We didn’t mean to go to sea, and last night I thought it was all over. I saw land.
A huge gale blew up and it seemed as if all was lost. Our little boat was tossed up and down in the swell; it took on water and began to list badly. I was afraid, I thought we would all drown, when just as suddenly as it had arrived, the storm vanished. The sea became as flat as a millpond; and there in the distance, in the dark, I saw mountains. My heart filled with excitement and I willed the wind to rise up and push us to the land on the horizon. But there was no wind, not one teeny-weeny little tiny itty bitty bit of wind. Zilch, nothing at all. The boat sat on the water with hardly even a ripple, our movements on board were the only thing that moved her.
It was as if we were stranded on a huge silver mirror, the moon sailed above us in the sky looking urgent and the mountains in the distance sat huge and silent, mocking me with their big snowy peaks and their fluffy wuffy trees.
Eventually it all became too much for me, I lost my temper, I ranted and I raved. I threw myself down on the deck and sobbed. I wanted to feel the Earth beneath my feet, or rocks or sand, or anything other than the vast silent ocean. When I had quite finished sobbing, I lifted my head up to see my children standing silently staring at me. They asked me what was wrong, and when I must have looked as if I was about to cry again, my youngest quickly asked me if I had ever seen a chocolate surf board. Soon a discussion had begun about the pros and cons of chocolate surfboards, marshmallow pillows and of all things chocolate digestive railway lines.
The invention of the chocolate surfboard was a miraculous discovery made by my youngest daughter (age six). The purpose of a chocolate surfboard is simply a diversion of the mind, something at which children are all experts. A chocolate surfboard would be very heavy unless it was hollow, and as I am not a surfer I can only assume that a very heavy surfboard would sink. The main benefit of a chocolate surfboard is that when one is hungry or cold one can take a bite, which would only work up to a point, when either the board lost its buoyancy or became too small to stand on. The real purpose of the chocolate surfboard in that moment was to stop me from thinking about the wicked mountains that were taunting me from far far away, and to bring me back into the actual moment that we were living in. The real problem with the situation was my reaction to it.
Life seems to be so full of reasons to be happy and reasons to be sad. Our boat did not sink in the storm and we lived on for another day to laugh about chocolate surfboards; be happy. We are still stuck on this tiny boat lost on a vast and nameless ocean; be sad. My children are intelligent, funny, charismatic geniuses who give wonderful hugs; be happy. I am alone with young children who need my attention all the time and there is nobody here to help me and I am very very tired; be sad. I am reading a wonderful book that I love; be happy. I have no idea what the future holds; be sad.
Anyway you get the idea. Circumstances make us feel emotions. Or do they?
I go back to ask the experts about this phenomenon. One of them is pulling faces at herself in the millpond mirror and laughing uproariously, and the other is utterly absorbed in whistling a happy tune whilst picking her nose and wiping it on the handrail .
Clearly the experts know something that I don’t. They are fully aware of our circumstances but they don’t seem to be affected by them. I wonder why this is. I ask them if they are worried about getting to the land, and they look blankly at me. The elder of the two asks if that is where we are going, and I say I don’t know. The younger asks what is for dinner and if she can have some popcorn. We have a seemingly endless supply of popcorn and salt that we daily distil from the sea water. Don’t try it at home, or at sea, it’s probably the worst thing one can ingest, blah blah, but you know this is just a story, a fantasy realm, just like the rest of life.
What is it that makes the experts so readily able to forget about our circumstances? I look up again at the mountains in the distance, the dawn is just starting to break on the horizon and I am not so sure that the mountains are mountains anymore; they look rather irritatingly like clouds.
I think about marshmallow pillows again and realise that we have been awake all night and I am very tired and hungry. Children don’t have to think about making dinner, or reaching distant hallucinatory mountains. They have somebody (if they are lucky) looking after them and worrying about the imaginary mountains for them. They are looked after, so why should they be affected by their circumstances? I on the other hand am the looker afterer. I need to make sure that we have all that we need. Now that I think about it that doesn’t seem like a very good excuse for allowing circumstances to affect my mood. That’s a bit like saying, I am in charge, so I need to worry to make sure everything is tickety boo, and I simply must be upset if it is not. Famous Five books are full of people who are experts at not being at all worried when everything goes wrong. They positively relish being locked in abandoned towers and being bitten by stray dogs, and everything always turns out well in the end. They are also full of horrible gender stereotypes and class divides. Gender stereotypes are not really relevant for us out here on the ocean, as we are a crew of woman and girls, there are also no villains or stray dogs. Most of the villains and stray dogs out here live in my head, along with the reactionary beings that tell me I ought to feel a certain way when things outside of me behave in a corresponding way.
The grass is always greener, as they say, but actually the grass is way greener on the imaginary mountains than it is here on the ocean, where there isn’t actually any grass at all. But maybe I don’t need grass, maybe all I need is to look inside and find the playful soul of childhood who likes wiping snot on handrails, imagining chocolate surfboards and living in the soul. I am back here again in the land, where highly intelligent, well educated people have told me, that what we see in the world is just a projection of our minds.
Small children have such powerful skills of imagination that they often cannot tell, or perhaps, remember the difference between things they have vividly imagined, dreams, and actual things that have physically happened to them. Children’s’ minds are continuously creating, and so perhaps are adult minds, just in a different way.
I don’t want my mind to keep reacting to my situations. I want to notice things and return to my centre, to my soul. When I think of my soul I remember how much I love my feet. No not that soul silly, anyway that is spelt differently. When I think of my soul I feel a relief and a contentment, a nothingness, and perhaps an expansiveness, and if my soul is a place within me that is always there with me, just like my feet, then I think I would rather tune into that place, rather than reacting to my circumstances, just like putting on a warm comfortable pair of slippers.
Soul perhaps is not the ‘correct’ word to describe what I mean, it could also be God (big G, small g?). I am reminded again of Lalla (Lalleshwari). Lalla lived in the 14th Century, she is attributed with the creation of a particular type of mystic poetry called vatsun.
Who can say whether the mountains that I saw were real?
The soul, like the moon
The soul, like the moon
is now, and always new again.
And I have seen the ocean
Since I scoured my mind
and my body, I too, Lalla,
am new, each moment new.
My teacher told me one thing,
live in the soul.
When that was so,
I began to go naked,
English version by Coleman Barks
Original Language Kashmiri
Grass photo by Echo Grid on Unsplash
Cloud over ocean photo by Pawel Nolbert on Unsplash