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December 31, 2019

Sailing Into Bliss

The sail, the play of its pulse so like our own lives: so thin and yet so full of life, so noiseless when it labors hardest, so noisy and impatient when least effective.  – Henry David Thoreau


Some 3 years ago our family was fortunate enough to procure a sailboat – a J22. “J-Boats” as they are called are nimble and extremely responsive racing boats that launch with abandon at the slightest puff of wind. I must admit the presence of a high level of intimidation as I climbed aboard this vessel for the first time having had only a few hours of actual sailing time with an instructor present. Now that I had this vessel standing before me floating so majestically on her mooring – so many random questions raced through my mind: How do all of these twisted lines of ropes, halyards, and pulleys work together to raise the sail? How do I untie the vessel from the mooring? How do I start this engine? How on earth will I navigate this vessel safely through the 100’s of yachts into the channel and into open water?

I longed to experience the bliss of sailing effortlessly with the hull silently slicing effortlessly through the water with her sails perfectly trimmed against the breeze powering the vessel across the sea of diamonds of sunlight skipping across the water into the majestic horizon. To experience this I knew I had to move beyond my own feeling of intimidation & inertia and grab a line and just begin.

In the same way my paralysis of the unknown delayed the bliss and the serenity of sailing on the open ocean so in the same way was I intimidated by committing myself to just sit in quiet meditation to face the unrelenting chatter of my mind and the “messy piles of junk” in my soul I so dreaded to face.

The prospect of sitting in quiet contemplation in meditation was an affront to the blanket of comfort I had encased my entire being within over the course of an entire lifetime. The subtle whisper from the depth of my consciousness to break my self-imposed inertia and take action was relegated to the background of my sub-consciousness for as long as I can remember.

Make no mistake, I purchased countless books on meditation & spirituality – some of which were read – but many left on the shelf without as much as a crease in the binding. These treasures were purchased with great intentions and resulted in an adrenaline rush with the prospect of new insights and spiritual renewal only to be stacked neatly on a shelf soon to be forgotten. The initial burst of enthusiasm that followed the purchase of these new shiny volumes of wisdom was eventually extinguished by the stronger force that steered me back into the direction of my comfortable safe harbor state of being, free from the of fear of the unknown.

For decades I harbored a “conceptual” desire to move beyond my chronic condition of being stuck in spiritual “Irons”. Per Wikipedia A sailing craft is said to be “in irons” if it is stopped with its sails unable to generate power in the no-go zone. If the craft tacks too slowly, or otherwise loses forward motion while heading into the wind, the craft will coast to a stop.

Losing forward motion – or perhaps in my case more accurately never having built up enough momentum to make forward progress in the first place, has been my kryptonite.

In the last 2-3 years however something has taken hold over me. There has been actual movement – albeit akin to the distance a massive glacier moves in the course of a year – but undeniable movement nonetheless. I attribute it to a few drivers – some of them actual traumas that I experienced during this time – the primary being a near death experience that resulted in the need for emergency open heart surgery. It shook me to my core and while it has left acute scars in both my soul and body it has yielded hair line cracks in the vessel that contains my soul enabling tiny fragments of light that have begun to show me a way forward to a potential new way to experience the world.

I then put my conquest to search for new spiritual guidance on hold and actually revisited the stack of treasures I had already collected over the years and began to consume them – slowly – in bite size chunks one sentence at a time.

One particular piece of guidance from the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying proved to be a game changer for me with respect to launching my meditation practice and my struggles with my ever chattering mind: “There is a famous saying “if the mind is not contrived, it is spontaneously blissful, just as water, when not agitated, is by nature transparent and clear”. I often compare the mind in mediation to a jar of muddy water: The more we leave the water without interfering or stirring it, the more the particles of dirt will sink to the bottom, letting the natural clarity of the water shine through. The very nature of the mind is such that if you only leave it in its unaltered and natural state, it will find its true nature, which is bliss and clarity”.

With this first tiny step of simply opening a book purchased and unread years ago, this simple guidance I discovered shined a light and served as a beacon to take that first step, to feed that first halyard through the cleat that enabled me to begin to raise the main sail. My meditation practice served as the sail and my soul is now finally free from its anchored mooring. And make no mistake; the ocean’s moods are fickle and unpredictable, sometimes smooth and sometimes unsettling. Each sail is completely unique from the last – sometimes blissful, sometimes violent and unforgiving. However each return to port has taught me a new perspective, a new approach, a new way of allowing me to adjust to life’s winds with a more adaptable and calm sensibility.

It is easy to become complacent in the “hope” and the conceptual idea of spiritual exploration and growth. I allowed myself to live in this comfortable limbo for most of my entire adult life. And to be transparent; the natural inertia reasserts itself just about every time I sit in mediation, afraid of what may arise. During these times I recall the simple guidance Sogyal Rinpoche implores: “What, then, should we “do” with the mind in mediation? Nothing at all. Just leave it, simply as it is.”

It is no different than fighting the temptation to immediately “overcorrect” ones sails once there is a shift in wind direction. The prudent and pragmatic course of action is no action at all. Pause, loosen your grip on the halyard, and breathe – the wind and your soul will guide you softly back to your optimal point of sail and into bliss.

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