Friday, February 13, 2009
As kids, we’re supposed to believe that we can do anything. The old adage, “You can do anything you set your mind to,” grows as familiar as a favorite pair of Levis after hearing it repeated by our teachers, church pastors and, if we’re lucky, our parents. But no matter how often we’re reminded of our unbridled potential, some of us still grow up to believe that there are limits, boundaries, and road blocks in life. And by the time we reach young adulthood, our bones reverberate with either self-fortitude or self-doubt—and it’s difficult to reverse the process once it’s set in motion.
I’m one of those who reverberate with self-doubt. Around every corner, I anticipate an obstacle; beyond every horizon, I forecast a storm. One, or many, might call me a pessimist, but I don’t see myself as such. People are too often packaged into boxes and sealed with a label: she’s an over-achiever; he’s a type-A personality; she’s shy; he’s ADHD. I try not to distill myself down to an oversimplified “disorder.” But I can tell you that it’s hard for me to relax because I’m busy trying to anticipate the future; and I have trouble stepping out of my comfort zone because I expect dead-ends and potholes on strange, unfamiliar roads.
So now that Brian and I have decided to untie our dock lines and sail into unfamiliar waters, I find myself asking on a daily basis: why the heck are we doing this? I know the hazards of being out at sea, and I’ve experienced first-hand the frightening power of the ocean. I understand how unpredictable the weather can be, and how small and fragile one can feel in the face of a storm. But I also know how rewarding it is to watch the sun rise over the water, and to be the only boat anchored in a beautiful, tree-lined bay. And how thrilling it is to watch marine life swim just feet from the boat when the only sound you can hear for miles is water lapping gently against the hull.
Thoreau said the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. And he said this after living a year at Walden Pond, full of solitude and asceticism. He hadn’t missed his creature comforts, and it was this break from society and materialism that really cracked him open to the beauty of life and all the wonder it holds.
Because by nature I’m filled with self-doubt, fear is so familiar to me that I’ve taught myself to trust it. Rather than fight it, I tend to give in to it and believe that it will save me from hardship, failure, and embarrassment. The road of my life is littered with opportunities lost, moments wasted, and talent undiscovered. I can’t help but wonder how badly I’ve broken my spirit by trying not to break my heart.
Even as Brian and I embark on this journey, I don’t think my fear will ever go away, nor should it. The ocean is fierce, life is filled with sorrow, and having a healthy respect for both is just good sense. But I also don’t want to fear life so much that I never untie the dock lines, and miss the beauty of it all. It’s a daily struggle, but one that I hope allows me to, as Rumi said way back in the 13th century, “Let the beauty of what I love be what I do.”
Monday, February 9, 2009
Over the weekend I suffered from a bout of the stomach flu. I’ll spare you the graphic details, but as I was sitting on the cold bathroom floor, awaiting the next onset, I started to think about the cycles in life. How what we put into our bodies will eventually come out—one way or another. How when we lose something—intentionally or not—we gain an opportunity to bring something else into our lives. And how every day people come into and out of our lives and new opportunities present themselves.
Brian and I are at the beginning of a new cycle in our lives… We gave up our “old life” for a new one because we decided that the house in the suburbs, the corporate job, and the 9-to-5 grind weren’t serving us anymore. We were growing tired and grumpy about giving the best hours of the day to jobs that didn’t make us happy and to a life that didn’t seem to fit us. There was something nagging at us, and we yearned for something else (but we had no idea what that “something else” looked like). Just as our bodies fight an infection without us being conscious of the process, our minds began to fight against our preconceived ideas about success, possessions, career, and wealth.
Our unhappiness was insidious, and year after year our environment felt more like a prison than a sanctuary. We agonized about what we wanted and about where we felt we belonged. Like a plant in a pot that’s all wrong for it, without a transplant to a new environment it’ll wither and die. Brian and I weren’t going to die if we remained where we were, but we weren’t going to grow and blossom either.
After more than five years of feeling stuck, we decided to move aboard a boat, give away 90 percent of our possessions, quit our jobs, and prepare ourselves, and our boat, to sail down the Pacific Coast. I don’t want to distill this decision—it was a big one and not one that we came to lightly. I’m sure living on a boat symbolized freedom and possibility for us, and that’s what drew us to it. But even after we decided a life aboard was for us, we continued to hem and haw and agonize and fight over the idea. Beginning a new life on a boat seemed frightening and impossible at times, while at other times, it seemed like the only choice that made sense.
We spent two years looking for our boat, the “right” boat, which we defined as one we felt comfortable enough to call home and could safely sail across an ocean, if that’s where our travels lead us. We went to every boat show in Seattle and Annapolis, looked at more than 60 boats in person, and spent hours on Yacht World every day. Finally, last February, we found her. It’s hard to believe it was less than a year ago that Brian and I first stepped onto our new home, which was then just a boat on the market in Bellingham. But when we saw her, we knew. As if Delos was calling us home, we responded with a deep sigh of familiarity and comfort when we stepped aboard. We’d come home… Like we’d known her our whole lives, and were finally reunited.
Within two months, we’d signed the papers, sailed the boat down to Seattle, and moved aboard. We purged our home and ourselves of the physical and mental clutter that we’d accumulated for years and brought aboard only the items we thought were absolutely necessary to live comfortably on Delos; including our cat, Mishka, who adapted to living on the boat more quickly than we’d ever imagined she would.
These days, I love coming home. Driving into the marina parking lot after a long day is like standing in front of an open freezer on a hot afternoon. I feel refreshed, no matter what today or tomorrow holds for me. The still, reflective water in the marina, the cool breeze blowing off the water, and the beauty of the boats all serve as a reset button for my mind… Unhealthy and unproductive thoughts about the day are wiped away in an instant. And when I open the door and enter inside Delos, I’m enveloped by a warm, African mahogany interior that resonates with a life-energy that seems to say, “I’ll take care of you; I’m sturdy, predictable, and solid.”
We have less than seven months before we hoist our sails and venture down the coast of Washington, Oregon, California, and then onto Mexico for the winter. Where Delos can take us is limitless—she was built to travel the seven seas and she’s ready to explore the world. Our minds and bodies are our only limitations: it’s time to see where our imaginations, fortitude, and desires will lead us.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Brian and I are starting a blog to keep y'all in the loop about living on our boat and preparing ourselves (and the boat) for a few years at sea. We'll share with you our plans, progress, frustrations, and general musings.
Our goal is to untie the dock lines on September 1, 2009 and sail down to California and Mexico, and then go where the wind takes us! Keep coming back for updates; we'll be posting often.