I absolutely love the smell of bayberry bushes (Myrica or Morrella pensylvanica)! And I’m so fortunate that many of our daily walks these days involve wandering through knee-high bayberries along high cliffs above the Atlantic ocean. Though not particularly aromatic as standing shrubs, when I run my hands through the leaves I release their scent and, breathing it in deeply, I can feel my entire body unwind. Whatever thoughts were preoccupying my mind and keeping me from being fully present seem to fall away. I find myself sighing deeply and surrendering to a profound sense of interconnection, while also filling up with feelings of joy, love, and openheartedness. I’m infused with just being, unencumbered with ideas of what should be.
I am not, however, particularly fond of the smell of seaweed. In fact, I find it downright unpleasant and offensive! Particularly the kind of seaweed that tends to collect in large mounds on local beaches this time of year. Rotting seaweed. Yuck. The smell wafts freely through the air, overtaking all other more subtle fragrances. (It’s a fact that rotting seaweed gives off hydrogen sulfide which actually can be toxic when not in open ventilated spaces such as beaches.) Nevertheless, I do make my way, though somewhat haltingly, through the seaweed stench each day because I know that a short climb up the cliff on the other side of this stretch of beach leads to an open field and a lot more bayberries. I just have to put up with the distasteful for a bit.
I know, of course, that I could choose to focus elsewhere while surrounded by the seaweed: The sound of water rolling in. The colours of Autumn. The rocks – I’m particularly fond of granite as the Canadian Shield is my heart home. The cloud formations or patterns of light. The possibilities are simply endless! So, why choose to focus on the stinky seaweed? Why indeed.
My first instinct is to say, “Just choose a different focal point, Nicky.” And yet, on a deeper level I also know that there is something for me to learn from getting up close and personal with the seaweed, rather than doing my best to ignore it. As just one example, seaweeds are filled with protein, antioxidants, calcium, iodine and other minerals, depending on the species. And I do actually enjoy eating some of them, although it is critical that one know the source of one’s seaweeds, as they readily absorb heavy metals from the water.
It would not serve me (or the world) to simply turn away from what I dislike; to close my heart to those (people or other beings) who raise feelings of annoyance in me; to avoid situations that frustrate me to no end, or to ignore fears when they arise. So often judgments and emotions obscure our ability to see clearly. How can we learn to be more mindful of what is in our midst without immediately reacting to it?
The seaweed will often be between me and the next field of bayberries. That will likely not change, though I can. The smell of seaweed may always remain distasteful to me, yet I can notice that feeling faster and let go of it sooner. It sounds like such a simple thing to do, yet it requires constant vigilance. And I fail over and over. I get caught in the storyline rather than letting it pass me by. I forget to take the time to pause; to quiet my mind; to choose differently.
And so this afternoon’s walk among the bayberries and seaweed reminded me once again of how easily I can be provoked, of the balancing of light and dark, and of the importance of my daily practice on my ability to act from a place of mindfulness.
PS. The next time you have the opportunity to take pleasure in a deep whiff of bayberries, be sure to do so! We all need to experience that profound letting go upon occasion.