I just came across an article about the downside of sailing by Robert Persig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Cruising Blues and Their Cure. This is something I notice about many Youtube videos about young couples with piles of money able to buy a flashy boat and go looking for what is exotic and literally beyond the horizon. Dylan Winter with his down-to-earth manner often expresses the idea that the best is getting the boat we can afford and just go sailing – not to covet something that is beyond us or our means. He goes up rivers and “gunkholes” in his old 1960’s trailer-sailor or in a dinghy and films wildlife whilst extolling the beauties of simple things. I have tried his way in the two old dinghies I have, and which cost me almost nothing to run, and I have had some wonderful days and weeks out. He has his way, and I have mine.
Making abstraction from the mechanics of sailing, buying, preparing and maintaining a boat, repairs, mooring and all the rest – we come to the existential aspect. Reading this article brought me back to my old reflection on monastic life – Ausculta O Fili. The reality is not the beautiful buildings and the lofty chant of the Office. It is being faced with yourself as you are – and that is not always a pleasant experience. The same things over and over again every day can drive us crazy! I cannot recommend Pierre de Calan’s Cosmas or the Love of God strongly enough.
I haven’t had the experience of being at sea for more than a few hours at a time, but one thing is absolutely and painfully obvious.
(…) whether you are bored or excited, depressed or elated, successful or unsuccessful, even whether you are alive or dead, all this is of absolutely no consequence whatsoever. The sea keeps telling you this with every sweep of every wave. And when you accept this understanding of yourself and agree with it and continue on anyway, then a real fullness of virtue and self-understanding arrives. And sometimes the moment of arrival is accompanied by hilarious laughter.
What is reality? Is it the life and image of ourselves we construct in society or what we are with everything stripped away? I once wrote about a man who entered a round-the-world sailing race in the 1960’s and it drove him mad and killed him.
The orientals talk of karma, the reaction from our actions, cause and effect, what flies back in our face when we are less than honest and true to ourselves. The indifference of the sea is no different from the grinding monastic routine or even of the human world once all the glitz, glitter and illusions are gone.
Autumn is often the time when we get the “blues”. The warmth and pleasantness of summer are past. The boats are covered with their tarpaulins and life continues with people with different expectations from our own. The reality of society is complete indifference. No one owes us anything, not even wives or friends. We’re on our own – and the day we accept that is the moment of our illumination and joy.
Read the article and the wonderful site Metaphysics of Quality and its many articles in the tradition of Zen and fixing your motorcycle. Naturally, we don’t have to practice Zen or change our religion. It is an attitude of life that fills the teachings of Christ in the Gospel. Read Luke 12 as an example. It will help us get through the winter…
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Update: Dylan Winter linked to this posting from his blog – thought for the day from Father Anthony. I quote the comments including my own:
Now you’re becoming a sermon, the parable of the dinghy sailor, the modest yachty and the gin palace owner who all sail on the same sea….
Well, you would be “extolling the beauties of simple things” if you didn’t keep rambling off onto diatribes about Presidents, hunters, two-strokes and lobster potters. Keep it up, I’d fall asleep if it was all just “going with the flow” existentialism.
Interesting thinking. I always try to remember what we are. Simply a green smudge of lfe on a tiny speck of dust flying through a totally unimaginably huge universe. Puts me back in my place.
Many thanks for the link, Dylan. I hope we get to meet up one day. Like you, I am a product of the 1960’s and enjoy reading philosophical subjects. Like you, I have never had much money for boats, and therefore don’t have the notion of the “status symbol”. For each of us to discover life and its deepest values…
Thanks Dylan — thought provoking stuff. Fr Anthony is among good company…
Aristotle: “What doest it mean to be a good person?”
Descartes: “What does it mean to be?”
Nietzsche: “What does it mean?”
Bertrand Russell: “What does ‘it’ mean?”
C.S. Lewis: “What does it?”
Lil Jon: “What?” https://youtu.be/WhLLMXMFKTk
Douglas Adams: “42”
For me, philosopic thought is good exercise for the brain and lets you approach problems from a different viewpoint if you so choose but it will never uncover any empirical knowledge. There are many, many doctrines to contemplate but most of them are as much use as a chocolate tea-pot as far as answering the problems of living in my personal reality are concerned. But the Universe, like the sea, really doesn’t care.
I’m not sure where this is going, since certitude and easy answers are decreasingly a part of my life as I get older. We seem to have a choice between nihilism and meaninglessness or making a proverbial silk purse out of the proverbial sow’s ear. One way is not to think at all, drown yourself in noise and desire for money (I’m not saying that is your idea, because I don’t know you [Stephan Mundane]), or seek something higher, something spiritual – and that word can be understood many ways. I seem to know what works for me more or less well. What works for others…. even the bottom of the ocean is less mysterious than the person we are drinking a pint with at the local.
Hans Valk says:
You’re quite right about that, Stephen. The universe (why the capital ‘U’?) does not care. Actually, nature does anything within it’s power to cover things up.
In the Netherlands we have a writer, Armando, who is also a painter and a sculptor. He has invented the concept of the “guilty landscape”.
For example: you are walking in some wood, where there used to be a concentration camp. People were tortured and killed there.
But now, half a century later, there is little to remind us of these facts. What is left are ruins and these are almost fully overgrown. The wood itself is just what it always was. It saw what happened there fifty years earlier, did nothing and keeps silent about it. It actually covers it up and does not give a damn.. But in doing so, such a wood in Armando’s mind, is complicit to what happened
Well, there you have it..
In Art, of course, anything goes. The reality is: the universe does not give a shit. And it can’t.. There would be no end to it, would there?
Still, what do you think, when you’re taking a relaxed stroll in such a wood..? Food for thought.
I don’t know what readers will make of all this. Perhaps it is the thought of people who are completely outside our little “churchy” world. We are faced with complete “otherness” of other people and a world that doesn’t care for me or you. I seem to have entered the mystery of some of our post-modernist philosophers like Derrida and Nietzsche – dangerous venturing indeed. How justifiable is the notion of a God – in his infinity, transcendence and immanence – who cares about each one of us and has a plan? Perhaps this is the whole point, between what cares and what doesn’t care… Ideas?
As a sort of tangent and/or appendix, I would commend Tim Severin’s The Brendan Voyage, which I have nearly finished. It is fascinating to see a number of experienced sailors learning and changing – and self-consciously ‘mediaevalizing’ – in learning to sail a speculative mediaeval leather boat, extrapolated from traditional curragh technology. A striking quotation: “There was nothing to be done, and we accepted the situation with our newly minted mediaeval philosophy.” Another: “Watch-keeping in a gale was perhaps the most personal experience of all, because then the helmsman was acutely aware that the lives of the other three depended on his skill.”