I’m a to-do list junkie. I love planning, setting goals, creating healthy routines (even if I don’t always follow them), and organizing. Office supply stores are danger-zones for me. And don’t even get me started on packing cubes!
Despite that, I also have a spontaneous, free, wanderer side. When I embody that freedom, I’m a better friend, listener, partner, and person. But sometimes I get out of balance–especially when I’m uber-focused on a project. At those times, completely unplugging from my routine brings me back to balance.
On my last big stay in Costa Rica, my “goal” (ironic) was to trade all my scheduled ways for a month of spontaneity.
I needed to get my ducks out of a row.
It turns out ducks weren’t helpful–but sandpipers?
Each morning I left my cabina before dawn, and ventured into the darkness down a deserted road toward the Pacific Ocean. Instead of staying in the mainstream of things, I walked south along the shore to a small, lively river that emptied into the sea.
As the sun glimmered first light on the day, people slowly began to trickle onto the beach. Under the spell of surfers dancing on water, or jogging before the heat, most people had no interest in the happenings around the river.
I felt like the only human left on the edge of the world.
The river became a safe harbor for me. Tucked away, I could wipe the sleep from my eyes, meditate, putter at my notebook, and watch the world wake up–no agenda.
The first day, I found a custom armchair in the form of a white driftwood log, just across the river. A large group of small brown and white birds with longish beaks fished for breakfast at the water’s edge. They watched intently as I waded across the river, water up to my shoulders and beach bag on my head.
Thrown off by the depth of the river and preoccupied with saving my notebook, I stumbled onto shore. Most of the birds flew off at my grand entrance–nothing elegant about it.
Only four courageous sandpipers were left, a clumsy human not about to deter them from a buffet breakfast.
Brave and cunning too, soon those four were fishing beside me–without any competition.
The rest of the group looked on regretfully from up the river. I imagined them saying “Since when did we start trusting humans?” or “Hey, that’s my fish–I’d been watching that one since dawn!”
Posing as great friends with each other, sandpipers are actually quite competitive about breakfast. One catches a fish, and the others race after him. No aggression or grabbing, just a great deal of running at each other. Best movie ever.
I came to love my sandpiper mornings at the river. Wake-up, walk beach, wade river, sit on log, and watch birds run at each other. I had a routine–but a casual one. Relaxing in the sand watching their frenzied organization made me the easygoing one in the crowd.
One day, fifteen sandpipers allowed me into their mad world. It was like they handed me the silver medal of trust. Comfy in my riverside chair and careful not to make any sudden moves, I was drunk on their acceptance of me. Some of them got so relaxed they starting taking stand-up naps beside me.
Imagine if humans did that? Tucked our heads into the nook of our shoulder and fell fast asleep, standing up at breakfast?
The next few days brought much of the same, but with more of the bird crew staying on for the “brunch with human on a log” special. For them, it was a “fish and ignore the human” situation. But for me it was a great romanticized kinship. There was such simplicity in hanging around these purpose-driven creatures.
Again, I woke in the dark and started my trek south, motivated by my little bird world. It was a new-love kind of excitement.
But there was a surprise at the rendezvous point.
I didn’t do any wading across anything to get to the armchair log–because there was no river. It’s called low tide.
Looking down at my feet, I realized no sandpiper breakfast could survive in the slight stream of warm water flowing across my flip-flops. I plopped down on the log alone, struck with momentary abandonment.
The absurdity hit me. On my mission to wander and un-schedule myself, I had quickly fallen back into the familiar.
Without even realizing it, I’d tried to take the wild out of wilderness, and replace it with steady and dependable. Lets put up a white picket fence and all live together on a lifelong fish-fetching picnic!
The mighty Pacific had changed her rhythm, but what about my need for little brown and white birds running beside a driftwood log? I laughed at myself. Even when wandering is my mission, again and again I’m tempted to take root–and get my ducks (or sandpipers) back in a row.
And then I realized, it’s in my nature to have a routine, and it’s not such a bad thing.
Routine, steadiness, and reliability have helped make things happen in my life, and I’m grateful for that. These qualities are only problematic if I harden and become rigid, or am unable to flow with the changing tides of life. Flexibility and adaptability are the key.
I doubt I’ll ever be the wander-woman gypsy-type, and that’s okay.
The thought of embracing the structured side of myself, instead of trying to “work on” spontaneity made my body relax a little deeper into the sand.
Suddenly there was a flash of fast-moving familiarity. I turned to look over my shoulder. Running toward me fearlessly along the barely-there river was a single white sandpiper. Perhaps the outcast, or maybe a kindred spirit stuck in the old routine like me, it didn’t matter.
Breathing deeply, I smiled at what a little trust could draw in.