I spend a lot of time in my head. The other day while walking on the beach, I decided to spend some time completely out of my head. I wanted to try to actually see, hear, touch, and experience in the full the beach I walk on each evening. It wasn’t anything fancy. There was no guided meditation involved, no thoughts of finding some sort of “zen.” It was just a simple, standard stroll that slipped dazedly into a sensory experience of Surfer’s Paradise.
As if in a dream, I began to notice the never ending sea of colors worn by beach-goers from all over the world. Bright pink robes, dark green head wraps, yellow shawls reflecting the sun and sands of the Gold Coast, deep purple skirts and ocean blue dresses. Many women flaunted their flowing outfits the likes of which I have never seen, blowing in the sea breeze, posing for photographs with their loved ones. They spoke languages I’ve never heard and opened picnic baskets with food wafting aromas I’ve never smelled. It became quite clear to me, strolling down the shoreline in Surfer’s Paradise, that almost everything we know about “normal” is merely relative. Robes and shawls and turquoise scarves. Normal for some, but an abnormal sight for my periodically observant mind. How beautiful those brilliant colors seemed in the afternoon sun. I walked on.
Along the water, some people were walking fast, some slow. Some were on their phones, others looked down to see how the sand accepted the imprint of their feet with every step. A few that passed me were couples. Others were growing families. Many were alone, young and old. They didn’t seem lonely, though- they were simply alone. It’s hard to be lonely on the beach in Surfer’s Paradise. The squeals and laughter of kids dodging waves in the background built a childish, playful atmosphere. Every toddler that trampled by boasted the happiest face on Earth. The beach! The beach! They all sprinted for the water. I watched my own feet tap, tap, avoiding the broken shells that poke up from soft ground. Their white, orange, brown, and black shades made me wonder where the pastel shells from the beginning of the semester have gone. Maybe the ocean is celebrating autumn.
The early signs of sunset crept onto the shore as reflections from the sea turned faintly pink. The hue of the whole afternoon became one of a soft bubblegum pink hidden all over the landscape- at the bottom of the clouds, the beginning of the ocean, and the tall silver buildings of Paradise. I passed many seagulls with only one leg on my way off the beach. I thought back to the beginning of the semester, when I called the Australian ASPCA asking what to do about the seagull I found with one foot. Reaching the top of the beach, my legs tired. They always do on the bumpy, sinking sand near the sidewalk. Brushing off the sand that stuck like adhesive to my ankles, I saw the tents of market day down the path. My eyes wandered to the most exquisite cement drawing of a platypus by the storm drain.
Snapping out of my daze, I thought of all the times I had traveled along the shoreline and never seen or heard or smelled the things I just had. I remembered a Digital Imaging class I took freshman year, how our assignments involved looking for and photographing a specific aesthetic in the world. We had to go out and find “color” or “contrast” or “form.” Since my mindful walk the other day, I’ve been experimenting with seeing the beach through different mental filters, filters that scan for anything I’m curious about that day. It’s one of those things that keeps daily life invigorating and fun. But in the end I know I’m doing it for another reason. I know if I can see this place in one hundred different ways – in ways that make me see things like “shadows” and “hues” and “textures”- there’s a good chance I will never forget it. I might be crazy, but I’m counting on one hundred mental filters to keep me here forever.