The Boatyard School of Enlightenment

Most days, it feels as if I’ll never get out of here. I can’t give up, though, and the only way out is through. The sun comes up and goes down over the rows of masts. Boats come and go, but Swell remains. One, two, three, nearly four months now.

The day arrives to help Cesar with the paint job in exchange for his assistance with my skeg. We work into the evening hours and then sit on a couple of palm stumps near the water’s edge as he recounts his own path to arriving here. He left his home in Brazil straight out of high school to camp his way down the coast. Later, he went to Nepal and trekked through the snowy highlands in jeans and a pair of Converse. After that he traveled through Europe eating out of trash cans and living on the streets, mostly for the experience.

“I’m struggling,” I tell him. “The labor is so physically intense. I’m not eating or sleeping well, either. And I dread the cold showers with these chilly September trades.”

He looks at me sprightly. “You know, for a while I was living in England working as a prep cook in a restaurant, seven days a week. The hours were grueling and some days I could hardly find the strength to get up. It was ice cold in our flat and we had no hot water. I’d fill the tub with freezing cold water straight from the frosted pipes and force myself to get in. At first I hated it, but little by little I realized that the cold water revitalized me. After a while, I looked forward to those cold baths.”

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Over the next few days, I work at embracing the cold showers. With a changed perspective, I actually begin to appreciate the invigorating properties of the cool water on my skin.

I buy a net to deter the mosquitos, but my bunk is so narrow that the netting clings to me and the little blood-suckers stick their noses right through into my bare skin. But if adversity is the way to enlightenment, then I guess I should be thanking these minivampires, and the secretary, the newly discovered blisters in the hull, the clogged carburetor in my outboard, the cold showers, mud, constant noise, and my broken headlamp. Fighting them does nothing to change my situation; I’ve tried that. It makes everything worse.

Acceptance is all that can save me.

Each day brings another challenge be it with my own morale or a difficult person or project but with more acceptance comes humor, new energy, and small miracles. By and by I stop itching as my body grows immune to the mosquito bites. I feel myself toughening to the discomfort and labor, brushing off irritations, and finding moments of solace in the morning dew, the cool evening breeze, and the silence of night. Reading from a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, I understand that anything done with love can be an act of devotion, so I try to put heart into the jobs instead of dreading them. Maybe this is karmic entanglement from past-life choices? Or maybe it’s just boat life.

Either way, I do my best to find opportunities to work on myself spending evenings studying French and Tahitian, or replaying the day’s interactions in my mind to see where I could have reacted with less emotion and more control, less sensitivity and more humor. I realize that my reactions to the secretary’s lack of compassion might come from my own demanding nature. Maybe when a man belittles my competence, it strikes a soft spot because of my own insecurities. Sometimes I do okay; other times I fail miserably, but the gods unfailingly present exactly what I need to work on.

Every day I get a little closer to the end, but now it’s not only about getting Swell out of here, it’s about who I am becoming in pursuit of that goal. The work, both on my boat and on myself, is the means to the dream, so it’s really all a labor of love. For the dream, I’m willing to push myself further, both mentally and physically, and that’s what breaks us through our own perceived limitations.

By becoming aware of my own internal struggles, I gain the ability to sense the individual challenges of people around me. I realize they are either going to look at their issues, or keep encountering them again and again in the universal struggle to find meaning, happiness, security, balance, love, and peace amongst the seas of life. I feel less alone when I see that everyone is dealing with similar stuff, and I feel a new softness toward all of them: the courageous yard workers, the street kids, the secretary, the weeds that push from below the used oil collection tank, the stray cats hunting for their next meal, even the creepy kissers. Suddenly I’m connected to all living things through our struggles.

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