Living six to nine time zones away from many friends always creates difficulties for both sides. There is one advantage for me, however, and it adds value to my life, sometimes like a stalagmite growing drop by silent drop. On occasion, like this morning, it is more like a raging torrent that reshapes the channels of my mind. I even find myself hoping it reshaped the literal contours of my brain. Fearing that the turbulence and power will be fleeting and become only a memory by tomorrow – a memory I will spend time grasping after rather than being more in the moment – I am trying something new this morning.
Currently, I live nine hours ahead of the time zone I used to relate to in the USA (Sausalito/San Francisco, California). When I wake in the morning the first thing I do is have my electronic housemate, Alexa, start playing KQED, the public radio station in the San Francisco area. It breaks the silence in my home and gets my brain started (pre-coffee). In the USA, it is nighttime and the late-night programs available are usually the BBC and an interview program from City Arts and Lectures, or similar programming. Today on CA&L the guest was Abraham Verghese – the author of “Cutting for Stone” and the recently released “The Covenant of Water.” I think I will look back and realize that this interview with Dr. Verghese changed my life. It felt that impactful.
For several years, or thereabouts, I have formed the habit of meditating every morning for 10-15 minutes to quiet my mind. It works, and I’ve learned (after 73 years!) to have some measure of control over how, and when, I think.
But I felt an overwhelming urge to write, now, instead of following my routine. It scares me a bit to change. I don’t want to just write when I feel motivated or inspired but to learn the discipline of good writing, also, and bring more routine into my life. As I write this sentence, however, the simple word “just” in the preceding sentence precedes an expression of what I don’t want. One simple word changes the hope in that it doesn’t preclude me from writing when inspired, it only eliminates the possibility of writing only when inspired. So my unedited self having given my editing self permission, here I go having learned my latest repetitive lesson in paying attention to what I really want.
I won’t say the interview changed my life, yet. I frankly get irritated at gushing appreciation of reactions predicting transitional change in the moment. It takes time, and effort, to get action and movement from impactful events even if they open doors that were previously shut or unmarked. This interview has the potential, however, of exactly that kind of change for me. It has become a touchstone against which to measure how I feel about so many things.
And I feel terribly, wonderfully, inadequate. Looking back, much of my life has regretfully been overlaid with hubris – a fact I’ve only recently had the courage to come to terms with. There is a great side to these kinds of realizations, however, in that they allow you to move beyond the usual and go to something more useful. It is at this point that I feel so fearful of my blogging becoming a self-indulgent naval-gazing diary made public. That is just another form of hubris to which I am susceptible. (I edited this post significantly the next morning having re-read it and found some of it to be almost undecipherable – sorry! But remember, I’m learning.)
The realization of having a purpose that can be defined has always been a dream of mine and I finally think I have it. It isn’t the realization of that dream that is attractive, it is the clarity and pursuit of it. I already feel very, very fortunate in finding contentment and ease in many areas of my life dealing with a place to live, food, relatively good health, and friendships. but a deeper satisfaction has eluded me.
And that is why this particular topic has found its way into the “prepare” section of a blog site about going on a three-year cruise around the world. Since I first heard about the venture on 5 March, I was drawn to the possibility of having my own little version of Walden Pond on the oceans of the world. For those of you not from the Western world, Henry David Thoreau, an American naturalist, poet, philosopher, and writer, when he was 27 years old in 1845, built a simple house and spent two years, two months, and two days living on the shore of Walden Pond. He later wrote about that time as being transformative. I hope this cruise will offer some of the equivalent experiences to me. Most likely I’ll spend a LOT of time in my cabin working on the website and writing in one form or another. There is also a requirement for some web technology and programming/coding (which I find fun) mixed in for spice.
I have solitude and time to contemplate here in my home in Oranjemund, Namibia, but my social life is more constrained and limited than I would like. Doing some research on Thoreau quickly uncovers his active social life and travels while living at Walden Pond, all of which he felt were essential to his growth there. I think I’ll find those pleasures on this cruise. There will be a high concentration of like-minded souls, and the ability to spend oceans of time in my room with internet access to the world, my friends, and intellectual stimulation. When I am so inclined I will need only step outside my cabin door to enjoy people I’ve come to know well, relax in a beautiful environment that is ever-changing, and feel a kinship with the ocean. Most of the humdrum of “real life” will be attenuated at least and I’ll be able to disconnect from many of the more tedious ones like paying phone bills, buying groceries, and cutting the lawn.
I’m sure there will be the personalities I want to avoid – some of the folks hoping for three years of blissful pampering and luxury, being entertained by something on the outside of themselves, and having a bigger room, or TV, than their shipmates. Remembering that I have chosen to live in sub-Saharan Africa in a very modest home, to me luxury is having someone else do the dishes and plan varying menus to match the areas of the world we visit. I love good food, am jealous of the time it takes to prepare it, and appreciate the effort to plan and prepare delicious, attractive, and varying cuisines.
This cruise is an opportunity that is unfolding in how well it will facilitate my personal aspirations. The “luxury” of a cruise is, to me, actually a distraction and unattractive, particularly in that it will attract people who are drawn to it. I look forward to the adventurers, the ones who signed up partly because we don’t know for sure what will happen. Personally, I think it is inevitable that in three years there will be some kind of a major challenge, personal obstacle, or unexpected world event that will disrupt the most carefully laid plans. What will be interesting, and stressful at times, is how a relatively small group of people react to those challenges interpersonally and practically. I am drawn to the idea of community, and I wish I was more optimistic about how well a nurturing community will evolve from our three-year adventure. I hope my lack of optimism (which is not the same as being pessimistic) is proven unfounded.
Regardless, I am excited and happily embarking on this latest potentially “life-changing” adventure. What I found in the interview with Abraham Verghese was the knowledge that someone “out there” shares my fundamental beliefs about what is possible and was able to speak, and write, about it with such clarity and verve. It is a fantastic discovery to help prepare me for my own version of Walden Pond, otherwise known as the Life at Sea Cruise.
The interview with Abraham Verghese can be found at https://www.cityarts.net/event/abraham-verghese/.
A wonderful clip on the book The Covenant of Water can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jPrWQwWLpNM. I haven’t read it yet, but am excited to start it when I finish a book, today.
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