The village in which I have lived my whole life is nestled along the coast. It is full of sun and figs and light breezes. Beyond our little harbor there is a great sea that stretches to the horizon and extends beyond the borders of the known world. No one has ever found the End. As children we used to go up on the roofs of our parent’s houses on calm spring days with baskets of crackers and cheese, telescopes made from rolled paper board and paste and ground glass, jars of water filled with lemons and ice, and sticks we transformed into sabers and rapiers.
We pretended we were explorers daring to travel far across the sea, beyond the boundaries of the known, and we marched around the roof with the requisite combination of poise and bravado, responding to one invented calamity after another with unshakable faith and incredible canny. It was delicious and exciting. We would crouch behind the chimney and survey the horizon through our makeshift spyglass, identifying dragons and ghost ships and drowning or hostage princesses, and then in rapid succession hail our foes, brandish our rapiers, execute the rescue, battle the dragons- this required a sudden melee of lurching, ducking and rolling, as well as periodically flinging meaningless remnants of the weather and of the local vegetation off the roof- save one another’s lives, and somersault in circles until all scores were appropriately settled.
Then we would come down from the roof and run through the streets of our village at dusk, scaring up dogs and chickens, dashing around corners and down narrow alleyways, and return to our homes.
* * * * *
Every once in a while a great ship bristling with masts and nets and flags would set off to reach a point farther in that vast sea than any that had gone before. The entire community would gather down at the wharf to watch the nautical parade make its way out of the harbor and into the open water. They began with a healthy entourage of attending vessels both large and small- a fleet of provisions and protection- and often returned years later, limping and decimated, heroic and triumphant, laden with stories.
As boys we watched these great comings and goings with anticipation, wonder and longing. As I grew older and discovered more of the world, the care-free approach to flinging myself into the unknown became tinged by the understanding that those great sailors don’t always have answers, that ships, even the greatest of them, sink, and that exploration is serious business requiring financing, hob-nobbing, vision, charisma, and a certain amount of scheming. Ships don’t simply land in one’s lap. I found that some of my friends had developed other interests as their lives had unfolded, interests having little to do with the Sea Without End, and that the small circle of willing comrades was far from sufficient to crew a large vessel.
I’d have to hire strangers- people I’d never met- and manage them, and manage their expectations. I’d need to win their confidence. I’d need money and time. It would be best if I possessed experience I didn’t yet have, and I’d need some of the hard won knowledge others had gained in previous journeys, and now held dear. I was overwhelmed. From the rooftops it had all been so simple and clear. Why now, was it all so difficult and strange? So foreign to the knowledge I once held with certainty?
* * * * *
One day in a cafe near the wharf I was engaged in some bit of scheming, making notes and inscriptions in my handy roll of parchment, downing coffees and inviting dreams, when a flyer on an adjacent table caught my eye. A man named Jesus would be giving a talk at the wharf the following night, in the open air, at dusk. It said he would speak about a Mystery even greater than that of the Sea. I gave a good aw-phooey at that one, but something about that called to me. My insistence on being the first to reach the End of the sea was chewing up every last one of my wits, and spitting them out onto the cobblestones. On the other hand, I couldn’t shake some inner calling that whispered to me at night and before dawn, and in other moments that wedged into my daily life from Someplace Else.
Maybe this Jesus understood those spaces and feelings.
I anticipated a great crowd, but there were just a few of us, and Him. He had a wood and canvas folding chair, and I stood on my leather-soled boots to listen. At first I was aloof. I felt awkward being there. There were certain of my friends I was hoping wouldn’t see me there, and I definitely didn’t want a potential financier or future first officer of my mission to see me there, listening to this strange man and his strange ideas. I didn’t want to be seen as a fool- as someone who didn’t know things and needed to be told them.
But He talked, and I listened, and He spoke of things that surely were meant just for me. He talked of longing and desire, of greatness and beauty, of truth and power, and of simple things- a flower springing up between the cracks in the pavers, the ice that breaks up in the harbor early in spring, the birds that always know where and how to be. He spoke of a great Movement that gives rise to all things, and that gives rise to us, and to which we in turn give rise. He spoke of a life filled with love and peace, and said the greatest frontier was not the sea behind us, but the inner space of our hearts.
Time passed without my knowing, and soon the sun was coming up, and our little group felt like a small bed of glowing coals. When things began to break up, I approached Him without knowing exactly why, and I wasn’t sure why I was nervous, but I was. I told Him I wanted to be a great explorer, but I didn’t have the funds, or the crew, or the ship. I had only this dream, an idea that seemed to be beyond me. I asked Him if I should give it up? And if I did, what would I do? I told Him I was ready to give it up, all of it, but I was confused about what I would do or be without it.
He told me that the Movement uses all things to reveal itself to us, and that our greatest longings will propel us to the truth. He said the end of the sea was just another place in this world, some rocks and a sandy beach, a flower I’ve never seen before, but that the journey to it, and the encounters with others along the way would yield much greater riches within. He told me the Movement doesn’t ask me to relinquish anything within my heart, but that one day I would understand it all to be the expression of a single, creative desire- a single Movement. He told me when I found that, my seeking would be over, and my living would begin for the first time. He told me then I would find frontiers to explore I never knew existed.
