Only the Broken Wave Knows the Ocean
by Robert Augustus Masters / @RobertMasters
Paralleling and distracting us from our suffering is an abundance of dysfunction in spiritual drag.
This includes spiritualized greed (think so-called prosperity consciousness), spiritualized escapism (dissociation masquerading as transcendence), spiritualized narcissism (the you-can-have-it-all deification of me-ness), and other forms of spiritual bypassing — meaning the use of spiritual beliefs and practices to distract us from our pain, our relational hassles, and our developmental challenges.
And at the same time, there coexists a highly functional — and, not surprisingly, far less popular — spirituality, one that neither exploits nor bypasses, but is robustly grounded in deliberate intimacy with all that we are.
In this spirituality, love, awareness, passion, and integrity function as one. Its practice is as panoramic as it is precise, as fresh as it is timeless, as discerning as it is open. It is emotionally alive and literate, and energetically vital and present, without losing or dulling any of its spaciousness and clarity. And it is utterly natural, available to all for whom transparency, authenticity, and integrative wholeness are central.
Such spirituality is enormously compassionate, being rooted in the direct knowingness that what we do to another we do to ourselves. Its compassion is kind without being nice, fierce without being cruel, soft without being weak, inclusive without being neurotically tolerant.
If it must get angry, it does so without being aggressive. If it must weep, it does so without collapsing. If it must sacrifice, it does so without any trace of martyrdom. If it must dig deep, it doesn’t mind getting its hands dirty.
In its infinite sky, every cloud matters. In its infinite ocean, every wave matters. But the unbroken wave does not know the ocean; it is too intact, too self-contained, to really let in intimations of something vaster and deeper than itself. And how can it break without some sort of shore?
Incarnation provides the shores, the reefs, the boulders, the unyielding crystallizations against which the waves must break, shatter, go to pieces, come undone, come unraveled. In the subtle worlds (structurally akin to our sleeptime dreams), waves are unconstrained by physical laws, but in the “regular” world, waves get no breaks when it comes to breaking apart against solid physicality. And thank God for such breaking, such a breaking down and breaking open, for without it we very likely would remain in a kind of free-floating amniotic limbo…
It is in that breaking, that shattering shorecoming, that smashing grace, that the wave starts to lose or shed its sense of identifying itself as a wave. Disintegration happens, making more and more room for an unsuspected integration, a cohesiveness centered by a much deeper identity. Disillusionment happens, a dissolution of illusion, making more and more room for deeper truths. Despair happens, uprooting the hope of being a more successful or better wave, making more and more room for a deeper life.
And suddenly, miraculously, spontaneously, the ocean is looking and existing through the wave, outliving it and yet simultaneously being it. Here, the wave is gone yet never so here, never so fully itself. This is pure paradox to the mind, but truth to the heart, richly embodied openness to what we truly are. This is not the end of spiritual life, but the beginning, providing a truly fitting foundation for living the best life possible.
Only the broken wave can know the ocean. Breakdown precedes breakthrough. Breaking thus, we break open. And in breaking open, we make room for all that we are, dark and light, high and low, open and closed. No escape — and no entrapment. Infinite waves, infinite shores, all held in undying love, a love that has no opposite.
My gaze rides the latest wave coming to shore, rushing toward the kelpy boulders, the jagged outcroppings, the alabaster sand, and breaks with it, spilling and tumbling, and shining, shining with undying life as it breathes its last, leaving a fast vanishing lacy outline of seafoam that expresses primordial significance through its untranslatable silence.
Let us cease avoiding our shorecoming. Let us realize that what we would hold intact is already shattered. In that shatteredness, that primal undoing, there is an unsuspected awakening and luminosity, a reflected brilliance and presence through which we can recognize that we are broken enough to be whole. Only the broken wave knows the ocean.
Robert Augustus Masters is a psychotherapist, group leader, bodyworker, and teacher of spiritual deepening practices, integrating the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual in his practice. He has authored eight books, including Divine Dynamite, Darkness Shining Wild, and, most recently, Spiritual Bypassing. His essays have appeared in magazines ranging from Magical Blend to the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, as well as in several anthologies. And running rampant through all his writing is poetry, keeping his prose on its toes.