(Drifting Clouds - Hiding Sun . . . )
Wind, Sun, Sea and Stars—A Voyage of Recovery “Know thyself, the unexamined life is not worth living” Socrates
The story of how I discovered meditation begins in the late summer of 1983. A few months after my second wife and I separated and decided to divorce, I accepted an invitation from long-time family friends to go on an extended sailing trip aboard their boat. My primary motivation for going was to give myself some time to try and get a handle on my life. While I held good jobs and was mostly functional, it seemed I was always in some form of emotional upheaval. I couldn’t believe I was divorcing again, and it was very painful.
In late October, I quit my job and hopped a train to southern California. The name of my friend’s boat was Elentari (“Queen of the Stars”), a fifty-two foot sloop which I had helped build earlier in the summer. We departed the Dana Point Marina in early November, 1983, and headed for the Caribbean.
During the voyage I had ample opportunity to begin what has proven to be a long, and sometimes bumpy, road to healing. I loved living on the sea. Clouds and sun and wind became a part of me as the boat carried us across the sometimes stormy, sometimes calm, ocean. Dolphins, whales, turtles, birds and other sea creatures became our constant companions, and I realized how much I enjoyed being so close to nature.
At night anything moving in the water left a light green glowing trail, especially the dolphins. One night as a group was playing alongside, one of them rolled slightly to the right and, with her left eye, examined me through a shimmering green dolphin-shaped glow. Our eyes met. The connection was palpable and very down to earth, as if she was saying “See, isn’t this fun? Swim, play, laugh, jump—LOVE!” And then, with a powerful push of her tail, she headed for the bow . . . just one of many mystical dolphin moments. Another time, we found ourselves sailing amidst the largest family of dolphins any of us had ever seen. From the boat they stretched almost as far as our binoculars could see in every direction. We decided to play a tape of classical music at high volume to see if they could hear it through the hull. Soon we saw a group of five dolphins, one in the lead and two on each side, leaping and swimming in time with the music. That was a magic moment. It was one of the few times in my life I felt at peace, and truly connected to everyone and everything, everywhere.
In my bunk I’d lay with my ear pressed against the wooden hull and listen for the musical chirping and clicking of dolphins. I had wonderful dreams about them. As the voyage progressed, I found myself dreading ports-of-call—it would mean having to leave the open sea.
On steering-watch one night I experienced, firsthand, the immensity and beauty of the cosmos. It was a clear, moonless, and pleasantly warm night off the coast of Central America, and I had just relieved the midnight watch. The stars were brilliant but the compass light was so bright it obscured my view of the sky, so I threw a towel over it. As my eyes adjusted I noticed the surface of the ocean was shiny dark, and slate flat—it reflected perfectly the star-filled sky above. Everywhere I looked, above and below, I could see nothing but stars, like glittering jewels hanging in the jet black of infinite space. In awe, I steered Elentari, Queen of the Stars, through her cosmic realm. As evidence of her royal presence, she left a long, shimmering green, bio-luminescent wake trailing behind her. I wanted that moment to last forever.
There are times when life at sea can get a bit tense, but one of the most precious benefits of a long voyage is having lots of time to read and to be alone. The books I read were mostly about self-help, spirituality and the search for life’s meaning. Time alone was spent in contemplation and reflection about life and my place in it. The dance of wind and water, sun, and clouds somehow helped connect me to a part of myself I hadn’t really touched before—something all inclusive, free, and accepting, something as big as the sky. Stormy nights and days reminded me of a life and a world in turmoil. On the other hand, I saw how each condition of nature, responded to in just the right manner and at just the right time, kept the boat in balance with the elements, and on a steady course—a helpful metaphor for navigating a life.
Other moments during the voyage were less idyllic. In the mounting days and nights of silence, memories kept arising. For the first time in my life, I interpreted my personal history, the “story of Fred” through the lense of insights gained by the hard work of deep contemplation. I didn’t know it at the time but my practice of meditation had begun.