I have long loved this quote because it so succinctly describes a dilemma I face daily. While I typically prefer the reassuring sense of dry land under my feet or the safety of the harbor, the truth is that more often than not I feel like a ship tossed at sea. The wind and the waves keep constant company as I plow along on my journey. It seems that there is, daily, some issue or event that wants to unsteady me, some gale that wills to tip me, or some cresting wave that seeks to overtake me. While I long for the safety of the sheltered harbor, I know that I am a vessel meant to sail, and I must find my security in spite of the dangers that the open sea presents. The fact is I believe that we are all meant to sail, to journey, to explore, to transport and deliver during the span of our lives, but most ships remain moored in the harbor.
I can, more than ever, understand this choice. We live in a world that adds to our sense of instability. It seems our culture is in chaos on every front, from government, to education, religion to healthcare. Foundational issues that once appeared solid and secure in this country – like personal freedom, now seem under attack in numerous ways. Basic decency, common courtesy, love and compassion have been exchanged for harsh judgment and general disrespect. The willingness to listen respectfully and have a constructive albeit challenging conversation has been lost to name calling, harassment, and defiance. People, it seems, no longer dare to think for themselves – they tie themselves off to their belief systems, theologies, viewpoints, statistics, flowcharts and philosophies and stay hunkered down in the harbor.
The problem with this approach is that when we sit in the harbor it distorts our view of life and the world. We are meant to be out on the open sea – fully embracing the risks and the adventure that it brings. This ocean life is large and dangerous. When we sail, we are imparted some essential humility because we realize our true size in relation to the vastness. We remember the risk that we share as sailors and that one error can cost us all – so we have compassion and understanding when someone loses course or runs ashore. We see that there is much that is still unknown and unsearched – so we accept willingly that another’s story is their story, and while not our experience, it should be honored as theirs. We keep our hearts open to possibility and wonder, mystery and unsearchable things. It concerns me that with so many ships in the harbor we have lost our sense of what it truly means to be human. We have opted for safety and predictability, assurance, and dependability at the cost of adventure and being truly alive.
So why do we stay moored? FEAR. Fear is the thing that holds us in the harbor most often. Our fear makes us want to stay close to home, refusing risks and opting for what seems safe and secure. We are afraid that we will fail, that we will be lost, or forgotten, but then we never learn who we really are. Listen to the words associated with mooring: anchors, chains, and rope. The very words conjure up imprisonment and restraint. Now we would all agree that mooring is necessary and good at times in our lives, it is meant for temporary use – to give us time to rest, to restock, to revive. But when used to provide constant security – mooring becomes restrictive and confining.
I think that as a culture we have resorted to using mooring in the harbor which provides safety and security for us instead of taking on ballast for ourselves and setting sail. Ballast is defined as, “heavy material that is placed in the hold of a ship to enhance stability; something that gives stability, especially in character.” Ballast requires that we load our hearts with weight, finding the things that will hold us upright from the inside. With ballast we are full of things that are significant and meaningful, steadied by it, and free to sail. Ballast does not guarantee safety, but it does allow you to go out to sea confidently – which is where you will find true life.
In my own experience this has taken years to realize. I opted for mooring most of my early years. I lashed myself to my religious and political beliefs, tied myself to what I thought I knew, and never went anywhere. It was only after a terrible and costly storm cut my mooring and drove me far far out into the sea that I had to discover ballast. At times I still miss the security of how I felt in the harbor, but now I am free to explore and feel much closer to who I was created to be. The things that have proven themselves again and again as ballast in my life are these: Beauty, Trueness, Love, and Life-Giving Things.
Beauty: nature, art, poetry, good books, fresh natural foods, inspiring people and places for example
Trueness: the truth about myself and others, my spiritual understanding, things that are real and trustworthy
Love: the ability to give and receive the love that is all around us
Life-Giving Things: finding what I am passionate about and what makes me come alive and doing these things
Ask yourself whether you are free to sail the open waters or if you are moored in the harbor. Do you feel safe to adventure out on to the sea? Do you need to add ballast to your life? My experience has been that the more free I am, the less I need to defend my territory, judge the decisions of others, control another’s choices or criticize their course. I am able to focus on my own decisions and plot my course knowing that I will be responsible for the outcome. When I was in the harbor I had too much time to criticize and become distracted with others’ behavior.
Goodness is about getting to the heart of things and being able to live from that place. Take a close look at where you are. Risk is inherent in life – it is part of what makes us feel alive. If you find you are still in the harbor, load yourself with Goodness ballast and take your chances. It will all the difference make.
Are you moored in the harbor or free to sail the wide blue ocean? It takes a critical look at your life to know.