The Creator's Compass
I Remember His Smile

I Remember His Smile

Sand Dunes and Water Diamonds

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I remember his smile, his joy, and the sand dunes. I don’t recall the others. Even the boys my age, which I was hyper-aware of at all times, have no weight in this memory. The lack of the boys speaks to the power that morning had on me. Geological formations were not something that easily pulled my nineteen-year-old self’s attention away from the wild recklessness of young men so alluring and frightening in equal measure.

His face did not allure or frighten me. His face invited in joy.

What did he look like? I can not tell you. He is only a vague, ghost-like image of a middle-aged man in my mind’s eye. I simply remember his joy, and mine.

He always waited at the bottom of the bus stairs, more awake than the lot of us college students on an early Saturday morning. We would pile in, choosing seats at random, some of us peering through grimy windows that told of many outdoor labs with different lots of college kids led by other professors. I never got used to the university bus idling with the acrid burn of diesel. It felt foreign and exciting, for I had never ridden the bus after school when I lived with my family.

The old bus promised learning outside the walls of lectures, chalkboards, tests and the metal seats that either made you sweat or burned your backside with a sting of cold. I always got good marks in school and usually caught on quickly, minus the horrors of statistics and the other nightmare of math.

Despite performing well in learning institutions, I loathed the classroom. It was torture being forced to sit still, paying attention to the endless drone of a bored professor, or subjected to the terror of a masochistic professor who delighted in calling names of students at random. Anxiety flourished inside a classroom for me, and I often became like a dried up, rigid sea sponge, unable to soak in lessons to my full capacity.

But whisked away to be made aware of the hidden beauties of earth by the clunky old bus with him, his pen tucked into the pocket of his outdoor shirt, softened the sharp edges of anxiety. Outside and free, my sea sponge-self became pliable, and I could soak in knowledge with considerably more ease.

Each Saturday we bumped along in the bus, rolling over winding, mostly empty roads for our lab hours to see the wonders of the natural world, specifically the crust of the earth, aka dirt and rock.

That day of the sand dunes, we (me and the others I can’t recall) were bundled up in layers, as the Pacific North Coast is rarely warm even with the sun out, which it was that day. And it was beautiful.

The redwood trees barreled up to the sky, drinking in the mists of the sea, right up to the edges of the cliffs shooting down to the untamed waters ornamented by the sun with water diamonds twinkling like the brightest stars you’ve ever seen.

The old bus delivered us beyond the steep cliffs and to a magical land of sand dunes, seagrass, and the sound of breaking waves whispering secrets of distant lands that they had lapped against.

My eyes cast out, following the water diamonds to the horizon, as my bare feet sunk into the impossibly high sand dune we all stood upon. Our shoes congregated in the grasses behind us, our delight in front.

“Come on, let’s play!” he said, beckoning his flock. He was our professor, and we adored him. So flock we did.

We flew down the immense dune, the cascading sand carrying us along. There was no pretense of sexual appeal or intellectual prowess as we skied sand. We were bursting into our joy.

He smiled, his happiness beaming, watching us live as we all should live no matter the age.

“Again!” he shouted.

We willingly obeyed and scrambled up the slippery dune, clawing and panting until we reached the peak. Invigorated, we looked over the roaring sea that muted all of our voices singing out without care. Bursts of cool winds brought wildness to our hair, pinched our cheeks pink, and dried our lips. I licked my lips, wanting to devour everything about that moment, the salt’s delightful snap staining my tongue.

How many times we flew down and scrambled up that dune, I don’t remember. But I remember his smile and his joy. I remember him. I remember. And I am grateful.

The sand dunes are such a wonderful memory. There are so many wonderful memories of which I am comprised, like the strata of the Pacific North Coast. I make efforts religiously to recall these types of memory. I have to because I rather enjoy feeling good, and feeling good is often a choice.

Experiencing good feelings is a choice because our brains evolved to sort and make sense of the world to keep us alive. And the ugly side of that truth is that we tend to remember the bad things with more aliveness than the good times to make sure we stay away from things that hurt us. In my observation of myself and others, this negative dwelling can be a tragedy of our human experience because it causes such intense and vast suffering. Yet, our good memories, our good stains on our consciousness exist, and we just need to make it a habit to unearth them so that they bubble up more naturally. If we keep choosing good memories and focus on thoughts that encourage balance in our bodies and minds, in time, our thought habits are drawn with much more effortlessness to those ideas, or thoughts, which makes us feel better and more at peace.

But what can we do with the terrible memories? Denying bad memories only strengthens them and makes them prone to cause us even more suffering. Fortunately we can train our minds not to dwell on the bad. I don’t say this flippantly. Doing this requires courage and lots of it. I know people who’ve been through hell and back, who struggle with severe PTSD. For help with understanding the complexities of PTSD, head over to my dear friend Adrian Purchas’s Substack publication.

The best methods I’ve discovered that help to train our minds not to dwell on bad thoughts and memories is to bring the body’s nervous system into a baseline of calm and peace with meditative practices and movement.

When we find the practices that best nurture us as individuals towards greater calm, the gardens of our minds are prepped, our soils rich and ready to be able to intentionally choose good memories and focus on healthy ideas.

This memory of my geology professor is a gift, a gift that he gave. His love for his subject he professed, and his love for his students were a rarity in my experience of education. His joy and love embedded into my soul, and I imagine into hundreds of other souls. The ripple effect of his compassion continues forth, as his light helped ignite my own joy that I share with friends and family.

Joy and compassion married together have a great, miraculous ripple effect. It has a power that flows and moves through us like wind through an aspen tree, causing the leaves to flutter and dance. Your compassion and joy has this great and powerful ripple effect. We all are so powerful, able to bring immense love into this world if we so choose.

I’d like to end with a thank you to my professor, to his compassion, and to his joy that continues to bless my heart and mind to this day. He is forever a part of the fluttering dance of my very imperfect, but ripening, waltz with compassionate action.

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The Creator's Compass
Explorations into the philosophy and practice of what is compassion and how to understand its depth beyond feel-good phrases that fly past us, yet never take root.