On the sands, we reveal different sides of ourselves to the public--our physical attributes, our spiritual leanings, our intellectual interests--through the conscious revealing of our bodies and the unconscious display of our chosen books for summer reading.
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So what do we do once, stationed on the sand amid a sea of other half-naked embodied beings, we have adjusted our own bodies so that we are not too hot or too cool, not too sandy or too wet, not too visible but not too invisible to the other bodies around us? We reach into our canvas or wicker beach bags, and we pull out our books.
Hard or easy, fat or thin, obscure or Oprah-approved, the beach book is a kind of covert spiritual tool: one that allows us, in a situation where we might seem to be in danger of becoming only bodies, to remember that we are, at all times, really dual beings: creatures possessed of material bodies, but possessed also of something decidedly more than that as well.
When conditions at the beach are just right--when the sand is warm but not hot, when the breeze is blowing just hard enough for us to feel it moving over our skin but not so hard that it chills us or scatters our stuff, when the voices of gulls and the distant shouts of playing children mix together just right with the sound of the waves breaking and sliding up the sand, we can fall so deeply into what we’re reading that we can forget all about the world around us, even while being thoroughly--and wonderfully--immersed in it as well.
A beach bather happily lost in a good book is a near-perfect example of the way the “spiritual” can enter the most seemingly mundane (and theoretically un-spiritual) places in our lives. Wherever we go and whatever we do, our dual identities as more-than-earthly beings is something we pack along with us--even at those times when we were quite sure we were leaving it at home.