The moments we can’t see (Happy Photo)

As always, if the photo is why you’re here scroll on down!

The photo today is what I call a “lucky shot.” Which means that I lack the skills to actually capture photos like this one, but somehow managed to do it anyway. As always, it is minimally processed.

I’ve been wanting to post this photo for awhile, but it’s a difficult one to find a quote for. Unlike so many of my other favorite shots, this one doesn’t seem to lend itself easily to any special interpretation. It’s just a neat photo of a moment in time that is usually not visible to the human eye. Technology helps us capture and freeze such moments (in this case, the moment before a wave comes crashing down), which is cool, but I’m not really sure there’s any deep meaning there. Ultimately all I could come up with is that there are millions of moments like this in life that we can’t or don’t see. Life goes by, we miss a lot, we need to stay in the moment and try to enjoy it…blah blah blah. Yeah, it’s all been said ad nauseam by everyone from Lao-Tzu to basically every mommy blogger.

So I started meditating on the photo. What else could it mean in terms of where I am in my life right now? As those who have been reading know, I’ve been struggling. One difficult experience after another adds itself to the pile. A difficult breakup, an unexpected and devastating medical diagnosis, and unfortunate experience with a scary guy who seemed like he might become a stalker, bad feedback from my favorite advisor on a dissertation chapter. And then, guys, the icing: I owed money on my taxes this year.

I’m keeping all this in perspective. I’m not saying I haven’t cried buckets these last few weeks, but I’m cognizant of my blessings: parents who are healthy, ditto my sister, I can pay my mortgage, I have friends, and I am making some money here and there, and so far, it’s been enough.

But still, I find myself asking those questions we all ask when going through challenges. Why is this happening? Why is it happening to me? Why is it happening now? What should I do?

And there are no answers. Not really.

Those who believe in free will would say it’s the unfolding of consequences of all the choices I’ve made along the way, and that I must use my free will to change or fight my circumstances. Those with faith in God would say that it is God’s will, which we cannot understand, but must accept. Daoists would say something surprisingly similar: that the universe unfolds as it should, and rather than fighting this, we should seek to be in harmony with it – go with the flow, so to speak. A scientist friend of mine believes the meaning of life is to fight against entropy – so I suppose his advice would be to do what I can to create some order out of the chaos, to salvage what I can to keep going.

I don’t subscribe fully to any particular spiritual or other lens for viewing life, though some appeal to me more than others. But what all have in common is this idea that we can’t stop bad things from happening. They vary on whether the correct approach is acceptance or action.

I’m not against taking action. But I feel, intuitively, that now is a time for me to practice acceptance. To sit and listen. To practice inaction. Once I realized this, the photo below took on a different meaning for me.

There’s a scene in Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love in which she has a dream that a Yogi guru meets her on a beach and tells her to figure out how to stop the ocean waves from rolling in. So she starts drawing up all kinds of plans, but finally gives up in frustration. She does not possess the skills to figure out how to do it. Then she hears the Yogi laughing, and he basically ridicules her (but in a kind guru way) for ever thinking she could possibly stop the ocean (p. 146).

So for today’s Happy Photo I’ve picked a Lao-Tzu quote, because his philosophy I think best captures this idea: that the world unfolds according to a way (the Dao) that we cannot stop, and the best thing to do as the waves come crashing down is to relax into them rather than fear or fight them. Then, eventually, things will work out on their own or we will know what action to take that is in harmony with the Dao – and this will lead to happiness and peace.


“Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?”

(Lao-Tzu, trans. S. Mitchell)



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