Flotsam and Jetsam

When my sons were much younger, we spent the warm months on the westernmost tip of Nantucket. Most days, we biked to Smith’s Point to swim and play and seine the water for anything that might be interesting. On the way there, we would pass two little cottages with the names Flotsam and Jetsam. It didn’t really matter what those words meant. They were just fun words to say.

I was reminded of them today as I read “Spirituality and Aloneness” by Rabbi Rami Shapiro in Spirituality & Health. He writes about why sitting alone with your own thoughts can be so bloody difficult. Once you become aware of the onslaught of ideas, worries and thoughts that crash like waves through your mind, you come to realize you’re observing your own madness. And, let’s be honest, it’s not always pleasant. 

“I come to see it for what it is: a ceaseless swirl of mental flotsam and jetsam outside my willful control. I have no idea why some idea pops into my head, and no idea why it fades away as another idea takes its place,” Shapiro writes.

It takes an awful lot of practice to understand that our thoughts are simply … thoughts. We get to choose whether or not they influence our behavior just as we get to choose how much time to give to worries about the past or the future.  Easy to say. Harder to do.

When I think about those summer days on Nantucket, I don’t recall having lots of ocean debris floating around in my head. I was present in the moment with my boys, making sure they were safe in the water, that they were fed and that they were happy, as a Mom will do. By sunset, I was so tired that drifting off to sleep was easy and welcomed. 

Just maybe ... there might be something to that combination of being fully present, being outside, being active and being with people you love that makes for a calmer mind.