One of the motivations behind me taking to the oceans was the hope that they would provide me with the opportunity for some kind of spiritual experience. Another was that a good long row would help me lose weight.
To an extent ocean rowing does achieve both these objectives, but overall I wouldn’t recommend it. For losing weight – check yourself into the most expensive health spa you can find. It will be easier, cheaper, and a hell of a lot more relaxing. For your spiritual quest, maybe a nice quiet monastery up a mountain somewhere.
Not that ocean rowing is a complete bust as far as retreats go, but it does leave quite a lot to be desired.
At the time I took up this rowing malarkey, I was very influenced by Aldous Huxley (The Perennial Philosophy), Henry David Thoreau (Walden Pond), and other writers who had pursued their spiritual quests in solitude and wilderness. Well, okay, Aldous Huxley also pursued his in psychedelic drugs (The Doors of Perception), but that seemed a rather risky avenue to take. (Risky? As opposed to rowing alone across vast tracts of ocean? Well, I suppose we all have different definitions of risk!)
So, in my romantic view of the ocean, it seemed to offer the promise of spiritual fulfillment. But I overlooked a few basics.
On Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, basic human necessities like water, food, shelter, companionship and security all have to be taken care of before an individual has the emotional bandwidth to start thinking about needs of a more spiritual nature. On my rowboat, supply of these basic needs is far from certain. Failing watermakers, diminishing rations, leaking cabins and lockers… there are many mundane matters to distract me from higher thoughts.
Then there is the discomfort. If I were on dry land, I could light a candle, sit cross-legged, quiet my breathing and contemplate life. On board, the only place I can be anywhere close to comfortable is in my bunk, and lighting a candle is out of the question.
I feel closest to nature, and hence closest to my spiritual self, when I am out for a walk and can admire the way the world is put together – the trees, sunbeams, flowers, leaves, birds and insects and animals. So much to look at, and marvel at.
At sea…. not so much. There is a lot of water, and some very pretty clouds, and of course the stars can be amazing if it’s a clear night, but most of the life is microscopic and/or hidden below the water. I’ve found that my form of spirituality depends very much on awareness of the living things around me, and I miss the richness and the visibility of life when I am on the ocean.
Despite these caveats, the ocean does offer a chance to step off the world and see it more clearly. But I don’t think that it is necessary to go to sea to do that – all it takes is an inquiring mind and a reasonably functional b/s-ometer. You know what I mean.
Spending months alone on a rowboat also makes me very much more appreciative of things that most people would take for granted. I sometimes feel like life on my boat is akin to spending time in a developing country – I no longer take access to potable water, adequate food, and bathing facilities for granted, and feel greater compassion for those humans who live their entire lives in this way.
So, yes, the ocean does confer some spiritual insights. But so does land. Spirituality is less about where you are than who you are. I may spout forth from my purple palace, but you could do just as well from your bedroom, no doubt. The truth is all around us – in the world, in books, from teachers and leaders. And most importantly of all, truth and wisdom are inside us – which is often the last place we remember to look.
Today was a rough day, in every sense. The wind has been 25 to 30 knots, and the waves big and bullying. The good news is that I tried out my Smartwool accessories (ankle-warmers or arm-warmers, not quite sure which) and they were a great help. Now I just wish I had one big Smartwool body stocking!
My iPod Aquapac headphones expired, so I switched over to another Aquapac with new headphones. But this brought the discovery that the old headphones must have been on their way out for a while, so the volume on my iPod was cranked to the max. And the control wheel on my iPod is kaput. So now I am stuck with max volume, which is deafening. All very trying….
It looks like it’s going to be another rough night. I’m expecting juggernauts to clobber me noisily at intervals, giving me a vicious shake for good measure. Don’t these waves know I need my beauty sleep?!
Anderz – well done for having gone a month with no TV. During my disrupted sleep last night I had a horrible dream. I was being forced to watch TV. When it got to the ad break I made my excuses and tried to go, but invisible hands grabbed me around the neck and started strangling me, telling me I HAD to watch the adverts. It was awful, and I was very relieved to wake up!
Stan – you’re right, we’re not the first generation to think we face a unique challenge. But things really do seem to be reaching a breaking point… or a tipping point. Time will tell.
Bill – thanks for the RMI recommendation, and the quotes. You’ve got me thinking about that insect in the bedroom/garden. If that’s a reference to me, I hope I’m buzzing in the appropriate place!
I’m going to pass along Bill’s quote here as my quote for the day – it certainly made me stop and think.
It makes all the difference whether you hear an insect in the bedroom or in the garden. (Robert Lynd)
Photo: I finally got a photo of the elusive storm petrel. Not easy at all, as they’ve been whizzing around like jet fighters on these strong winds today! Sorry it’s really just a silhouette, but I hope you can make out some of the markings.
Sponsored Miles: Gratitude to Tom Pollack, Richard Gerber, Cassandra Wilson, Carl Jones, Thurman Jamison, Judith Tillson, Percept Group, David Cook, Thomas Ward and Courtney Elwood for miles sponsored.