Start with who you are, He said. Let that whisper to you, and all that you truly desire will be.
* * * * *
I left buoyed with new confidence, but also a little confused, a little uncertain of what to do in tangible form that night or the next day to aid in the discovery these new frontiers. I felt like I had been shown a glimpse of Everything, but that I could only have it one piece at a time. I felt like something great was on the horizon, but the path to it was still unclear. Something was both within me and yet beyond me.
Time passed, and when I could stand it no more I bought a small boat. It was all I could afford. I saw others able to buy bigger ships with great crews and smaller boats laden with provisions. I grew angry and confused, certain of my shortcomings, but I also grew increasingly focused on allowing the Movement to support me. The feeling of being in harmony with all of the forces of the world, and of that harmony propelling me to the End of the sea was ever fresh within me, and yet when I tried to make it real, to call forth a great fleet of ships or a banker who saw the same vision as I had, it was like treading in quicksand. Something was escaping me.
I tried to find where Jesus was going, where He would be talking, and I went as often as I could. He didn’t speak of crossing the sea, however, He spoke of living like a seamless expression of the Movement, of seeds being spread across the land by birds and by wind without any effort, of beauty and joy flowing through us into the world, of an endless inheritance that only we could deny.
My restlessness grew to a frightening intensity. His words catapulted me into experiences of the heart I strove to make real in the world. I threw caution to the wind and rounded up a handful of sailors with my vision of the Movement carrying us to the edge of the world. We set sail in my little boat, and I was fervently determined to call forth the Movement to guide us. I was determined to let Perfection propel us onwards.
Despite my noble intentions, every step was a trial, a difficulty. Some of our food was rotten. The wind and tides were working against us. We made only stilted progress and I felt wholly opposite to the joyous feelings that had inspired me to push on with this foolish quest. I wanted to dive off the side and into the water where hopefully sharks would come and take me, and end this foolish torment, but I couldn’t give that impression to the few sailors I had with me. I wanted desperately to know that some grace was filling my every breath. In my inability to even confess to my obvious failures, however, I felt like I was living a lie. At night, alone on the deck, just out of sight of land and wallowing in rolling swells with little wind to speak of, I collapsed to my knees and tears began to fall.
Am I simply a fool?
* * * * *
No, He said. Somehow He was seated next to me on the deck. He was completely at ease, relaxed. You wish you could call forth something outside of yourself, something separate from you, that will answer your call, and this is not of which I have spoken. You are chasing the wind, and the wind is chasing you. When you are moving with the wind at your back, at the same speed as the wind, it feels like no movement at all is occurring, and if you are not aware that you and the wind together complete a picture, you will not know the creation that is happening.
This moment in which you are poised is the answer to all that you have desired- it is the Movement unfolding through you, and it is your response to the Movement, and it is Perfection itself, yet you deny that this is so, and thus set yourself apart from it and from who you are. You deny all that you have called forth, and this is the source of your distress. You think that if you were the person you dream of being, that somehow things would be different, would be ‘right’, and this is not so. There is more beauty and truth in this moment than you have dared to consider, and in the acceptance of that, you will know the wind is with you, and you in it, even in its stillness.
Tomorrow, He said, a feeling will come and you will have the chance to answer it. Know that this feeling is my presence within you, where you meet me, and I meet you. Know that it is our relationship, and our creation together, and respond to it. Take joy in it, and place yourself inside of its unfolding, and be at peace.
And he was gone.
* * * * *
The next morning I was up at sunrise, rested and relaxed, full of His Presence within me. The boat was bobbing in calm seas. The wind was absent, and I just listened. I felt the movement of the water, the scents of the air, the rhythms of the clouds, and we went nowhere. Yet I was filled with the knowing that it was good. I allowed myself to feel my self in all of it, and steadily a feeling of peace and wonder overcame me. I stared down into the water and saw a school of fish. I thought of the trees whose wood had become this boat, dividing air and water. I gathered the crew and, with no wind or sailing to be done, incited a game of cards. We put our quest on hold for the day and cooked and ate and joked. We talked and laughed. We fished. We swore. We napped.
Dusk came and a dolphin leapt from the sea in front of the boat. It sang to us. We were no closer to the end of the world than before, but I was somehow no longer distant from it.
This moment spread out into years… Winds came and went. We moved across the sea, drifting here and there. I found my self in every bit of wind, every bit of water, every event and calamity that unfolded, and never ceased to know that it was good. The crew and I found each other in that space. We forgot how to tell the difference between moving and waiting, between closer and farther, between good and bad. Differences escaped me altogether, and peace took root within me. It was growing in me, and I in it.
It was a joyous time- a seamless time.
* * * * *
I forget to remember where we were going. We swim each day in the sea, and birds make their nests in our lone mast. We dive for pearls in shallow waters just outside of our harbor. Our boat is recked on a sand bar making a habitat for crabs. We teach young boys how to make rapiers out of sticks.
What was I saying again?
Do you still think there will be an end to this story?