Sand Castles of Suffering

by Rachelle Luck

Seven year old me stands on the beach and looks out towards the ocean. I watch the waves, and they are powerful. They turn and break, rush up onto the shore and then are pulled back out to sea, quickly. This happens over and over again. I am mesmerized by the hypnotic rhythm of the waves.

I walk to the water and get ready to build. I scoop up as much sand as I can fit into the pales I’ve brought. The first eight towers of my sand castle are built, and to my relief, the sand to water ratio is perfect. Next, I begin building the walls. My parents don’t know it, but I’ve secretly brought my most prized colored glass marbles with me to decorate these walls. Once the walls are built and connected I take a big breath in, and smile. I am satisfied and proud.

My older cousin is finishing up the last touches of their sandcastle behind mine. Their plan is to connect the two castles by building a magnificent sea shell bridge. I’m excited at first. I place one sea shell after another making my way towards my castle, but then the criticism begins. My older cousin tells me that the way I’ve built the road is wrong. “Go this way!” they shout. Fine. It’s not what I want, but fine.

I make sandy fists with my hands and I hold them tight. “Wait!” my cousin screams, “You have to start over! I want the sea shells flipped the other way!” I look at the path I’ve built, at each sea shell I’ve place deliberately, with perfect spacing and I feel the feelings bubbling up. I stand up, walk to the beginning, and I start over, flipping each sea shell over one after the other. As I’m working, I see my cousin slyly taking the marbles out of my sand castle and placing them into their pocket. My face feels hot. My breath begins to race. “Hey! Stop! Those marbles decorate the wall!” I yell. “They are mine now!” they say.

My teeth are clenched. I take a big breath in and scream, “If you take one more marble…” But as I speak this declaration, my cousin lifts their foot and crushes one of the eight towers. Disbelief, betrayal, rage, confusion, and sadness flood my mind and body. I go cold. I’ve learned that I won’t get what I want by expressing myself so I don’t. Instead, I banish my emotions somewhere others can’t see them, somewhere they won’t get out. Those feelings are no longer welcome on the beach of my life. They’ve been exiled. They begin to suffer on the beaches of my inner landscapes.

I’m now 29 years old now and those same unacceptable feelings still rise up and show themselves. The same feelings from back when I were seven knock on the door of my reality, the ones I’ve rejected and run from are still present and at work. But now they work in secret. They have built strong towers, beautifully decorated walls, and sea shell paths that connect empires. However, these sand castles don’t leave me feeling mesmerized, satisfied, or proud. What I see is wretched. The feelings that I’ve exiled to this beach have been busy at work with no guidance from me. The sandcastles that they’ve made do not have a perfect water to sand ratio, nor are they made with my favorite colored glass marbles. They are made with the secret whispers of suffering.

Now, I hear these whispers and am called to a resonant land.

When I arrive at the gates the sign reads: Sandcastles of Suffering, an Empire. It’s eerie here. The sky is orange and the air is thick. The landscape is brown and muddy. The soil is deprived of nutrients. I walk along the path and observe my emotions at work. Disbelief builds and tears down castles day and night. They say their castles are never good enough. Disbelief is tired and worn to the bone. Disbelief’s best friend is Fear. Fear builds sandcastles at the direction of others and does not believe their castle is worth bringing into creation. Fear’s best friend is Betrayal. Betrayal builds a castle and invites everyone in, but is not home when they show up. Betrayal doesn’t know who to trust. Betrayal’s best friend is Confusion. Confusion builds castles but refuses to live in them or to even see the castles they’ve build. Confusion is upset and weary. Confusion’s best friend is Rage. Rage destroys castles. Rage is unpredictable and scary. Rage shows up unannounced. Rage’s best friend is Sadness. Sadness tells everyone else that they were born to build sand castles, yet weeps in self-inflicted misery as they build magnificent castles to care for those they love.

I’ve come to the end and I can barely breathe. I drop to my knees. I’ve seen all I can bear. I call out to the exiled pieces of myself and ask them to come back. Some walk while others run towards me. As they crash into me they dissolve, and I begin to feel. For the first time ever I cower, I scream, I writhe in pain, I feel lost, and go wild with emotion. I am out of control. When I come back to myself I am sitting on the beach.

In front of me is my Empire: Sandcastles of Suffering. Beyond it I notice the rhythmic waves rising and turning and breaking. I watch as the water rushes up onto the shore and sense the power as it’s pulled back out to sea. I take an easeful inhale and feel integrated. I now understand the pieces of myself I once rejected. I watch the waves break and rush up onto shore as I exhale, this time the waves crashing over these Sandcastles of Suffering. I gasp and breathe in only to see the water pulling back out to sea taking the suffering with it.

As I sit watching the waves, I begin to realize that my inhale pulls the water out to sea and my exhale pushes the water onto the shore. In that moment, I understand that any sandcastles of suffering that I create can be taken back to sea with breath.

by Rachelle Luck


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