Originally written in 2011, today, I feel like adding to this post. Today being in March of 2021. I’ve saved the original so you can hear my voice from the now distant past (at least by human standards).
In that post, I am primarily talking about the sandcastle in terms of the ego dissolution that follows a spiritual awakening, but I feel like it’s important to expand on this idea of building a sandcastle.
What was implicitly pointed towards in the original version of this post and what I’ll more explicitly point towards in the update is impermanence. Everything is impermanent in the world of duality/separation.
What Is Impermanence?
Impermanence is the reality that all things in the world of form change.
Your body changes.
The seasons change.
Your mind changes.
The universe changes.
The list goes on and on. When we deny this reality, we suffer. When we fully accept impermanence, we start to approach life quite differently.
Approaching Life with Joy
The joy of life is that we are alive. An insane number of circumstances lined up just so you could be alive today reading this post. If you try to figure out what all had to happen to make this possible, your brain would explode!
Instead we accept this gift, and on the path to spiritual freedom, we come to realize all of life is impermanent. If all forms in life are impermanent, it makes no sense to hold onto anything. It also makes no sense to do things that cause us to suffer; instead, we go towards joy.
Realization and True Joy
Now going towards joy from a state of spiritual realization is a completely different thing. You see, we know that joy is temporary, and we know that we don’t really need it. Since there is no attachment, the joy is purer, and we create whatever we want to create without concern for its continued existence–hence the sandcastle metaphor.
We build the sandcastle knowing that it will be destroyed.
No ifs, ands, or buts. That sandcastle will go away. That’s okay. That doesn’t invalidate the process of building it. Rather, we built it for the joy of building it–not the impossible hope that it’ll last.
Relationships, Companies, and Societies–So Many Sandcastles
You are surrounded by sandcastles. You are surrounded by countless things that will not last.
So what evokes joy naturally for you? There’s no need to kill yourself to get your start-up company going if there is no joy in it. That company will be dissolved eventually anyway. Are you creating a company that you truly care about? If it is an attempt to find a permanent kind of safety or happiness, you are acting from attachment. This will take you back towards suffering because it won’t last. But even with suffering, we may find grace if it shows us the error of attaching our hopes and happiness to something that is impermanent.
Instead, we learn to see each relationship, task, sentence, and more as an opportunity to express and explore and nothing more. We embrace impermanence/the sandcastle and its relationship to the ocean that will destroy it. In so doing, we find ourselves free to find out what it truly is to live our lives.
(additions to the post made on February 8th 2011)
Original Post written September 12, 2011
When you’re a kid and you’re anywhere near the ocean, you almost certainly learned the joy of building sandcastles. Something about the pure creation of it mixed with the visceral pleasure of sticking your hands into the ground makes it an absolutely intoxicating experience. As a child, you create something out of nothing. Perhaps, you have a parent who adds high flying turrets as you dig out an elaborate moat around the castle for the water to come in and surround this amazing construction. It’s a beautiful accomplishment, and it will be destroyed. One way or another, the ocean will come and pull it all down. And such is the truth of all of our lives.
The Awakening Wave that Drowns and Destroys
For those of you who cling too tightly to your old ego and your old ways, awakening energy is horrific. You watch your sandcastle get torn down, but you’re so caught up in the destruction that you can’t see anything else. You want that old sandcastle back–you want your old life back and the old ways of interacting. And each time you build it back, the ocean comes again and knocks it down. It’s one of those amazingly humbling parts of awakening. Despite how hard we try to go back in time. We cannot. We are already committed to the path.
To look at it another way, your sandcastle wasn’t ever really that sturdy, was it? It is, after all, made of sand and on a sandy beach. A little quake would have sent it tumbling, and to keep rebuilding it on this unstable surface is an invitation to continued destruction. Why do you persist? Can you not see that you have nothing solid to build upon?
Guiding the Waves and Finding New Ground
When awakening first happens, we feel slightly victimized–well, many of us do. I suppose, for me personally, I didn’t. I’d been creating space for it, so in that way, I gave the waves of energy some place to go. Letting go of the sandcastle metaphor for the moment, I had made space for this energy, but still it blew up everything in my life for awhile. But perhaps, I felt better because I also helped to tear down the sandcastle. Perhaps, that’s the big part that we all need to have as kids; we all need to appreciate mindfully tearing down the sandcastle and letting it go.
But many of you didn’t create that space, and even as a part of you knows that you need to find solid ground, you still stick to this beachhead. Valiantly shoveling deeper moats to try and channel the water away from your precious sandy construction, it does no good. A bigger wave comes and demolishes you again and again until you let go.
The Power of Letting Go
So much of the spiritual path is about one thing: letting go. Releasing into the energy of life, we are not without means and ability. We don’t become brainless drifters. We become empowered guiders and shifters of this energy. Only when we open fully to it can we guide it, and to open to it means to let go of our resistance to it.
Consider that no one ever really does very well swimming against the current. Putting aside salmon and whatever crazy evolutionary thing taught them to swim upstream, we all do better finding the deeper currents in our lives and flowing with them. We all do so much better releasing into the reality of what’s already around us as opposed to fighting what is there. Your job and relationships are as they are. Accept them. Stop resisting them and thinking that your spouse is going to magically transform over night. Release that resistance to that reality. That’s part of how we come into the flow. The decisions you make after you fully accept your reality then become much more powerful. They become pro-active instead of reactive, and there’s just so much amazing energy that you can then cultivate and guide into proactive goals because it’s not dissipated and lost fighting everyone and everything around you as your reactive responses do.
Rebuilding Sandcastles Knowing that They’ll Be Washed Away
But still, as you find a better foundation for what you’re building, it will still always be a sandcastle. It will still always be temporary. Sometimes your sandcastle will get knocked down sooner as opposed to later, so appreciate it. Appreciate that you built it, and appreciate that it has been washed away. For those of you right in the middle of an awakening transition, it feels like every time you make a sandcastle–a new you and a new way of being in the world–it gets immediately knocked down. That’s good. You’ve already worn out that new you, and it’s time for another. Just because something gets washed away doesn’t invalidate the building of it nor the enjoyment of it if only for a few moments before the next wave comes. Ultimately, it will help you to be more open and to let go of more things. Because we can’t keep anything at the end of this life anyway. Somewhere out there I remember a t-shirt that read “He who dies with the most toys, still dies.” It’s morbid. But it’s true. It’s best to learn that earlier in life. It leads to fewer regrets.
Finding What’s Real: A New Foundation
After awhile, you really wonder what a good foundation looks like anymore. You may be so tired of rebuilding sandcastles. It’s okay. But life is temporary. Life is change. This is the truth of it all. But the best foundation that you can find to build your life will always be on faith. It will be on love. It will be on truth. These are the things that are real. But don’t take my word for it. Challenge this. Dig deeper in your journal. Write about what you think you can truly rely on, and honestly, you may only feel like it’s your car some days with how crazy life can get. And then I say, but can you really rely on your car? I think driving a car (and maybe it’s just because I live in the SF Bay Area) is a continual act of faith. Faith that someone won’t hit you. Faith that the internal combustion chamber continues to work right–we are, after all, riding controlled explosions. I can’t see how anything but faith, love, and truth can be any kind of firm foundation to build from.
Everything else, gets washed away.