Many a calm river begins as a turbulent waterfall, yet none hurtles and foams all the way to the sea.
Almost every evening, starting from early summer to the writing of this column, I head to a nearby ocean beach and fish. The activity entails me walking the shore and casting and reeling in at varying speeds. I do not use bait, only artificial lures. And on the whole, I am unsuccessful in hooking anything other than strands of stray seaweed. But it’s achingly beautiful no matter the weather or the waves, and I am grateful and beyond fortunate to have such an exquisite environment to enjoy each day.
But still, I’d like to catch something, particularly the sporting species of the moment in my region: striped bass. For those who don’t know, it is a fabulous fish, gorgeous in color and shape, and intelligent in its method of gobbling up prey.
While there are many approaches to snaring a striped bass with rod and reel, I’ve lately been swayed by the wisdom of an experienced angler who encourages targeting “the lip.” Not the fish’s mouth, but a horizontal slice of water not far from shore – the intersection where a spent wave, heading back to sea, meets a forward moving wave. This connection causes the incoming wave to curl forward, forming the lip. And this is where the ace angler says to cast.
Why? Because of turbulence. The opposing flow of water foments swirls and whirls, kicks up the bottom and limits visibility, disturbing and disorienting chubs and shad, sand crabs and sand eels, shrimp and squid, and other prey-size aquatic creatures caught up in this mini-maelstrom. And with their balance off and their natural defense mechanisms altered, they become an easy meal for predators like striped bass who cruise through the chaos with stealth.
So I’ve begun to fish the lip. And while I’ve yet to land a keeper in this space, I have snagged onto a metaphorical idea to explore: what is “the lip” in human life? Luckily, I have access to the brilliant and open mind of Jason Kurtz. He is a leading psychotherapist in New York City, author of the memoir “Follow The Joy”, an award-winning playwright, and an emerging filmmaker. When I asked him to opine on this question, he wrote back:
“I think, for me, the idea is that the lip, the turbulence, is where transformation for people occurs. When everything is normal, peaceful, we just go about our daily lives, generally without a thought. It’s when something happens that disturbs our peace, our routines, that we are forced to examine what we are doing. There’s an idea that a crisis contains both danger and possibility. Things can go wrong, of course, but things can also change for the better. By casting into the turbulence, you throw your lure into a space where unusual, unexpected, dangerous, but also possibly magical things can happen. It doesn’t happen randomly (just like it’s not random in the sea) – it’s a confluence of forces, which often occur because something is not working right. It’s a chance to assess what is going wrong and to change course/do something different. Turbulence is often what brings someone into therapy.”
Jason offers a good way to look at tough stretches, rough patches, challenges and travails. Life can be dizzying, disruptive and despairing. When we we are in these turbulent times it is easy to lose our bearings, to be swallowed up by the predators of our world: those encouraging the easy way out, those tempting the numbing of pain through vice or greed, those who seek allies for their cruelty, those who promise relief but at the price of your dignity and soul. But if you can instead see the situation as a platform for change, these unsteady periods will no longer feel unstable but foundational, a place where magical things can, and will, happen in your life.