The Fifth Wave

When I arrived at Moana Ula it was pitch black. Over 16 hours of travel time, and night was upon me. My lack of identifying the new environment barely affected me as I was ready to dive into slumber. It didn’t matter that sight of my surroundings was impaired, my other senses made me keenly aware that I was in a very different climate. From the hypnotic croaking of the coqui frogs to the combined aromatic lushness of the jungle, I knew I was no longer in New York City.

My friend Dena invited me to visit her new home on the Big Island of Hawaii. I never really considered visiting Hawaii, as I’m more of a city dweller when I travel. But the proposal seemed appealing as it came from a dear friend. In fact, Dena needed me to carry one of her 9-month old twins on the plane as she headed back to the island after visiting the mainland. This aspect solidified my decision — I like babies, I like planes, and I had already prolonged taking a vacation for years. My inner critic questioned if it would be a good choice, but another voice prompted me to accept the invitation and see what adventure would lie ahead.

Beyond communicating with Dena about the flight, I decided not to pre-plan anything about the 16 day trip ahead of me. My primary goal in going out there was to “get out of my head, and get into my body.” Doing any sort of planning seemed counter-intuitive to this approach. I quelled any urge to try to figure out the next step, and it was a relief to do so. It wasn’t like life was so difficult for me at the time, just that it was becoming too mechanical for my liking. I proceeded through most of my day on automatic pilot. I needed to switch things up and put myself in a position that allowed more spontaneity — to “step out of my comfort zone” as they say.

Well, step out of my comfort zone, I did. This physical environment was like no other I’d experienced. Lush trees and vegetation everywhere! It was amazing — it seemed like one thing grew on top of another creating a dense population of green. I have to admit, I was apprehensive. It was like my body was in some kind of shock — overwhelmed by the stimulus of all of these plant creatures. Strange to hear from someone who comes from a city with millions of people. But this was different — I’m used to people — I’m used to being stimulated by them. It’s like I had forgotten what it was like to experience this much stimulus other than from people. Stimulation from nature.

— —

Of course, there were some people around. There was Dena and her family, and the people that lived in their community. It was interesting, because for the first few days it felt like everything I looked at appeared so much clearer. Not just the colors and the greenery and the physical environment, but the interactions between people. It was like there was an extra acuity to all my senses. This concerned me, because I was actually hoping to dull my senses a bit on this vacation. Well, at least my particular senses that recognize the dynamics in people.

It seems the past few years in NYC while developing my holistic health counseling practice, it was getting increasingly difficult for me to “turn off” from playing that role. It doesn’t seem like that would be a bad quality to have, but it was beginning to take a toll on me. I found myself delaying opportunities to experience new things in life. It’s like my mind was tricking me, that if I left the “counselor-mode” of perceiving things, I’d have difficultly coming back around to it. I couldn’t chance that, could I? Or so a voice in my head would try to convince me.

Well, clearly that voice was over-ridden — somehow I landed in the Hawaiian jungle — a place that seemed like the edge of the world. Now that I was here, I was free, right? Not really. I could still feel the resistance in me. Even though there were acres of land surrounding me for exploration, I barely ventured beyond a comfortable distance from my bungalow at Moana Ula. What exactly was happening with me?

Dena would make suggestions about places we could explore, but I was reluctant. It was like a low-grade fear was blocking me. I was still in shock with my unfamiliar territory. I knew I wanted to go to a beach, as beaches feel familiar, but this too eluded me. I mentioned to Dena that I would like to go to the water as soon as she could make an arrangement. She told me that the beaches on this side of the island are not quite like regular sand beaches, but she suggested that we could go to Pohoiki Bay on Sunday.

— —

When I woke up on Sunday, I was itching to finally get by the ocean. James, Dena’s oldest son decided he’d be going to the watering holes nearby Moana Ula. Whereas Dena would be taking the younger kids to Pohoiki Bay as we discussed. I could choose which place I’d like to go. Both sounded intriguing and both would bring me to the ocean. First we were going to the large outdoor farmer’s market near Keaau. I didn’t mind the delay, as I was curious about the market.

