Boating life progresses at a slower pace than life on land, making a sailboat a perfect place to nurture spiritual practice. In my case, my Christian faith is complemented and enhanced by ancient Zen Buddhist teachings and the practice of meditation.
As humans, our minds jump from topic to topic even when our bodies slow down. This condition is known among those who meditate as “monkey mind.” A meditation practice trains our mind to settle, focus, and experience peace. In this way, meditation adds to the already contemplative nature of sailing.
The uninformed believe meditation is a way of “zoning out,” losing touch with reality. But during meditation, the practitioner actually is in a heightened state of awareness registering everything that happens in the present moment. Nothing exists outside of the present moment.
I have found meditating on land different from meditating on water because of the boat’s constant movement. By witnessing my body’s adjustment to the waves while meditating, I have gained insight into the vulnerabilities I feel afloat. By sitting with my vulnerabilities, I have cultivated an unlikely admiration for the vastness of the ocean and the mysteries of hidden life forms.
Further, wave action during meditation has revealed to me a profound confidence in WILD HAIR, our 1994 45.5 foot Hylas sloop. I observe that she is a nimble and responsive vessel. I know my boat was designed, built, and is maintained by talented people working to keep me safe. All of the knowledge mankind amassed in its history with the sea is incorporated into my boat’s construction.
Through meditation I quietly and systematically uncover my fears, joys, ego, discomforts, and strengths. Most importantly, meditation helps me rest in the knowledge that I am awake to everything this precious, impermanent cruising moment offers.
How to Meditate
If you would like to try meditation, follow these simple steps:
- Posture. Sit on the floor with a cushion tipping your sit bones slightly forward in a cross-legged position or sit upright on a chair (without using the seat back) —whatever is more comfortable. Have your body relax, straighten your spine, and support this posture with a triangle made by your pelvis and knees (if seated on the floor) or pelvis and feet (if in a chair). Lift the crown of your head, relax your chin downward, and close (or mostly close) your eyes. Relax your belly and let it “hang out.” Invite a small smile onto your lips. Note: there is no reason to experience pain in your posture as you go along; if you are uncomfortable while meditating, slowly and mindfully adjust your posture.
- Breath. Focus your thoughts on your breathing—an action that is always with you. Put all of your attention on your breath as it moves through your nostrils, down the back of your throat, and into your lungs. Notice how your abdomen moves when you breathe. Do not force your breathing into longer or shorter intervals. Instead, watch as your breath naturally flows.
- Practice. As “monkey mind” kicks in and you lose focus, bring your attention back to the breath. Meditation is the act of starting over, again and again, without judgment. Be gentle with yourself. Kindly return your mind to the breath and observe what is going on for you as you sit and breathe.
Begin by meditating for five minutes and over the course of about 10 days build your practice to 20 minutes per sit. Find a time of day when you can sit calmly without interruption (for me, this time is before breakfast). To increase meditation’s benefits, you can cultivate “right mind” by studying Zen teachings. While many instructors are bringing eastern philosophy to the west, I recommend the books of my teacher, the Vietnamese monk nominated by Martin Luther King Jr. for a Nobel Peace Prize: Thich Nhat Hanh.
Meditation is experiential and will produce direct benefits. You need not take anything on faith. If after a month of daily practice you have not found meditation helpful, stop. But, I am confident that a daily practice of following your breath will surprise you in its rewards.
About Heather Mann
For more than 25 years Heather Mann and her husband David owned spirited day sailors and cruised small inland lakes in the mid-west. Certified for bareboat chartering, Heather and family explored cruising grounds from Lake Superior to the British Virgin Islands. Today, Heather and husband David live-aboard s/v WILD HAIR, a 1994 45.5 foot Hylas sloop. They travel the east coast of the United States and the Caribbean. Hear more about her travels at http://AdventuresOfWildHair.blogspot.com.
Heather is an ordained member or the Zen Order of Interbeing and student of Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
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