Sea Kayaking and spirituality : profound inner peace while sea kayaking
A book excerpt from the spiritandflesh.com religion and spirituality online library.
In the years past, if I wasn't thinking of a wilderness hideout, I would be considering other types of escape, and would be researching Trappist monasteries in France, or Orthodox monasteries in Greece- the kind of places where it's all or nothing, where one day you simply toss everything away, put on the dark robes, and spend your life drinking port and praying in obeisance to the Lord.
Or I'd imagine myself stoically self-exiled to an exotic land of peasants and simplicity, where I'd wait out my existence spurning all that I had been born into and could not stand.
And if these two regular fantasies became old, I thought perhaps I would just move down to San Francisco, or Santa Fe, or some such neo-bohemian place, and be a drunken poet. Or I'd decide that it was better in the end to fly out to a remote island in the Aleutian archipelago and build a stone shack and learn on my own the way of the Athabascan shaman. I was always trying to think of how I could survive, somehow survive in this world.
I was continually pouring over the classified adds, looking for an old Winnebago to drive away in and keep on going, or a plot of useless land out in the middle of nowhere, a place to go and plant a garden and commune with the soil, and not come back.
I bought myself an inflatable kayak, and then an inflatable raft, and I imagined myself paddling to some offshore islet, and waiting stoically for others to realize I had made the right decision, and then deciding to join me there. Whatever it took to get away, I was taking it. But I never got away.
Perhaps the closest I ever came to feeling the freedom and flow of the untrammeled spirit on earth were times I spent kayaking the outer coast, where the lift and drop of the endless swell raises you up and takes you down in a gentle, soothing motion; where you can sit in your boat within this calming medium, out as far as the furthest reefs, where the ocean pounds against the enduring loneliness of these last and isolate members of the continent, away from it all and sitting unscathed by the crashing waves, wrapped in a timeless stillness that will gather you up and remove you forever from the distant shore if you open up and tap into its remoteness.
Out there, alone but for the sea and sky and nothing to scar the infinite expanse which swallows you up and makes you a part of it. Out there, where only the occasional puffin or albatross comes around to remind you that other life still exists, that you have not paddled through a door in the void nor come into that place of forgetfulness and absence to which the weary soul so longs to go.
Out there, where the cadence of the paddle hauls you in and you lose yourself in the act, and the paddle takes over while you merely hold on and wonder where you've gone.
The sea is a lonely place, almost as lonely as God. Perhaps that is why we are drawn to sit beside it and look out to nowhere, so as to feel the type of absence which the spirit calls home. A home which is far from all else, and that is why we fear to go there, for it is a home where no one else lives, no one visits, and only the wind comes by occasionally to remind us of its kinship. A home without rooms, or walls, or furniture. An emptiness to which we are all drawn like Icarus to the sun. Only we do not melt and crash, but instead we dissipate and rise, forever after inhabiting only the remote and untouched areas of the earth, if indeed we come down at all.
There is foreign lostness to the outer coast, which sings softly to the tune of our alien existences, to our eternal wanderings in the oceanic self. You can go out there only once and get caught out there forever, and even if your body returns to the world and to work, and continues to love, and eat, and sleep, and lives out the rest of your life, you will remain out in the swells and the space, out in the lost reaches of the heart, where neither hurt nor love has ever gone. And you stay out there because of this, because to come back means to love and die all over again, because that is what happens when you cannot control your care.
And so your body returns to your friends and family who know not that you have buried yourself at sea, have set your spirit adrift into the warm abyss where nothing matters and you can breathe again and let the world go on its melancholic way.
What I found out there was the part of me which could not endure life- the part which wanted to fix it all and knew it was not fixable, the part of me that wanted to heal the endless agony, the part which could not accept the world for what it was and therefore had to die or leave it.
Out there I found myself smiling a soft smile I had never experienced before, a smile which came neither from joy, nor victory, nor laughter, but which came from the end of struggle, and the end of pain; it was the subtle and almost imperceptible smile of a soldier after the battle is over, a battle in which neither side has gained any ground, but only slaughtered each other until the few remaining troops had to stop and sign a truce; it was a smile that no longer needed to be aroused by anything, because it came after everything else had been removed, and therefore would never again leave; it was a smile that did not belong to the body, nor the mind, nor the earth, nor even the heavens, it was a smile that belonged to no one but ...me.
What I found out there was a place where it all fell away and only a huge, cathartic sigh remained, a sigh which would go on forever because the world would go on forever, and there was nothing that could be done, and that part of me I found out there was courageous enough to finally accept this, to sigh, and to look out away into the untroubled distance and to never look back. And that is why I am always out there. No matter where my body is, or what I am doing, that part of me is still out there, sitting in the slowly rocking swells, out past the anguish of the furthest reef, with my bow pointed west, towards nothing, and I look without seeing, listen without hearing, and feel without joy, need, nor pain.
I have seen this distance in others who have been away from the shore of life too long, and who now look about the world with that thousand-yard stare, which seeks for nothing, and attaches to nothing, because nothing is what it is after.
When you drift away like this it is almost impossible to get back, for your spirit leaves the earth and hangs like a kite above the clouds, waiting for the body to die and release it.
I have heard of astronauts, hovering out in space- far from the ensconcing psychic dome of anger and confusion around the earth- who find themselves immersed in an inexplicable ocean of love and peace impossible to reach in the dark spiritual atmosphere of humanity. And I have heard of their painful return back to earth, and how everything seems so grey, groaning with anguish, and useless.
Were it not for the greater will, driving me back down, flogging me against my own desires, forcing me to turn around and venture back to earth, I certainly never would have returned.
But the microcosm is an instrument of the macrocosm, the self is the vehicle of the Self, and service and duty come in many ways, and if you're called you follow, and if you don't follow you're dragged, and I was dragged along until I realized I was beaten and so I got up and walked back on my own.
And during that long march back I realized that once you have died out there and then been resurrected, there is no longer a place for you in the scheme of things, no longer a role for you in the external drama; that you no longer belong to the great show; you are lost and autonomous, and for the first time ...you are necessary. Now you are a stranger from another world, come to share their strangeness, or take no part. No matter, you do not fill a void, you create one. That is all. But that is everything.
The spirit lives in all things, and is all things, manifest and unmanifest, formed and formless, absolute and fleeting. It moves at a different rhythm without betraying the torpor of the profane. It swirls through the linear, prosaic, and mean presences of the dream, vivifying and animating all. It belongs where it is welcomed, and is imprisoned where it is denied. It has no borders, no identity, and no characteristics. It has no need, no doubt, no unstillness, and moves without effort and effort cannot move it. If you look for it you cannot see it, but if you become it, it will be free.
(excerpted from In and Of: memoirs of a mystic journey, by Jack Haas, and ex-Alaskan sea kayaking guide)