You are such an arrogant little sailor. The ocean is fantastically huge. It’s wonderful sameness flows to infinity in every direction. Some of it is glass-flat, with no wind and no current. Other portions are stormy and violent, or have low winds with a heavy current. You have zero control over the ocean so there’s nowhere specific you’re supposed to get to. Your job is simply to sail.
People spend the first part of their lives just trying to get fundamental control over their little boat. Then they shift to an awareness that they are riding in the wake of their parents or guardians. That is followed by an often jerky, sloppy, half-dangerous exit from that wake, and then they start finding their own way.
Until leaving that wake, most kids think that their parent’s choices are dumb and uninteresting. They have imagined all kinds of places that they will go when they are the lead boat. Those imaginings are also expectations. And expectations are a form of attachment, and attachments impede happiness.
Like all of us did, kids sail off to show us where we adults should have gone. And just like it was for us, the act of growing up is when they head out into the world to have the sort of experiences that slowly bring about the realisation that our parents were dealing with a challenge the children had failed to take into account—their imagination left out details like the ocean and the weather.
You may want to sail your boat in a certain direction, but if the winds aren’t favourable, or if you have the wrong kind of boat, then you have little choice. You may even have a light wind in “your” direction, but maybe there’s a current going twice as fast the other way. We don’t control the ocean or the weather. We control only our our boat. And life is about learning that our boat can only do so much, and yet at the same time it’s always on this magnificent ocean, which means there are always things to appreciate about it, even if they may not be immediately evident on the surface.
Sure, choose a destination and sail that way if it suits you. But don’t expect to get there. And don’t criticize those who prefer to aimlessly wander, rather than goal-set and “achieve.” I mean, what is an achievement when it’s just one giant ocean? The water and weather is always moving anyway. And if you can’t control enough to actually guarantee your way anywhere, then why not just let go right at the start like the Buddhists say? Because it’s all awesomely powerful, it’s all dangerous, and it’s all beautiful. So make your plans. But don’t get attached to them. Rather than being good at maps, you are better to have learned to be a skillful sailor, because the ocean will take you in unexpected directions. It is a force that is as benevolent as it is dangerous, and wherever you go you are on it. So rather than thinking you can sail around every unknown current or storm, get good at dealing with when you can’t. Because that’s reality.
Life will give you lots of what you want, but it will offer you amazingly more if you keep your mind open. Its gifts to you will be incredibly valuable. They just won’t be exactly what you wanted or asked for.
So don’t worry about it if you can’t get where you’re headed. That’s the reality of the ocean. That does not mean you are not somewhere worthwhile instead. So stop just looking at your plans, and start looking at where you are in the moment. Because there is an ocean of possibility beneath your feet every single day of your life.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.