Learning to Sail Without Wind

Boats in Grays Harbor copy.jpgMaybe it all started with the insane idea of a week spent on the sea. Skipping work. Dressing up the old-school sailboat (sails only, no engine). Equally impulsive buddies, deck chairs, and beer enough to drown a fish. Nightly onboard BBQ of still-wriggling critters scooped from the drink. Singing Guns and Roses tunes with the pals and pissing overboard at whim. What could possibly go wrong?

The Hollywood trope follows that a raging storm leaves a sole survivor who fends off starvation, sharks, and sun long enough to be rescued by a passing trawler or Filipino fishermen. Except, the opposite occurs. A shockingly windless sky refuses breath enough to push or pull the boat anywhere. Not so bad for a week, maybe two. But once the food runs out (i.e. beer) it stops being an adventure and becomes a panic.

I do fairly well in storms. Like the wind, I’ll whine and moan and often drag others down with me. But, all things considered, I often do my best work under pressure. The gift of lazy hours to dream of creative stuff to do is replaced by a thousand creative things to do, all nicely truncated into impossibly tight life spaces. I hate it. I love it.

Doldrums are not the opposite of storms. They are storms in reverse. In place of exhaustive wave-fighting, they provide utter calm, not so much as a whisper of wind to fill hungry sails with nothing to do. To battle a storm is at least to cling to the hope of survival. Wit over wind, brains and brawn unite to combat the elements. Every nerve is taut with anxiety and humming with gallons of adrenaline provided for us by our unselfish bodies. We’re far too busy to think about much else.

Not so with doldrums. The gift of survival mechanism is swapped out for the gnawing ache of uncertainty. It is imminent death by slow. The world around us puts on a cheery face and smiles us to death with a wink and a nod. Sailors dreaded them. 

So do I.

I’d love to say with my typical drama and flare that I’m enduring a dark night of the soul. I’d even settle for “a period of contemplative reflection on the future.” Such sophisticated spiritual ennui would offer me a broad brush-strokes approach to what amounts to boredom. This is not acedia, that fancy-pants noonday demon that has been the demise of so many monks and creatives. Not depression. Frankly, I’m happy as f***. 

I arise each morning to the same wonderful routines which still offer joy and solidity and perspective. I still activate my work mechanism as required and make the trains run on time. I’m present for my coworkers and fellow congregants for whom I am called to serve. Prayer and spiritual disciplines continue apace and I enjoy the deep perfections of watching BBC with my babe of thirty-plus years. 

But, I’m so bloody bored.

In storm situations, we don’t even have time to ask what our course should be. We’re just trying to stay afloat and moving in whatever direction allows us to stay that way. A mariner’s direction is dependent upon two things, maps for direction and wind for movement. One determines the where. The other, the how. I assume (of course, since I’m no mariner) that one maintains current course unless or until it becomes apparent that a change in course is needed.

In such cases, the boat remains in motion. Maps are revisited, scoured for clues; reconsidered for evidence of misinterpretation, or to gain new insight and inspiration for what to expect.

Through it all, sails remain unfurled, gulping wind to fuel forward motion. Motion means life, or at least anticipation. It indicates direction, even if that direction demands recalculation. 

It’s a rare thing for a boat to stop entirely, sitting dead in the water. This ship remains faithfully at sea, chugging along in the same direction. But, maps seem blurry, even unfamiliar. Any wind at all seems counter to the lie of the sails. When there is wind, the boat wants to sail against it. Boats are made for more than just floating. They want – need – to move. 

So, doldrums it is I guess. The beer is long gone (tonic water in my case). The jokes have all been told. What once were laughs are now sneers and accusations of “who the hell’s idea was this anyway?”

Well, I don’t own a boat. I’m not even on them very often. But, mine feels a little water-logged. A little bit of wind might get this lug moving again.

Land ho! Oh wait, that’s my hand.

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