Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Gift of Seeing

Lady's Slipper Orchid
Cypripedium guttatum
Unalaska Island

There seems to be a perverted connection in our new world culture between "busyness" and "happiness."  We link "frenzy" with "success," filling our days churning out proliferating quantities of activity - all in a frantic pursuit of that illusive horizon.  We're upset if the commuter in front of us is traveling too slow; it interferes with our "production."  Our lives become one endless train of events, each one simply a link to the next, our steps becoming a never ending chain stretching into our future with the fading hope of one day obtaining a reward.

 Grave markers, Dutch Harbor
I think that is why sailing as well as working with traditional hand tools can become so appealing.  They both offer a forced curriculum where the participant can learn a new perception of time - a lesson where finally the eyes and heart can be opened to the moment.   Robert Cushman Murphy, a naturalist aboard a whaling ship in the early 1900's, writes sympathetically about this lack of seeing among his fellow crewmen while becalmed in the Sargasso Sea: 

"Why, after all, should these equatorial children take delight in the experiences that will somehow carry me through until you and I are once again together?  Their comfort is far less than mine, their work more arduous, their privacy nil.  In the face of unfamiliar food, they remember only their palmiest days ashore.  Hope of money, all too likely to dim with experience, is their sole lure.  Their thoughts and desires are centered on whales - whales and a port.  They follow the calling not for its own sake, but only for what it may bring - the lay, one-hundredth, one hundred-and-fiftieth, one two-hundredth, or whatever the humble cut may be.  They are poor observers of things in general.  Living creatures interest them when they can eat them or boil them down to oil, but they are as unconcerned with the dazzling plunge of a tropic-bird as with the glowing, luminescent waters of a Caribbean evening.  Sunsets, and the constellations of night skies, they do not appear to see.  Perhaps their first thought of a star will come when the Daisy, her hold filled, turns her bow away from the southern ocean.  Then we shall all be gazing nightly toward the line until changeless Polaris pops up to guide us home."  (p. 11, Logbook for Grace,Time Life books, 1947)

Petersburg, Alaska

The subtle difference between Murphy and his shipmates is in the emphasis of what the moment could do to them instead of what it could do for them.  Quietness and solitude have very little to offer the mind seeking another notch in the belt of individual profiteering, but the heart longing to be changed will find the moment of stillness invaluable.
Midnight Sun Cafe, Anchorage

Because the true reward is always before us now, not in tomorrow.

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