Ah, Woody Bay! A slice of heaven on the north Devon coast, a well kept secret awaiting you after a 20 minute wander from the main road on a winding steep path through ancient, dense Sessile Oak woods. I’ve been making a kind of regular pilgrimage there for the last few years and I never tire of its beauty and the Presence I find amidst her woods, cliffs and rocks.
These boulders (much larger than the photo makes them appear) don’t look inviting in terms of a ‘beach experience’ but in fact my favourite thing to do is arrive just ahead of low tide, and boulder-hop down the length of the bay (past a waterfall and a Victorian tidal swimming pool) to a sandy patch at the far end and a wild swim in the ocean. I did this last week with my partner and his teenage daughter and it lived up to the magic. We set off along the rocks, each taking a slightly different route. I stayed high, enjoying (cautiously) leaping from the top of one boulder to the next, with no forward planning, trusting each boulder to lead me on. The teenager stayed low, peering into rock pools in wonder at the treasures found there. Julian, my partner, aware, in his advanced years (!) of his bones’ vulnerability, did a bit of both. We came together at points, but mostly found our own ways of getting to the far end, having separate mini adventures on the way. Once there, tired and hot, we revived in the waves and cold ocean water.
How boring it would have been to have simply followed in each other’s footsteps, or even worse, if someone before us had plotted a prescribed (health & safety) route! As I stood at some point, atop a high boulder and gazed along the landscape of rocks, I felt such gratitude for the beauty and the fun, and for my body that still allows me to have this experience. I felt joy watching my companions each make their separate ways. Surely the Presence that I sense in that place also felt pleasure in/as us as we wended/played/experimented our way across the rocks.
As in Woody Bay, so in life. Can we trust and rejoice in our own and each other’s journeys? We prescribe and proscribe directions, whether socially, culturally or religiously, at our, and others’, peril. While it might keep them ‘safe’, and ourselves safe in our preferred beliefs and identities, it shuts down the joy and adventure and becomes … well … boring!
By all means, encourage others to take the journey. Sing the praises of the adventure and the destination (and the wild ocean swim!). But let them find their own way. Trust each person’s preferences for the route they take, as well as the diversions and mishaps.
Appreciate the differences, how some travel slowly, or contemplatively, while others enjoy the challenge of great leaps of faith, or ‘riskier’ choices. (We saw two young men leap into the water with surfboards and paddle out of sight into the wild waves. I felt a motherly anxiety for them, Julian was more able to trust them to their own adventure – I still have much to learn!). Some travel with maps and compasses, others go free-style. Some like company, others prefer solitude.
Go your own way, and let others go theirs. (There is no bogey-man waiting to pounce!)
Enjoy the times you meet together on the way. Gather round a fire, a rock pool, an altar, to recount your adventures.
Offer support and direction only if requested!
Trust that there are many ways of reaching the sandy, welcoming shore. The ocean and her delights await us all.