drawing each cypress needle-like leaves, then adding the leaves to small branches and small branches to larger branches then to the grooved lichen covered trunk. These domes are an amazing community of cypress trees, each one contributing to the overall dome-shape and wildlife rich ecosystem.
|A Cypress Dome in the Everglades (the group of cypress in the back of the photo that resembles a dome)|
My iMac is equipped with a maximum amount of RAM memory and high speed processor. The computer can handle making large videos and complicated presentations, an amazing creation of high technology. Unfortunately, after about twenty cypress trees (each one containing a couple thousand needle-like leaves), the iMac begins slowing down. The cypress dome vector art drawing quickly became unbearably slow, trying my patience. I never had this problem before when drawing single wildflowers, even the complex species.
There is so much information in the illustration of fifteen accurately drawn and detailed cypress trees that my iMac bogs down. 'That's crazy', I told myself, 'its just a drawing of a cypress dome' and I put the iMac to sleep. Today was Saturday, my son's eighteenth birthday and Judy, Sesha, Ruairi and I were heading out to Sanibel for a birthday kayaking adventure.
Sanibel offered both the beach and mangrove estuary therapy I discussed above. The slight frustration of information overload in a cypress dome drawing did disappear into the dark backwaters of the red mangrove stands. There was hope! Maybe as we walked in the sunset surf more answers would avail themselves to my poor confused mind.
|The Gulf of Mexico washes up new shells each day on Southwest Florida's beaches.|
That Saturday most of my age old questions were answered. And the answers were simple.
A small shrimp. A palmetto leaf. A scallop shell.
Somewhere along the kayak trail the cypress drawing question was answered. Surrounded by mangroves, our small paddling trail meandered through estuarial blackwater muck below and a dense mangrove canopy above.
|Red mangrove stands in Sanibel estuaries are full of life|
'Pop pop, pop', the tiny mangrove snapping shrimp fishes for its prey by creating a bubble of air by moving their larger claw so quickly that the resulting bubble burst is so loud prey are then stunned, caught and devoured. In fact, the tiny mangrove snapping shrimp's bubble explosion is thought to be one of the loudest noises in all our seas and oceans.
Only dolphins and some whales create louder marine noises. Moreover, the surface temperature of the small cavation bubble is calculated to be around 10,000 degrees F. That's not a misprint.
How a tiny shrimp can do things we find hard to describe with words much less understand is amazing. What mechanism facilitates these wonders? There must be so much data store in just a shrimp-sized amount of DNA.
Then I thought about my cypress dome drawing. The iMac's memory in itself is amazing. The computer could store most every word ever written, sang, spoke, preached or prescribed. If I was looking for answers in the words of humanity I could surely find a clue to those answers on my computer. Or in a book. Or written on a blog or in a movie. Or in a sermon or on a bottle of medicine. All those words of wisdom neatly fit in my computer's memory.
Problem is, there are never any comprehensive answers to my questions in all those words of people.
Yet in a cypress tree or small mangrove snapping shrimp there is more information than what my computer could ever handle. Nature is a grand collection of an infinite amount of information and answers. All that data is compressed into forms invisible to the naked eye, chains of amino-acids. The amount of information in the snapping shrimp's DNA could fill countless thumb flash drives, probably many more than I could ever order off Amazon.
I've been looking for answers in a relatively small library before, the library of human words, human thoughts and human philosophy.
The snappy shrimp showed me there were so many more answers and information around me outdoors, waiting to be touched, smelled, heard or tasted.
Two more encounters ended the day with gifts of new awareness and more answers for me. I limped back to the car with my cane, exhausted from the kayak expedition. The vehicle was parked in front of a group of palmettos on a bed of compacted shell. A scallop shell lay beside my foot and I reached down to pick up the mollusk.
|Scallop shells. Note the many different grooves and ridges all connect at one central point. Such is life.|
The tiny scallop shell's design radiated from the center bottom out to the upper edges like rays of a rising sun. I placed the shell on the frond of an adjacent outstretched palmetto leaf.
|Saw palmetto fronds exhibit the same pattern of radiating differences with connectiveness, just as with the scallop.|
Both shell and frond appeared similar in so many ways. Strikingly, the scallop had many grooves and ridges, each individual and each coming together at one point. The frond too possessed many individual, radiating leaf parts all joining in the center. 'Learn this', the shell and frond spoke to me in a figurative manner. There are many paths in many different directions. But they all lead to one common ground. Separate differences coming together make the whole. Alone they are isolated. Coming together they make a whole.
And so the answer to my questions of why, what and how was answered then by objects appearing to be so simple but in reality so complex. Like the cypress trees or snapping shrimp the shell and frond at first glance looked common and insignificant. Yet they spoke volumes to me, for in each separate, outwardly radiating shell groove or plant frond was a story of how there are many paths, many answers, many traditions and they all lead to one point.
The meaning of life for me is not about adhering to the 'do this' or 'do that' or 'don't do this or that'. I never could find life's answers in a prescription or a book or some person's ramblings. The words of one doctor or preacher or politician or philosopher do not hold answers for me.
Rather all the different - sometimes small, very small - things and people and paths and traditions and experiences in life coming together make the complete whole. Just like the many grooves and ridges in the scallop shell. Just like the fronds pointing in different directions but originating from one central source in the palmetto leaf. Just like the seemingly insignificantly tiny snapping shrimp that creates temperatures that almost surpass the surface heat of the sun on a bubble pop so loud that marine vessel sonar is stymied.
All the small and large life forms around us are so full of information and answers. And they all coexist and inter-relate to form the perfect whole.
Life's answers don't lie in a well worn script in a book or on a computer or delivered from a pulpit. The answers lie in the complex web of varying and different flows and forms of life and cosmos around us. Each differing but coming together in a group sustaining whole.
Some information can never be gleaned from words or books. Some times you need to spend time in nature taking in the infinite amount of answers bundled up in the simplest wildflower or shrimp or fossilized shell.
Looking for answers? Spend time in the great outdoors!
|Hammock therapy is better for me than couch therapy.|