In the market, there was a table with stones and crystals. I love being in a new place and seeing this. I rummage through the table and I hold each of the stones that I’m drawn to. Then there’s usually one that I don’t want to put down. This time it was a beautiful piece of green malachite. The woman at the table shared about the properties that malachite could signify. She said that in addition to being a balancing stone, that it was also a protective stone. I happily purchased it from her.

Her words reminded me of the when I met up with Cora before I left. Cora offered to read my cards, and I thought it would be fun to see if there would be any indications to my journey. The animal card I drew a card was a spider. I remember saying jokingly, “spiders aren’t animals” — ha! When she read the meaning of the card, it mentioned protection. Interesting, the malachite seems to be following the same theme. Hey, I’m in a new land, I’ll take all the symbolic protection I can get.

As we were flying out to the island, Dena warned me about there being lots of spiders on the grounds at Moana Ula. It was slightly off-putting to hear at first, but once I was on the island, there seemed to be an upside to them. Good thing I’ve never had a fear of them. I was pretty much ambivalent to them. Yet, it seems like they’re meant to be my spirit animal for this trip. I would’ve thought it to be something more exotic or indigenous to Hawaii, but hey, it is what it is.

At the market Dena dropped a bigger warning on me: that there’s high volume of staph bacteria on the land that could cause infection if I got any open cuts. Lovely. Well, that cancels out the option of hiking with James to the watering holes. It seems that would have a greater likelihood of me getting any cuts. Going with Dena and the kids to the Pohoiki Bay swimming area seemed like a safer bet. As we left the market, I noticed my mind incessantly repeating “I don’t want any open cuts, I don’t want any open cuts” and I just rubbed my malachite stone between my thumb and index finger and my thoughts began to relax.

— —

We were on our way to Pohoiki Bay, on the southeast shore of the Puna district. I felt assured choosing the milder option of the day’s activities. As we drove over, I could feel my excitement building, as I really wanted to get closer to the ocean since arriving on Wednesday. It was a weird juxtaposition, because I had delayed going on a vacation for so long, yet waiting these few days on Hawaii to go into the ocean seemed like an eternity. It was so close by, I could breathe it and sense it’s presence. It was calling and I was ready.

Arriving at Isaac Hale Beach Park had a familiar vibe, there were cars parked and a flurry of people with beach blankets and boogie boards. It appeared to be a popular Sunday outing in these parts. Rather than a sand beach to enter the water, it was a boat launch. No boats in sight though, but tons of people. Even though it’s considered an oceanfront park, it was hardly a park — just a few man-made structures alongside the natural, jagged lava rock coast of the southern Puna shore.

Dena and I set up a blanket and the babies seemed happy in the sun. Dena asked if I wanted to go in first, or if she should, as one of us had to watch the babies. I figured I’ve waited this long, I could wait a little longer. So I let her go in and get her reprieve from watching the babies. The babies were on good behavior as I watched Dena swim out past the jutting man-made pier that created the cove of the boat launch. I felt like I was getting closer and closer to some peacefulness that I’d been needing to experience. It would be here soon, I just had to be patient a while longer.

Soon enough Dena returned, and it was my turn. I took the boogie board from her, attached it to my wrist, and walked down the metal plank of the boat launch. I had to walk carefully as it was uncomfortable, but who cares, I was finally entering the Pacific. There were so many people splashing about, I just swam right past them and past the pier, making my way to the open water. The people were spread about the further I went, I’d just have to make sure that I didn’t drift too far out or get caught up in any rip current that might take me out further from the shore.

— —

Floating on the water was nearly indescribable. One of those experiences when your senses are so blissfully overloaded that words don’t even register. You’re just in it, captivated with awe. Some thoughts did register though. Like “this is what I traveled half way around the world for!” It seemed I had finally gotten the ‘distance’ I was craving. Not just for the sake of leaving any concerns I may have had, but to truly arrive to a place, a moment, that was so serene and peaceful.

