The Zen of Sailing

Raising sail and getting underway… turning the motor off and savoring the sweet peace while feeling the endless motion is incredibly empowering. To not be dependent on an engine, on the machine, on gears and cogs, but instead to lean to the wind and move through the water gracefully, to experience the sustainability of using the wind, is to return to oneself on a level deeper than the deepest ocean. It is because when we sail, we return to our rightful relationship with nature. We are no longer bullying it, or attempting (feebly) to force it to conform to our wishes, instead we are working with it and thus we are once again taking our rightful place as a part of it. It is indeed now more than ever time to turn the motor off for the wind leaves no carbon footprint.

Sailing is spiritual healing and very self empowering. It is as if deliberately seeking to center oneself. Taking the helm and working with the awesome invisible ancient winds to fly along the sea amongst the waves is an experience of freedom beyond one’s wildest dreams. To experience the endless change, the endless transformation of the sea and the waves and the weather and the winds – and to elect to bow to the majestic indifference that is nature and not seek to deny or fight endless change is to come home to oneself. Sailing is breaking free from belonging or being beholden to the machines; it is instead an embracing of our essential nature. Sailing, quite simply, is pure meditation.

When under sail one experiences again that which we have lost in our headlong rush through this momentary period of our history we call the industrial age: sailing brings us back to ourselves by embracing the moment and being in the dance with the wild and beautiful ancient winds. Sailing is a dance with nature often full of joy and spirit indeed.sunrise sailing on the Columbia

One way to think of sailing is this: to catch a gust of wind and feel the boat flying beneath you as the waves rush you along is to create the experience a total state of zen like focus in the moment. There is nothing more immediate, more in the now, than a beautiful gust of wind as you surf down a wave.

Still, sailing is a thinking persons activity as well to be sure, make no mistake about that. When sailing you can, and will, experience moments of total zen like togetherness with body and mind, vessel and wind. It is in those moments that sailing goes far beyond being merely a hobby, or a pastime… in those moments sailing is a way of being.

Sailing asks that you be present in the moment and rewards you indefinitely the more you are. Little is more immediate than feeling and riding the wind. Sometimes sailing down right demands that one be present. It is in those moments that one quickly drops any illusions or distortions of our own thoughts of “how we wish it was” or “of how we wish it wasn’t”. If we rise to the challenge of those trying moments sailing will allow us the zen like experience of seeing things for what they really are free of the noise and distortion of our own thoughts. In this way sailing frees us from the illusion of our thoughts and allows us to return to simply being.

There is indeed such a thing as the romance of the sea. It is true if you feel it: the sea does call our names. That said, there are so many levels we can enjoy sailing on. The gear and the boats and the sails and all the technical and engineering and how to… all the analytical aspects of sailing, if you will, are endlessly engaging and provide a wonderful playground for the mind.

Sailing is to engage with the wind in the spirit of accord and cooperation and thus brings us to greater and deeper truths. As Albert Camus said about travel: “What gives value to travel is fear. It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own country … we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits … this is why we should not say that we travel for pleasure. There is no pleasure in traveling, and I look upon it more as an occasion for spiritual testing …” (Albert Camus, Notebooks 1935 – 1951) This is what I say about sailing: rather than taking us away from ourselves, sailing brings us home.

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