The Enlightening Mat: Eddie Vedder & Creating Waves

ocean oregon coast manzanita beach cliffs northwest amongst waves
Oregon Coast, Beth Hemmila

I've lived all this life
Like an ocean in disguise

- Eddie Vedder, "Can't Keep," Ukulele Songs

Last year was the 20th anniversary of Pearl Jam's debut album Ten, and I'm guessing most Gen X'ers can still easily hear the echos of Eddie Vedder's angst ridden battle cry "I'm still alive" that characterized the feelings for a whole generation of latchkey kids.

The recent resurgence of Pearl Jam's hits on the radio has me happily singing along to tunes that were some of my closest chums in my 20s, and the other day I found myself digging into the lyrics from "Alive," seeing that Eddie Vedder laid out one of the most powerful existential questions that many of us probably don't even realize we are asking of ourselves on a daily basis.

You're still alive, she said
Oh, and do I deserve to be
Is that the question
And if so...if so...who answers...who answers

Do you deserve to be alive? Do you deserve to be here? Do you feel worthy to be here and receive the all the love and gifts that life is offering you?

Maybe you're cringing at the thought of these questions; however, it's not such a morbid question, it's a question about feeling worthy to exist here and now. This deeply rooted, hidden question could be lying right underneath other nagging questions such as: "Why am I here?," "What's the meaning of life?," and "What's my purpose?" The best part is you get to answer all these questions. No one else has the answers. Just you. You answer.


After seeing the Pearl Jam Twenty movie and reconnecting with Eddie Vedder's ocean imagery in his songwriting (e.g., the song "Amongst the Waves" from Pearl Jam's Backspacer album), I set my mind to exploring waves this year as my personal symbol. In everything I do -- yoga, meditation, singing, writing, hiking, speaking, listening, cooking, knitting, making jewelry, daydreaming, etc. -- I'm looking for the waves in my actions. More importantly, I'm looking for how my waves connect with the waves of others. Do they merge, blend, unite, and grow bigger? Or do they somehow diminish and create a void? Do my waves with others create harmony and resonance? Or dissonance?

Needless to say, I've been watching a lot of surfing documentaries on Netflix, where waves off the coast of California, Hawaii, and Australia are my new eye candy. During the documentary Step Into Liquid, one of my recent wave fixes, I heard a surfer summarize the meaning of life using a quote from Timothy Leary, psychologist and writer, as saying "The highest destiny of man on earth is to live an aesthetic life based on the dance." And he goes on to explain that Timothy Leary felt surfers had discovered a pure dance that is in complete harmony with nature.

I think this type of answer is probably pretty hard for an achieve-as-much-as-possible-doer-mentality culture to swallow. Perhaps it's difficult for us to admit that the simplest way is the truest way. The way where you find the most connection, openness, and feeling of oneness with the entire universe. I'm guessing that for some people the pure enjoyment of riding a wave as the sum total meaning of life could be discombobulating.

How does one get to this point where you see "the dance" as your "highest destiny?" What does "an aesthetic life based on the dance" look like? What is "the dance?" And is "the dance" different for different people?

I'm not a surfer, but throughout my life I've loved creating sound waves by singing in a group or dancing in unison. However, my new connection to "the dance" that creates waves for me is yoga. I experience the thrill of a wave in the first breathing exercise during Bikram yoga where the whole class lifts their arms into the air, and I hear everyone inhale at the same time. Or when I look in the mirror and simultaneously 40 people all stretch their bodies towards the front of the room, following Bikram's dialogue for the yoga posture standing bow pulling pose. The Bikram yoga dance is an opportunity for me to be a part of a gigantic wave of people creating harmony through unity of movement. It's a song made by many bodies coming together, breathing in and out, and meditating through focus and gesture.

Yoga is one form of the dance, but there are so many other ways of creating waves. You may be drawn to the harmonious wave energy that groups create through praying, meditating, building, singing, dancing, acting, skipping, playing, etc. Or maybe you like to be alone and in concert with nature by skiing down a slope, floating down a river, or tending a garden.

Whatever you choose as your dance, hopefully it's done purely for the beauty of experience so that in creating waves, you will know without a doubt you are "an ocean in disguise," and see that these transcendent moments are your answer to the question -- "Do I deserve to be here?"

The Enlightening Mat is a blog series exploring moments of awareness that come to Beth Hemmila while practicing Bikram Yoga.

To shop for yoga charms that celebrate the different poses click here to view this blog post Sterling Silver Charms for Bikram Yoga Postures.  


  1. beth - what a gorgeous post... (i am trying to be disciplined here at the pc, listing on etsy, but i happened to see eddie vedder in the title and had to look!)
    he really is something...
    but so are you for thinking, sharing, making connections and letting us all in on it...


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