It was like I was enveloped in the cradle of the Pacific. Just floating, resting on the boogie board… the sun, the air, the water, the serenity. The rhythm was hypnotizing. The expansive ocean disarming me, gently whispering, “let it go.” Rocking the cradle to remind me that every bit of it is past, “let it all go.” Into my present came great gratitude. I thought of my parents and family, and extended family, and friends and acquaintances, new people I had met, Dena, the kids, seeing all the faces at the market, and the bay, glancing to my left watching the surfers.

I was amazed, watching the surfers stand on their boards. Such physical prowess and agility, and speed. The pure joy they were having. I was in awe. It was so beautiful. I was thinking “this is right in front of me… I’m in this scene, part of this — I’m not watching this on TV or part of a film” — ha! I slowly sank into my body and felt the sensations of the water even stronger. I closed my eyes and my breaths got deeper. It appears I had finally achieved my desire to get out of my head and get deeper into my body. To perceive life in a more balanced way. It was sublime.

— —

Who knows how long my eyes were closed — likely only for seconds. But it was certainly minutes that my body was facing out toward the expansive sea. I then noticed there were fewer surfers, and they were all to the left of my view. I then pivoted to get a glance of the shore. It was a completely different sight. The beautiful shore was more of a cliff now compared to the boat launch entrance. Perhaps 10–15 feet high, charcoal black lava rock, with greenery and trees spouting from it.

I was still maintaining a similar distance form the the shore — who knows, I could’ve been a 100 ft out. But it was clear that the current was bringing me down the shore, on a south-western drift, rather than further out to sea. With this thought, I decided it would be best to start swimming back toward the boat launch entrance. As I turned in that direction. I could see the nearest surfer scurrying into action. Now that I was swimming east — with shore to my right and the surfer ahead to my left — I could see a large wave starting to form. I said to myself, “He’s going to catch that wave” — and as sudden as I had that thought, I realized how close he was to me, and how fast the wave was forming, and I said “I have to catch that wave!”

To which another voice in my head said, “you don’t catch waves” — having some inner identification that I’m not a surfer. Regardless, I quickly turned myself toward the shore, and started paddling faster on my board, and soon I began to feel the water rise. It was exhilarating for those first seconds, but I was too well aware of what was to come next. As I rose with the crest of the wave, I then joined it with the crash. In what was undoubtedly the most violent motion my body had ever experienced, I tumbled underwater with horrifying speed.

As intensely disorienting the physical sensation felt, there was an aspect of my being that knew I was supposed to relax and let it happen. That it would soon end and I would bob up to the surface. As I took the first gasp of air with salty water in my mouth and lungs, I could feel the instant relief that I was upright and had the slightest bearing of what had just happened. That relief was short-lived, as I noticed the sensation of the undertow beneath me. It was stronger than I’d ever felt before. I feared that the water was now hurrying offshore to form another wave behind me. In that instance of recognition, I could feel the undertow tug shift and the water once again began to push me forward.

Thinking “here we go again” while mentally and emotionally bracing myself for another violent tumble, I was propelled to another crest. As the wave began to crash, I thought, “oh my god, this is what it’s like before you die.” From the calm serenity to the explosive violent thrusts, then eventually back to calm serenity. Then I rationally countered the thought, “You can do this. You can do this a bunch more times if you need to.” I just had to find the rhythm in it and relax into it, then breathe whenever I was given the chance to come back up for air. I succeeded doing this a second time.

Relief again. Short-lived again. Strong undertow again. The feeling of push-back again. Up with the crest again. Crashing into a tumble of violence… again. But this time a new sensation. My feet hit the ocean floor while crashing with this third wave. Bringing with it, a new harrowing recognition, “Fuck, it’s bringing me to shore!” At that moment there was almost too much disbelief to have panic. Already I was feeling the next pull from the strong undertow.

I could remember James telling me that most of the ocean deaths weren’t drownings, rather they were pummeled against the rocky shore. I was now dealing with something out of my league. I didn’t know what to do. I was helpless, just driftwood between the ocean and the earth. And however they wanted to treat me, is how I would end up. As I came crashing from the fourth wave, I could feel the blunt underwater thumping of my legs hitting the floor. From just above my knees downward, I had met with part of the rocky ocean floor. Between those last two waves, I had gotten significantly closer to shore.

