Afloat, not Adrift
A fresh breeze blows in my window this morning, cutting through the haze of so many muggy hot days. I awoke in a dream of delayed sailing, a farce in five acts of finely delineated procrastination on the verge of setting sail, but never getting there. The excuses kept unrolling before me like a finely embroidered carpet holding my attention as it not only threatened, but succeeded in suffocating me.
I've taken to this screen, "Add New Post" as though it were a lifeline. In part because I've been cringing at my memory of the tone in which I wrote yesterday….
My "Legitimate Strangeness" has that effect on me. I'm "working," "trying," looking for any synonym to avoid saying striving, to accept that what makes my voice my own will sound wrong to me for that very reason whether there's reason to cringe or no.
Vulnerability has that effect. Putting one's weaker side on display is uncomfortable, though mostly what we notice about ourselves at those times has been perfectly clear to others all along.
I take pride in stating, "I don't know!" But I've always taken pride in knowing. I wouldn't open my mouth without this drive. I certainly wouldn't be in here on a morning like this if this drive hadn't compelled me to find a way to balance, equivocate, my knowing with my unknowing with my knowing of my unknowing with my unknowing of my knowing.
There is always something personal at the heart of our motivations. Call it selfishness, I certainly do when it comes to those I find distasteful. In the end I do think it's a form of self-preservation. Unless our particular situation and its conditions are addressed by our actions, our focus, our attention then we go past vulnerability to a state of… I was going to say, danger? All of a sudden my own counsel about the chimeras around our desires for security begin to swirl around me. Is this a point where my own insecurities have found a place to hide? Let's call insecurities those habits of mind that hide within our conscious attention and keep us from letting go in ways that would make a difference. These points in our psyches are as hard to discern as the blind spot there on each of our retinas, healed over by the illusion of a seamless consciousness.
At a certain point the foolishness of a cat chasing its tail we feel as we shift and squirm looking to see what doesn't want to be seen, what the "I" in us conspires to hide and hides behind; it seems better to let go of the attempt rather than to persist on a direct attack with no hope of success. Letting go…. It is the only tactic that opens up a space for fresh insight, for revelation. At the same time, it is a reminder that the desire for insight and revelation is in itself a conceit of the self….
I've held this title, Afloat not Adrift, in abeyance for a long time. It came to me first, in all its wonderful oceanic promise, decades ago when I was introduced to the Japanese concept of Ukiyoe, the Floating World. This aesthetic, an inspiration for Impressionists and Symbolist painters leading up to the Twentieth Century's dawn one hundred years ago right about now, connected with my first memory of setting out in a small boat as a child. I was transfixed by the visual experience, looking down as the deepening water distorted, magnified, and then obscured the sandy bottom I knew so well growing up learning to walk on that beach. Coupled with the give as the boat's buoyancy responded to the motions imparted by the water and the wind, this has been the "Rosebud" image that has fed my fascination with boats ever since.
The idea of a Floating World has been an accretion point for notions, concepts, feelings, and experiences all these years. One of my most recent observations directed at this view was this post, Aloof.
Afloat, not Adrift could be called a prayer of mine, an assertion of a hope for myself. As I struggle with the diminishing distance I see between the two terms, as their meanings begin to blend and blur, almost merging with that same fascinating distortion I first saw as sand and pebbles fell away beneath that first boat's keel, I continue to hold onto that prayer, that they are not the same thing, and that I find a way to be afloat while not simply adrift.
The name of this place claims a focus outwards on horizons that limit and beckon. This other phrase might better describe my underlying project, the hope behind a life's work – call that striving?
IF there is a distinction between afloat and adrift, then there is one also between work and striving. I'm betting it all so far that there is. While taking in observations around the edges of a notion of action without striving – believe me this gives me a headache too! You know who you are those of you to whom I direct that aside! I maintain a faith? that there is such a thing, another way of dealing with, seeing, coping, and interacting with the world that opens up the possibility to avoid futility and find effective action.
Still, nagging doubts float in. Is there a way to break the cumulative conditioning of thousands of years, and can I possibly have anything to contribute to such an endeavor?
These doubts bifurcate and split off again and again into categories and subcategories of expression that lead to strengthening or weakening their force, depending on where I rest my attention. I keep returning to a combination of "what choice do I have? These notions preoccupy me. They must matter to me for reasons internal to who I am, therefore it is personal." This, a return to "everything is personal," and that a certain squeamishness in confronting our own needs and vulnerabilities is somehow natural.
Nick Hunt's contribution to Dark Mountain 2, "The Horse Latitudes," is a meditation on what it means to be afloat and adrift on a sea of our own making, covered and infiltrated to the molecular level by plastics with their indestructible polymers embedding themselves into our very existence as life on earth. I share his narrator's impatience with the "activist's" short-sighted attempts to do "good." I still have an abiding discomfort with what appears to be a voluntary immersion in, almost a celebration of the "Rogue Whale's" role of an outside observer aloof from the concerns of the "herd." A celebration of the ineffectuality of action – a trait of the character, not I feel what Nick Hunt himself intends as the point of his tale – falls on the side of a tantrum of nihilism, and not the fulfillment of the demands for right action that impels us to find effective action outside of the self-delusions of striving. An "aloof" that stays with the popular understanding of the term, cut off, adrift, of its original nautical meaning of maintaining a safe reserve to leeward between ourselves and a dangerous shore.
Buoyancy. I keep coming back to the joy I felt that first time, the joy I still feel at every chance I get, to step off solid ground with its illusion of certainty as a steady-state and go afloat. Buoyancy is the result of a myriad of balances that allow us to sense directly the difference between the complexity of balance in a dynamic world and the illusion of balance as a point on a line that we get within the fiction of "stable ground" that is the product of the time-scales of our attention that keep temblors and other shocks on the periphery of our awareness in the midst of our life on land.
An embodiment of buoyancy has a direct connection with joy as we are filled with the true state of our being. Rest is a figment resting on a fiction that there is a static stability possible to attain. The act of buoyancy continually affirms not just that such a rest is unattainable but it reinforces our instinctive aversion to falling for such oversimplifications in the first place. We recognize, not only that the desire for such a rest is death-affirming at its core, but we bathe in the animal joy of the pure act of buoyancy itself. At such moments we drop striving like an unnecessary burden. Right action comes to us as naturally as breathing. We rise into being and we act without thought to maintain ourselves in its domain.
Anyhow, this is what I have buoying my prayer, my hope, that we can be afloat and not adrift. That we can enter into right action and clear our minds of the traps of striving and futility. This is the font of the stories I tell and want to tell. This is where for better or worse my attention returns when the distractions and frictions of life's surface perturbations have taken my eye off my fascination with the depths.