Adventures of s/v WILD HAIR


Our land life took on form, solidity, routine. We had mastery of a limited set of skills. We had habitual expectations of others and ourselves. Going sailing, we let go of our attachments to our roles, views, and rituals. We persist because we are growing in this shapeless and dynamic world.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Coming to Zero

If the water would dry up and stop its runoff down the hills, if the rain would cease for just a day or two more, then the soup-green two-acre pond hidden behind beach and mangrove would turn—overnight—into a bed of salt, pure white crystals two feet thick. This is what the locals tell me about the phenomenon that happens annually around this time. But each day the squalls come. The defiant sun gleams even as clouds burst over and around us, releasing their freight into the small watershed. Rain events take only seconds, but moments of deluge dampen my hopes of harvesting salt by the shovel full.

These are the things that captivate my imagination as I sit at anchor on our sailboat in Salt Pond Bay, St John’s—one of the US Virgin Islands. As my plan for a half-day snorkel at this anchorage is revised into a week-long stay, I realize that this time was years in the making. Since taking early retirements four years ago, Dave and I have done our best to downshift out of the fast lane, let go of all schedules, shed most of our responsibilities, and experience what life is like when we stop the frenzy and come to zero miles per hour.

I told a few friends about our intention to “come to zero.” A beautiful place to dwell, the idea of stopping to absolute zero emerged as an outgrowth of my Buddhist meditation practice. I described zero to my friends as a state of just being, witnessing the present moment without a nervous need to fill my time. Zero is a sustained place of peace where my mind, my body and the words coming out of my mouth are connected, authentic. At zero, nothing arbitrarily happens; actions emerge by informed choice. Stopped, I participate in the world, but I don’t do more than my spirit can process.

My friends’ responses told me how odd this idea of coming to zero was in modern western society. Thinking the benefits to be self-evident, I was stunned when one person said, “So, is it a good thing to come to zero? Why would you want to do that?” Another person said, “Don’t worry. Something new will emerge in your life, soon.” Both parties failed to grasp my intention to return my life to zero miles per hour again and again from now into the future. This is my preferred state of being.

Sometime during our stay at Salt Pond, Dave and I finally came to zero. Day after day our bodies were filled with energy inspiring us to hike the surrounding hillsides and swim with turtles and trunk fish in the area’s reefs. I worked the length of the boat underwater, scraping barnacles and other growth from the hull. I wrote stories to clarify and share my travel experience. Dave and I enjoyed an active social life, sharing sundowners with local cruising families and cheering our Green Bay Packer’s to their Super Bowl XLV win at a rented seaside villa with six other Wisconsinites. Dave and I dined with a reggae band leader—a fellow named Grasshopper—after his closing set. From a place of deep listening, I was able to hear the artist’s pride at touching people’s lives through music, his personal heart-break about the full spectrum of human suffering, and his hope for happiness for people in all walks of life. Were I not at zero, I would have felt too shy to talk meaningfully with Grasshopper, a man from a world so different from my own.

It was while hiking in the hills above Salt Pond during our time at zero that Dave and I met Clause, a man from Denmark, stealing a few moments away from the group of 24 Danish young people for which he was responsible. In a venture newly launched, he and his business partner guide groups of 20- to 30-year-olds on three-month trips abroad so they might experience ecologically responsible travel, local community volunteer work, and personal growth training. Dave and I were mutually smitten by the program and the man. Although the idea is somewhat foreign in the United States, many cultures encourage young people to give back and grow through a set-aside period of community service after college. Dave and I—former professionals in medicine and business, each with histories of leadership in community nonprofits, and parents of two happy twenty-something adults—would be excellent partners in such a venture. Plus, we have the added know-how of managing a sailing vessel, a ready-made eco-friendly mode of travel. Perhaps we could swap our boat for a larger model and launch our own variation on the Dutch program.


I need to practice staying at zero for I am too new at this peace to be skillful. I need to memorize my way back to zero when life speeds me up. Although everything about this program makes sense, Dave and I have agreed to take this intentional retreat from lives marked by linear tasks and measured productivity. Ours is a spiritual promise to each other. I know I have not yet learned what I came to this point to learn. I know myself. Were I to start a new venture now, I would be swept into old ways. The gas pedal in my life is still familiar and hot; if I don’t ground myself at zero, I will find myself back in the fast lane for no reason other than habit. While I want always to give something back to the world and a program like this may be the right next step, I am not ready to divide my time into scheduled segments for a seductive cause.

So, I concern myself again with the mystery of sea salt. I write. I watch turtle heads break the surface every ten minutes or so for their requisite two breaths of air before diving to graze again on the sandy algae plains of the ocean floor. I smile as barnacles find a new toe-hold on my hull. I close hatches to the latest downpour of rain to prevent our bedding from becoming soaked. I am busy being present.

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