The sense of panic arrived. This time my gasp for air uttered the word “Help!” A guttural scream that I had never before heard exit from my mouth. This was really happening. This cannot happen. This can happen. But wait,….. the undertow…. it’s lasting longer, there’s no push back….

— —

I felt a huge sense of solace come over me as I recognized the changed water pattern. A joyful internal exclamation “No push back!” led me to suddenly remember that I had the boogie board leash attached to my wrist. It was still there. I pulled it in, grabbed it tightly and turned to paddle east again. In my view was a little Hawaiian boy on his board, looking at me with a puzzled look as if to say, “did you just scream something?” I found an ounce of humor in that. Although I’m not sure of how much of that was my own perception, but it certainly added some levity to the situation. I felt out of danger, and I started paddling toward the boat launch.

In what felt like 20 minutes, but likely only 5, I mustered up my energy to make it back to shore. The water had calmed down considerably, but I was exhausted. It was like my legs were in shock, so I couldn’t kick, I could only paddle with my arms. I was determined to get back though and see what damage had been done. I got to the metal dock, and passed all of the playful swimmers. As I walked out from the water, I could see blood coming from various parts of my legs. It hurt to walk, but I had to find Dena and share what just happened.

She looked at me with much surprise, and I could barely recount the story. Fortunately it was early enough in the afternoon that we could make it into town to buy some ointment to treat my wounds. I can’t remember if I looked back at the shore and vast ocean from that point again. I was physically and emotionally spent. I just needed to move on to a space where I could rest. We dropped off the kids, and Dena and I road to Hilo. Once again, any of that discussion, I can’t recall. Fortunately, I knew I was in good hand with Dena’s nurturing and loving nature. We made it to the store on time, and I got some Goldenseal mixture that would both soothe the pain and help ensure that I would not get staph infection.

— —

When we arrived at Moana Ula it was pitch black again. Simply exiting the car was painful, but I felt instant comfort in hearing the soothing harmony of the coqui frogs. They would help me drown out any thoughts of “what if’s” or “I shouldn’t haves” of “what the fuck was I thinking?!” — That’s just it — I wasn’t thinking. I had achieved my intention in coming to Hawaii! Sure, perhaps I could’ve done it on solid ground, rather than in a raging ocean. But it happened how it happened. And I arrived on the other side. I’m not playing that game of would of, could of, should of. I’m here now and I’m as present as I’ve ever been.

I walked up to the screen door of my bungalow, taking a big sigh before entering. I looked along the doorway, noticing the spiders. It’s as if they hadn’t moved at all in the time I was gone. Instead of passing them quickly to enter my bungalow, I stared at them more closely. They had long thin legs and beautiful specks of gold on them. They were so serene. Perhaps they were there to protect in some way after all. I told them they were beautiful and thanked them.

I sat down on my bed, tears streamed down my face as I rubbed the Goldenseal into my tattered legs. There was physical pain, but the tears were for the huge emotional release of what had happened. I reached over to grab my malachite stone. The thought kept entering my head “What if there was a 5th wave?” And I stopped myself before I could fully picture the recourse of having my helpless body get pummeled against the rocky shore. Instead, I affirmed “it happened how it happened.” And I was here now, listening to coquis, rubbing Goldenseal, talking to spiders, holding a green stone.

I pulled out of my thoughts, out of my body, and back to the expansiveness that I was feeling before the waves had met me. Back to the tranquility of the Pacific, back to when I was connected to feeling the gratitude for family and friends, for the life that I’m living, for the opportunities I’ve been granted. Floating in the water, that gratitude felt so deep. To be on the other side of such a grand experience — the feeling of gratitude now felt tenfold. It was deeper, and wider, and ever more intense. I was nearly astonished that I could reconnect with this level of gratitude.

I was beyond myself and accepted the revelation. There was a 5th wave, a wave of gratitude…. so enormous, so encompassing…. I could hardly contain it. In that moment, all I could do was settle into being. A gift like no other.