Sunday, November 30, 2014

big lessons: our sail from Vanuatu to the Solomon Islands

This was a new sort of passage for me. It had the potential to be shortest of the passages, being only 900 miles. And although it wasn’t the first passage sailing with someone unfamiliar with sailing, it was the first with only Serena on board. I had a new sort of pressure on me, self inflicted, of course, but present nonetheless. I felt responsible for Serena, which on a practical level with the maintenance and mobility of the boat, I am. When I had buddies on board I did not feel this pressure because as individuals each takes care of oneself. This little bit of extra pressure, along with a very rolly downwind sail and my failure to practice my usual regimented sleep/eat schedule made this passage my most difficult, the pressure leading to stress, stress leading to lack of sleep, lack of sleep leading to anxiety, and anxiety leading to insomnia, forcing me to stop after six days sailing, and anchor on San Christobal Island, 300 miles short of Gizo, where we were to clear into the Solomon Islands. I was terrified that I would never sail again, denying the reality of what that would mean, anchored to an island in a country we hadn’t technically arrived in yet, in a bay where no one lived. This is what fear can do to you. But where did this fear come from? Fear of fear, the cycle that anxiety lives on. Putting the pressure of the world on your shoulders; just the pressure of one single self on the shoulders of someone trying to know Reality can be enough to cripple them. I learned (again) about faith and trust. A lesson I began learning the moment I set sail from California, when faith outweighed experience, and I was forced to pray my way along. As I gained experience sailing, I pushed away faith. I could do anything at anytime. I could manage every aspect of the passage. That is what I thought. So, this passage was very much a shakedown sail for me.

It doesn’t matter what you are doing, but how you do it. Yes, I was sailing a beautiful boat across oceans, but I was having trouble living with myself, and accepting my life. I mean, accepting that I must have a life. A life that ends in death. This is another underlying source of my anxiety. I could not accept this life with death. I couldn’t believe that I could do all of this, and that one day none of it would matter because I would die. What was the point?

I (re)learned faith, regiment(practice), and trust.

For me, faith meant doing what was reasonable and within my abilities, then leaving the rest up to God (the unifying force of the universe). Every person has faith in something, supported by whatever is evident to that person. If you don’t understand a person’s faith without an explanation, you won’t understand it with one. Some people’s faith comes to them gradually in soft ways, while with others it is forced into their vision through tragedy or turmoil. It means surrendering to a higher power, inspiring a feeling of oneness and peace. I believe oneness is at the center of every faith. Even science expresses the awesome oneness of everything in the universe showing that the atoms we are made up of have been dinosaurs or rain, and were generated in stars that all began billions of years ago from one single point in the universe. That is awesome oneness. So, for me to survive on the open ocean (and as I am finding out in life), I needed faith.

Regiment meant eating and sleeping regularly, even if I wasn’t hungry or sleepy. You never know what challenges the sailing will bring, so even if everything is going well, staying ahead with nourishment and rest is critical for managing stress. This has translated itself into my everyday life as practices. Exercise, work, spirituality, play, and relationship are five tools I work to keep in balance everyday. 

Learning trust was partly tied into my understanding of faith, and through my relationship with Serena. I had to trust in the process that I was going through. I had to trust that good would come of it. The first few months on the boat were very difficult being away from home. Western life brings infinite distractions from Reality. Removed from that and we were like chickens with our heads cut off. We were confronted with ourselves. Not really understanding why we were being so challenged, we had to trust in the experience. We had to remain the witness, and be neutral to everything that hit us.

Now, once anchored in San Cristobal, I ran in place and did jumping jacks in the cockpit everyday for exercise, meditated, did yoga, and went on long jungle walks to get myself back in shape for the sail onward to Gizo. After 5 days at anchor, we set sail again, and I made sure to follow my schedule of eating and sleeping every few hours. I refused to participate with stress, and worked hard to remain the witness. In the beginning of the trip i was afraid of suffering like I had before, but through my practices I softened more and more over the three days, and fell into It again, surrendering.

As far as the actual sailing goes, we were quite lucky this time of year to have consistent winds all the way. Sometimes there would be squalls, but overall the weather was good. We even managed to cook a pizza one night while underway. So, as I reflect on the passage, I think of the beautiful sailing we had, and the many lessons I learned.