Posted by: alegra22 | March 16, 2013

sharks at low tide


The land has been drying up but it feels like I’m swelling. My flesh continues to expand, absorbing all of the heat, making me cranky about the clothes I can’t comfortably fit into, the hours that squeeze me as I sit in a classroom, trying to take in layers upon layers of assignments, guidance on behavior management, and then, of course, pedagogy.

I shift in my seat. Feel my thighs stick together. I dream of saltwater and a lean body.

The first three weeks of my teacher training have left me itchy, pacing at the edges of my life; drinking a lot of wine, craving salt/grease, and  indulging in over-priced gluten-free cookies at the student cafeteria. Cookies that need to be dipped in bitter, poorly made mocha.

For those first few weeks it didn’t matter; there was something magical about those cookies and coffee. They hit my stomach and expanded. I laughed a little more freely with all of that chocolate and butter coating my insides. I felt just a wee more human and capable and less self-serious. It was a cookie and coffee sort of faith.

But by the end of the day, my skin would be pressing against the fabric of my clothes. I’d be angry at myself for not going to the gym with its poor air-conditioning.  My lack of enthusiasm about wading through shoddy equipment swarming with muscle-bound and self-assured sports science students, left me feeling like an introvert. I considered myself diminished because once upon a time I could wear shorts without feeling ashamed…but I’d try to ignore these thoughts because, really, I’m old enough to know better, right?

I’m evolved enough, right?
Uh. Nope.

I’d get home and climb out of my uncomfortable clothing. I’d be sticky, overheated, pissed off at the warm weather, and I’d get into my husband’s basketball shorts, something I could feel swallowed up in, smaller than myself….free, really, of myself and my body.

I haven’t felt this sort of conflict with my body since I was a teenager or in my early twenties. I’ve tried to surround this old enemy in intellect; circle it again and again in a tight little bundle and shove it far back in the closet of my self, like some sort of article of self that has been shamed and needs to be hidden.

But here I am tonight, writing about it. This is what comes out of me when I thought I would write about the unfurling dialogue between me and my children.

No, here I am, writing about my shame about being in a body I’ve betrayed.

I’ve been dreaming a lot about sharks.

There is an undeniable connection. Sharks that keep me from paddling out to waves are always a sign of the ways I’m letting anxiety and fear control my life.

And when I say dreaming  ‘a lot’, what I mean is this:

I’ve been unable to get through a night without either; paddling out into deep waters populated by predatory shadows, or wandering into muddy waters and then being chased to shore.

Tonight, after many conversations with friends over this last week, not just friends, but MY people…my tribe…these are the people I can lay myself down in front of, arms flailed, and show my soft underbelly to…I’ve realized that I’m on a continuum.

My ill-fitting pants, my mean-spirited internal voice, my indulgence in foods that have capped my immune system at the knees? These are all elements working toward my greater good.

I dream of the life put in my hands; my garden, my chickens, my fish, my home,…

and when I stand in the landscape of my mind, unable to do anything but mourn, or fight back, I wake up in a cold-sweat and realize, again and again:

How do you get out of the noose?

Stop struggling.

Or, translated into the most primal fear lodged in my surfer-brain:

How do you keep from being eaten by sharks?

Stop thinking about them.
They are there, all the time.
So is death. In every moment we breathe.

This morning I listened to my husband’s heart. I wanted to scream because the vulnerable echo of it was almost too much for me to handle. But I took a deep breath. I let its rhythm move through me.

This is life.

On Monday, I’ll step into a stream of anguish and anxiety, of beauty and potential…I want to meet the girls of my first teacher practicum with this intention:

You brave creation. You are alive.
You’ve made it this far.

The rest?
It’s all about learning to paddle out with the shadow of sharks beneath you and look to the horizon, knowing that you’re just floating on the surface, somewhere in between here and there.



  1. You korero about Sharks often. These animals are very, very important in your life. They are predators. You know this. But they only attack when they feel threatened. Maybe, with this huge change in your life, you subconsciously feel threatened, anxious or afraid? Maybe. Regardless, keep writing and improving your pedagogical skills.

    • Darryl,
      Waking up to your comment and then a letter from a friend asking me what sharks mean to me and what would happen if I considered swimming with them…has made me really put some things together in my head.

      Here is what I wrote to her:
      Now, sharks – I’ve been thinking about this a lot because sharks have featured intensely in my dreams for years and they are usually driving me out of places of beauty, grace, and joy – playfulness (surfing/waves/paradise). They fill me with so much terror that I have to either fight the anxiety or consider giving up going into the ocean ever again. I did a little research on sharks. I’ve always seen them as the element of ‘fear’ in my life but this last week I’ve realized ‘fear’ is actually ‘self-doubt’.

      I did a little research and this struck me:

      “People with the shark totem navigate through life with a specialized “gut-rudder.” What’s a gut-rudder? That’s what I call a primal instinct. It’s a visceral, hard-wired knowing that guides certain humans. It’s infallible, reliable, and geared for one thing only: To protect the sacred. And what is sacred? Life.”

      I think instead of seeing the sharks as threats, I need to understand that they are my allies and always have been. They will not attack me. I know this because in any dream I’ve actually encountered attack by a shark, I was able to face it down and transform the attack into relationship. Only a few times have I fought back in panic.They are resources I’ve been fearing.

  2. This is SO beautiful, woman!!! Thank you so much for sharing this. You are brave and beautiful and wise. All love and blessings to you, amazing soul.

    • Thank you so much! I woke up to this email this morning and it gave me happy goosebumps. Bless you right on back.

  3. “Stop thinking about them.
    They are there, all the time.
    So is death. In every moment we breathe.”

    You nailed it. ❤

  4. Well Alegra, a majority of the surfers that I know are what I call in “shark denial.” They want to have all of the pleasures of surfing but don’t truly acknowledge the risk. When I got attacked the very first thing I thought of was, “I am so god damn selfish.” I immediately realized how much more important my family is than any other earthly desire. I continue to have shark dreams as well, silhouettes I acknowledge that rattle me out of my slumber. Sharks are your ally because they make you look at what you are afraid to lose. But I don’t think that cookies and mocha fit on that list!

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