Anne Morrow Lindbergh decides to take a brief retreat from her life to spend some time on Florida’s Captiva Island and ponders over several aspects of life. This book is a compilation of those thoughts. First published in 1955, this book was a big hit and was translated in to 45 odd languages. More recently, there was a 50th anniversary edition of the book with a preface written by Lindbergh’s daughter Reeve Lindbergh
The book is about 5 types of shells that author finds on the island . She relates those shells to life situations and talks about ways to deal with different life situations.
The author looks at the bare beauty of this shell and realizes that her shell is ugly. The way in which accumulations of things , thoughts , people have cluttered her life and made her shell ugly, is the lesson she draws from this shell. Simplification of life is one of the ways to build a beautiful shell in your life. “To ask how little, not how much, can I get along with? “ is the essence of a minimalist life and this shell reminds her this stuff each day.
The author describes this shell as an island , set in ever-widening circles of waves, alone, self-contained and serene. We are all, in the last analysis, alone. And this basic state of solitude is not something we have any choice about. Instead of deluding ourselves and acting as though we are not solitary, we attract endless distractions in our lives and finally the distractions consume us completely. She suggests a way to have moon shell inside each one of us, “ If you can take a hour off/ day off for solitude at regular intervals, you see that your life becomes that much more richer”
The author describes this shell as an image of pure relationship, smooth , whole and unblemished. We experience only moments of having such feelings but sometimes we cling to the thought that such moments should last forever. A couple would always want the relationship to be the same as the one during the courtship period, a start-up founder would love to keep the culture of the company same forever, a mother might want her son to always be kind, tender and loving , a son might want his parents to always be nice to him etc. There are umpteen number of situations where we experience a few moments / days of Double-Sunrise shell and we want that situation to remain forever. This is a false notion, says the author. For things cannot remain same with the changing situations. But this Double-Sunrise shell reminds each one of us that we must take time out and recreate such moments from time to time. This helps us in seeing relationships with a fresh vigour and infact helps in coming to terms with tides that ebb and flow in life.
In author’s words, “Oyster Shell is humble and awkward and ugly. It is slate-colored and unsymmetrical. Its form is not primarily beautiful but functional” She compares Oyster Bed to middle years of marriage. It could as well be the years just after a start up has grown big enough and can no longer be called a start-up. However my analogy to a start-up is probably not that appropriate as that of a maturing marital relationship. “Spreading family and growing children might be the appropriate situation that Oyster Bed symbolises. This shell symbolises the time when you are tied up with so many aspects that the beauty lies in the functional aspect of the role.
“ There are in the beach-world certain rare creatures, the “Argonauta” , who are not fastened to their shell at all. It is actually a cradle for the young, held in the arms of the mother Argonauta who floats with it to the surface, where the eggs hatch and the young swim away. Then the mother Argonauta leaves her shell and starts another life. Can we middle-aged Argonauts , when we outgrow our Oyster bed, look forward to a similar freedom of nautilus who has lefts its shell for the open seas ? “ questions the author. She then describes a day spent with her sister on the beach and tries to think about the perfect day and writes these beautiful words.
What has made the day so perfect ? To begin with , it is a pattern of freedom. It’s setting has not been cramped in space or time. An island, curiously enough, gives a limitless feeling or both. Nor has the day been limited in kinds of activity. It has a natural balance of physical, intellectual and social life. It has an easy unforced rhythm. Work is not deformed by pressure. Relationship is not strangled by claims. Intimacy is tempered by lightness of touch. We have moved through our day like dancers not needing to touch more than lightly because we were instinctively moving to the same rhythm.
A good relationship has a pattern like a dance and is built on some of the same rules. The partners do not need to hold on tightly, because they move confidently on the same pattern, intricate but swift and free, like a country dance of Mozart’s. To touch heavily would be to arrest the pattern and freeze the movement. to check the endlessly changing beauty of its unfolding. There is no place here for the possessive clutch , the clinging arm, the heavy hand, only the barest touch in passing. The joy of such a pattern is not only the joy of creation of the joy of participation , it is also the joy of living in the moment.
She ends the book by saying that she would keep these 5 shells on her table at her home back in the city to constantly remind herself of what they stand for in her mind.
This book can be read by anyone, at any stage of their lives. One will always find some situation where one can relate to the situation / context mentioned in the book. Author’s powerful words will definitely make you reflect on your own life. If you read this book in silence, with music shut, TV switched off, cell phones off, cutting all the usual distractions, a few pages from the book are enough to make you be at peace with yourself and the life around.
One can treasure this book for life.