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Center for Enlightened Leadership

A Stormy Sail

  Christa Metzger
  Christa Metzger

It was the Thursday of Memorial Day weekend. My husband and I were preparing to sail to Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a relaxing four days of vacation. The weather forecast said there was a 50% chance of rain. The rain began just as we left our marina and continued for the whole six-hour trip to Ocracoke. The winds gusted up to 30 knots; the rain mixed with the salt-water spray in the Pamlico Sound and burned our eyes. Waves came fast and furiously, splashing over the bow and making it nearly impossible to see the buoys that marked the channels. Our boat, a 41-foot Hunter, was leaning between 15 and 30 degrees—the railing of the boat seemed to be touching the water. Never had I experienced such conditions! Squinting through the driving rain, I yelled “red” or “green” for the channel markers to my husband at the helm. Then, in the middle of the narrow channel—surrounded on both sides by sandbanks—we heard the captain’s voice from a huge ferry leaving Ocracoke Harbor. He asked us calmly to “go back and let him out first”! Ha—no way would we get out of the channel and risk getting stuck in the sandbanks! We radioed back that we’d pass him “port to port.” It worked because I’m writing this now. We did have a pleasant stay in Ocracoke, and the voyage home was sunny and mild—my kind of sailing! A sobering reminder of the storm was a sailboat half-buried in the sandbank just outside of the channel. We heard that the people had been rescued by a helicopter, but the boat seemed a total loss.

In the midst of the raging storm, I had some intense conversations with myself. Buffeted by the fury of nature, I experienced overwhelming anxiety and fear of loss of control. My feelings were compounded by the fact that on a boat there is always only one captain—and that would be my husband! My role on the boat was not to be in control but to trust the captain. But I like being in control! I must admit that, from past experiences, I wasn’t sure that I completely trusted the captain. Had he checked out the mainsail mast since the last sailing trip, or would he have to go outside during the trip and “fix it” in order to take down the sail? It turned out that it was not fixed and he did have to go out in the storm. I was literally trembling in terror watching him out there.

Fear, anger, anxiety, lack of control—I keenly felt all of them in the face of our life-threatening situation. On a boat you can’t just pack up and leave—there’s nowhere to go! You must simply try to endure what comes. I tried deep breathing and positive affirmations, and screamed wordless prayers that all would be well. I desperately tried to touch that “other” Self within me that I knew had the power to calm and reassure me. For brief moments I could indeed hear Dame Julian of Norwich, my favorite English mystic (14th century), say her famous words, “All is well and all will be well.” But in no time my apprehension and anxiety would take over again.

In those life situations when we are clearly not in control, when our “false self” or “ego self” is in charge, when we are just trying to survive, how can we reach that deep place inside, our center, that inner awareness that lets us know that this immediate experience is not all there is? It’s easy to do this, of course, when I’m watching a beautiful sunset or listening to the wind in the trees, when I sit on my meditation bench in the garden and discover our resident turtle, or find joy in the flowers I planted that are now in bloom. But how to access that tranquility and inner peace amid circumstances that are not so pleasant?

We all long to experience serenity, to sense a meaningful connectedness with everything (even with nature when it’s violent and raging)—to find strength in the midst of fear. I think it must be a gift that comes when we can be still enough to accept whatever is happening in that moment, when we stop fighting against it. My pastor, Rev. Bill Hawkins, recently wrote a self-reflection called “Prayer of a Man Past His Prime.” In it he says this:

Yet I embrace the pain and I am thankful for it and the wound, the struggle, and that you [speaking to God], moment by moment, always “know” me in your gentle way. It seems I am becoming less of who I was and more of who I’ve always been…so I stumble forward, Lord, in trust, though I still struggle to know what it means to be a person of faith….

I will continue my spiritual practices—affirmations, prayer, reflective reading, yoga, sitting in contemplative silence, and practicing loving awareness. I will continue to trust and hope that in the next storm I will be prepared to reach that deeper place of calm within me more quickly and stay there a little longer. Life gives us plenty of challenges, both externally and internally, that allow us to practice this—times of stress, crises, and relationships with others (such as my husband when he wears his captain’s hat). So I pray for patience while I continue to learn how to live in my true Self, my authentic inner Self that loves, that is whole, that is unafraid and wise, that participates in the divine life, that is one with all creation.

In conclusion, here’s how Alice Walker expresses this feeling in her novel The Color Purple:

Here’s the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it. And sometimes it just manifest itself even if you not looking, or don’t know what you’re looking for. Trouble do it for most folks, I think. Sorrow, lord.

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