Not exactly the same as ‘adrift’. You can be anxious, being adrift, afraid you’ve lost your bearings, veered off course, or abandoned your purpose. Afloat is the feeling of being supported gently, effortlessly. It’s a kind of dreamy state, I think. Last year, the day after my birthday, I treated myself to a sail on the Denis Sullivan, a facsimile of a 19th century lake vessel owned by the museum where I worked at the time. The day was completely calm and foggy.
There was a very quiet, gentleness to the water. It was very relaxing. The crew still went through the activities of raising the sails, and we helped (a little), but mostly hung around idle.
It’s nice to be afloat, but I wouldn’t want to do it every day. I like being engaged in a stimulating effort to take responsibility for myself in my life. I don’t want to expect an easy ride, and I don’t want to complain or blame some other entity for not supporting me. I appreciate resources, but I don’t feel entitled to them, and I’m very willing to go without a lot of things. I think this attitude is very simple and useful.
My mother revealed to me a nickname that she had secretly assigned me when I was a young teen. She thought of me as “The Waterstrider”. Ever seen those long-legged bugs in a still puddle who are able to stroll the surface without ever breaking the tension that keeps them above water? Here are a few:
My “Waterstrider” tendencies changed, my mother noted, after my sister and I were in a car accident and she was killed. I turned 17 only three days later, and began to ask the Really Big, Serious Questions about life. I began to search for Depth and Meaning, but mostly from only one perspective – Christianity. When I was 45, my husband died in bed beside me early one Saturday morning. My journey toward Depth was not over. I decided to look from a different angle. I needed a bigger perspective.
I discovered that there is so much more than I had ever noticed before. Depth goes in different directions: up and down, inward and outward…indefinitely. Maybe it was less overwhelming to be a Waterstrider, but it was also less genuine. In the depths of the sea, there is reflected the vastness of the heavens. In the solitude of a silent moment, there is the ageless Now. In the recognition of something we “know”, there is the awareness of Mystery that we will never comprehend. This might be what some people call “Wisdom” or “Maturity”. I tend to think of it as simple Truth. If you’re not afraid to go below the surface, you may discover the wonders of Depth. It feels different. It surrounds you, puts pressure on places that may not be used to bearing it. But you may discover a strength and resiliency you didn’t know you had…at least I did. Then that depth makes you feel buoyant and free…as if you were flying!
Take up the challenge, friends. Take a journey into Depth.
Hebba-lubbo, frebbends! (Does anyone remember the PBS show Zoom? Ubby-Dubby language? Anyone? Beuller?) Are you wondering where I’ve been? Why I went AWOL? Have you missed me? *looking up, fluttering my lashes* Well, I feel a need to justify my absence anyway. Silliness aside, I need to take time to write again.
I am anticipating the end of the season for my job at the living history museum, Old World Wisconsin. By the end of next month, I will need to make up those wages by doing something else. Fortunately, my previous employer still values my skills as a proofreader, and I have been able to contract with them for some work I can do at home. Hopefully, I will be able to pick up some new voice students as well. I have been spending my home days working on those enterprises and helping Steve with the book business. So, I have not been spending my home time in leisurely rambles of creative writing. And the memory card in my camera is full, so I haven’t been taking pictures. I have been thinking, though….
Steve and I will soon be hitting the 5-year milestone in our relationship. Our first date was October 4. The evolution of our partnership has been an intense journey toward maturity, and keeping that energy going is quite a commitment. The other day, I went back to some of our early e-mails (yes, I still haven’t deleted them) and came face-to-face with my former self: a grieving widow struggling to be a single Mom for the first time. Yikes! The more dramatic e-mails were the ones I exchanged with my 17-year old daughter. Our grief, our survival, was such a strong agenda that we were hardly communicating anything besides our fears, our wants, our upset feelings. It was very hard for us to listen to each other and be generous. Steve stepped into that gap and calmly spoke his observations without judgment, even when my daughter’s anger was focused on his role in my life. A metaphor that he uses is “clearing the windshield”. We often have so much mud covering up the clarity of what life is and how we want to live it. Steve has always come back to articulating his vision, one that he’s known since he was very young. He’s been very patiently illustrating it over these past 5 years, and I’ve only recently felt that my windshield has been clear enough to see it.
I have been reading a little book he gave me — Finding the Still Point: A Beginner’s Guide to Zen Meditation by John Daido Loori. Here’s the nugget I will keep returning to:
“From birth we have been conditioned by different events and people — our teachers, parents, country, culture, neighborhood, friends, and peers. Everything we cherish — our positions, attitudes, opinions, all of our attachments, all the things we think give our life identity — is found in our conditioning. Now here we are, decades later, trying to live our lives out of this random programming we call “my life”. We feel so strongly about parts of the program we are ready to die for it. And it is all created in our own mind.
There is no escaping the fact that getting beyond this accumulated conditioning is a long process. Thirty or forty years of programming takes time to work through. We look at the thoughts, acknowledge them, let them go, and come back to the breath. Day by day, we uncover what is underneath all of the conditioning. What we discover is called freedom. It is called human life. It is called wisdom and compassion. It’s the nature of all beings.”
Living freely is the reward of maturity. Cleaning the windshield is an arduous, stinky task at times. I am tempted to hide behind the caked-on guck and call it my safe cocoon, expecting my partner to join me there. He will not. Is that ungenerous? Or the most loving thing a friend can do? Sometimes I have a hard time deciding. Even when he doesn’t join me there, he has waited for me to emerge. He finds that very frustrating at times. He would like to see me free. He would like to see all people free, including himself. His sadness and disappointment when we are not free shows in his face and posture. I think of where my daughter and I used to live. We have emerged joyfully from that place. We know freedom. But we are still cleaning the windshield. There is more to be done, and the view from that one clear corner is my inspiration to continue the work.
I am alive. I am maturing. I am working on my life. And I enjoy taking time to write about it every once in a while. Thanks for listening!