There are many reasons why I chose this book for my first book review. In 2016, when I started leading women’s circles and groups, this was the book I picked for our very first book discussion. So, it holds a special place in my heart in the context of our circle. However, it came to me long before then. This book was the catalyst for my journey towards fully realizing the importance (and necessity) of retreat, solitude, and honoring my own rhythms, cycles, and seasons. Along the route eventually came permission and self-acceptance. Now, I retreat in solitude several times a year, honoring what I know I need for my own body and spirit’s well-being. The book is a short and easy read, yet my experience is that it can have a profound effect on anyone seeking a more nourishing, introspective, contemplative life filled with simple joys, natural wonders and open spaces. The biggest surprise of all is that this book was written in 1955. It amazes me that it continues to be so relevant, important, and transformative 65 years after publication.
The book starts out with these words… “I began these pages for myself, in order to think out my own particular pattern of living, my own individual balance of life, work, and human relationships… But as I went on writing and simultaneously talking with other women, young and old, with different lives and experiences…I found that my point of view was not unique.” I think that this is one of the reasons this book is so good: there was no agenda other than self-expression and personal truth. Nothing had to fit into a template or agenda, so her thoughts and reflections were allowed to just flow onto the page without too much filtering or editing. Following her foreshadowing introduction, Anne Morrow Lindbergh shares the story of the wisdom and freedom she found during a brief retreat to the ocean. She explores, with great honesty and timeless wisdom, the conundrums and contradictions of modern life- the technology that complicates our lives and threatens real connection while simultaneously offering conveniences and entertainment, the gadgets that promise to simplify, yet often complicate or at least clutter, our lives, and the pressure to overcommit, stay busy, and define ourselves by our doings rather than by our simple existence and self-expression. She does this in such a personal, non-threatening, gentle way with no intention to persuade the reader to feel the way she does about any one thing. Instead, her intimate personal reflection inspires us to look at our own lives, our own commitments, our own routines, and the ways in which we do, or do not, nourish and care for ourselves. She empathizes with how hard it is for women (and men) to pull away and take solitude when they need it, to spiritually and emotionally recharge, and to honor their own needs, especially if those needs are not valued or validated by the culture or family system they’re a part of. Beyond the inspirational reflections throughout the book, I love the way she captures her moments on the beach, mornings with the sunrise, lessons from the moon shells, metaphors of the oyster beds, and solo time with the sand dunes.
In the Moon Shell chapter, Anne states, “We must re-learn to be alone.” This has also been my experience, both personally and in supporting others in their efforts to reclaim solo time and retreat. Whether we find ourselves with solitude or we have to fight for it, we do have to learn and practice the “how” of solitude, or else we end up filling that precious empty time with distractions and anxiety, rather than soul-nourishment and activities that bring us home to ourselves.
Those close to me know that the book that has influenced me the most is Women Who Run with the Wolves. However, beyond the wild bible that I see that book to be, this book, Gift from the Sea, is my favorite book. I absolutely recommend it to anyone seeking more meaning, wonder, and simplicity. After about 80 easy-to-read pages, most readers will find that they have gone on their own journey of questioning, remembering and reconnecting right alongside the author.
Gift From the Sea
By Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Review written on 8/17/2021
Review by Michelle Rigling
Some of my favorite excerpts and quotes from Gift from the Sea:
“Solitude, says the moon shell. Every person, especially every woman, should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day. How revolutionary that sounds and how impossible of attainment. To many women such a program seems quite out of reach. They have no extra income to spend on a vacation for themselves, no time left over from the weekly drudgery of housework for a day off, no energy after the daily cooking, cleaning and washing for even an hour of creative solitude…Herein lies one key to the problem: If women were convinced that a day off or an hour of solitude was a reasonable ambition, they would find a way of attaining it. As it is, they feel so unjustified in their demand that they rarely make the attempt.” (from Moon Shell chapter)
“This is what one thirsts for, I realize, after the smallness of the day, of work, of details, of intimacy- even of communication, one thirsts for the magnitude and universality of a night full of stars, pouring into one like a fresh tide.”
(from Argonaut chapter)
“Perhaps middle age is, or should be, a period of shedding shells; the shell of ambition, the shell of material accumulations and possessions, the shell of the ego. Perhaps one can shed at this stage in life as one sheds in beach-living; one’s pride, one’s false ambitions, one’s mask, one’s armor. Was that armor not put on to protect one from the competitive world? If one ceases to compete, does one need it? Perhaps one can, at last in middle age, if not earlier, be completely oneself. And what a liberation that would be!”
(from Oyster Bed chapter)
“I love my sea-shell of a house. I wish I could live in it always. I wish I could transport it home. But I cannot. It will not hold my husband, five children and the necessities and trappings of daily life. I can only carry back my little channelled whelk. It will sit on my desk… to remind me of the ideal of a simplified life, to encourage me…to ask how little, not how much, can I get along with…when I am tempted to add one more accumulation to my life, when I am pulled toward one more centrifugal activity.”
(from Channelled Whelk chapter)