Old sailors may have odd ways of showing their religious feelings,
but there are no infidels at sea.”
Josuah Slocum (first person to circumnavigate a sailboat single-handed
Each person seeking the special knowledge pointing toward the Holy Grail becomes a believer in his own way.
I can’t discover my self while driving on an interstate during commute hours with threats from all sides. Behind the wheel I’m confident in my illusion of control, and the world whizzes by at 70pmh and I’m consoled by by having death on the highway one more day.
For generations the sea has been known as “the other world”, where strong and vulnerable meet and the forces of nature make men’s lives trivial. The sea is “the other world” in so many ways. A proper speed for a human to travel without anxiety is about 6 knots, and the horizon is unadorned with smog and chaos. Life is reduced to the elemental, like the seamless horizon that separates sky and sea. The distractions of work, or the cascading bombardments of society gradually dissolve into the wind until finally there are no more old messages to read on the kiosk — only your essential self remains floating in the breeze.
But the illusion of control stops at the shore. The other world is out of your control You can not change the inevitability of the weather. A robust boat and Good seamanship are your dancing partners.
At sea it doesn’t take long to learn that you are not in control. Nature is merciless. She will beat the crap out of you if necessary, until You have no other choice than to accept what is, observe it and respond out of the skill and wisdom (seamanship) within.
After all wouldn’t all this sailing be in vein were it not for the examined life! All the above in preparatory to what follows: notes along my spiritual path — the inner adventure that parallels my sailing.
It’s Sunday — a good day to turn toward treating myself to a pancake breakfast, and to matters of the spirit.
This is a disclaimer. I want to assure the reader that this is not a sermon and that my intention is not to preach. I half-jokingly tell friends who ask me why I go to sea that “I’m looking for the perfect margarita and the Holy Grail. This blog is in equal parts about living well in the external world, and an inner quest for the Holy Grail . Here is where my reflections on this spiritual topic have brought me. I write with the same neutrality as my next blog about the external world of my adventure. I am not trying to convince you of anything, not trying to proselytize you. I lay claim to no universal truth (although I’m not certain of that) , just my personal truth. This is merely a part of my journey, and I’m not encouraging you to follow my path (I don’t want followers); I am encouraging you to live close to nature, and observe, and fashion your own unique spiritual beliefs.
You can go to sea for financial gain, for travel, for recreation or escatpe, or to clarify your spiritual beliefs, as I have done. At the risk of quarreling with you, or even of offending you, here is where I have arrived at in my very personal process.
A belief in leading your life to please the sea gods Iincluding rituals necessary to change the name of a boat without) are pure myth. various prescriptions for how to respond to a nearby black catMyth is something that is generally known not to be true, but nonetheless it is generally obeyed (just in case there is something to it). “Don’t begin a long journey on a Friday, or bananas on a boat bring bad luck, or You can believe them with all your heart, or you can half believe them but act as if they were truth, or you can judge them as absurd and dismiss them. How many myths we look upon with amusement? Just note that some scurvy crew member believed these with the same passion that you hold your core spiritual beliefs. Perhaps this scurvy crew member is as amusted with your belief as you are with his!
The sea, and by extension the Universe, is indifferent to your wishes.
God, or sea gods, or divine intelligence or nature or whatever you call the fictional higher power you worship may comfort and guide you but He/she/it plays no favorites at sea. He is indifferent to your petty wishes and would just as soon be your oppressor as your savior. I once slept on the top of Half Done in Yosesemite Park. It was the closeset to God I have ever been. You may get closer to your god at sea, but that doesn’t give you any privilege in terms of influence.
I have been at sea arguing with God. I have been at sea in desperate moments promising I’ll tithe to the Church if You only let me survivie this storm. I’m glad I survived, and I’m ashamed to say I failes to keep my promise. After all it’s a ccentral piece of the spiritual puzzle to know who you turn to when your life is about to be extinguished.
For me, the simple answer is to know there is no one to turn to, but to your self. That is all there is. No more. Everything, and I mean everything, in your belief system is pure myth. — no more real or relevent than it’s bad luck to cross the path of a black cat. That it’s bad luck to walk under a ladder may have some validity, however that it is bad luck to cross the path of a black cat is pure myth. All stuff “made up and confirmed by the community at large, and then judged to be True.
If you want a perfect margarita, mix your own. If you want to find the Holy Grail then go to sea and observe the Nature of things until the core beliefs from your heritage, from your mentors, from your early self and from your identity (who you think you are) all peel away like old notices on a community kiosk. And ony your essential truth remains.
So where does that leave me? There are signs along the narrow East Coast Intercoastal Waterway that I love because they are the perfect blend of living in the external and the internal Univers. he signs say: You are responsible for your wake.”
The perfect margarita: I have to mix it myself.
THe Holy Grail: not something you find. It’s something you come into being: love and compassion and appreciation. Everything else is all myth!