Seneca, on a journey by sea:
[…] I headed straight for Nesis over the open water to cut out all the intervening curves of the coast-line. Now when I had got so far across that it made no odds whether I went on or turned back, first of all the smoothness which had tempted me to my undoing disappeared.
I left home and school for a yearlong adventure a few months ago. Low risk because I’m returning to finish school after that, but now all the old choices and uncertainties are drawn into sharper relief. Which was exactly the intention, I remind myself.
[…] I was suffering the torments of that sluggish brand of seasickness that will not bring one relief, the kind that upsets the stomach without clearing it.
It’s supposed to be uncomfortable, because you’ve not yet forged yourself into the person who can do it comfortably. It’s about becoming that person.
When we do something that might not work, we’re on the hero’s journey.
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: That’s what it is, yes, that’s where they were, down in the belly of the whale.
BILL MOYERS: What’s the mythological significance of the belly?
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: It’s the descent into the dark. Jonah in the whale, I mean, that’s a standard motif of going into the whale’s belly and coming out again.
JOSEPH CAMPBELL: The whale represents the personification, you might say, of all that is in the unconscious. In reading these things psychologically, water is the unconscious. The creature in the water would be the dynamism of the unconscious, which is dangerous and powerful and has to be controlled by consciousness.
What I endured, in my inability to endure my then self, is beyond belief. You can take it from me that the reason Ulysses got himself wrecked everywhere was not so much because Neptune was against him from the day he was born, but because he was given to seasickness like me – it’ll take me twenty years to reach my destination, too, if I ever have to journey anywhere by sea!
There is only one thing we ever endure: the burden of one’s own self.
The seasickness is the resistance, our unwillingness to face the water of our unconsciousness – that is, our circumstances as they are in this moment, not as we wish they were. It’s ourselves, our indecisions, our fears. We’re still clinging to the expectation of certainty.
The accumulation of fears, doubts, past patterns, past successes. But the hero’s journey takes us into that construct and through it, past the past, the known, into the unknown, into the new, into the now.
For me, there have been moments where indecision, in even my small deviations from the beaten track, has been paralyzing – a month of journalling around a possible future direction instead of acting with celerity. Until I realized – I was seasick.
That month of pseudo introspection eventually gave way to real introspection … which gave way to this insight. Along the way, I forced myself to just do something. And I had to sit with the seasickness, be in total silence without distracting myself from my fears, and really, honestly, look. Those two things – action and silence, led to a decision.
Sometimes seasickness is what happens when we cast ourselves out into open water. And it’s on us to recognize that it comes with the job.
So now, when I get seasick, I recognize it. I can grit my teeth and face into it, embrace it with a grin. And that’s made all the difference. This is, after all, an adventure.
Seneca, once more:
Remembering my training as a long-standing devotee of cold baths, I dived into the sea in just the way a cold-water addict ought to – in my woolly clothes. You can imagine what I suffered as I crawled out over the rocks, as I searched for a route to safety or fought my way there.
Another thing – I don’t expect to stop getting seasick, because I expect to cast out into greater seas. Each time, living a little bigger and better, learning more – it’ll always feel uncomfortable in proportion to the growth.
Hence, one of my favourite lines, here from The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs:
“Integrity becomes a mindful practice for the […] man who chooses to maintain it. He cannot rely on the momentum of his past nor his own intentions to make integrity a regular part of his life. He must consciously attend to all the ways in which he can maintain integrity.”
Doesn’t matter how good we were, how hard we worked, how honest we were. There’s only this moment, this challenge, this opportunity, this step. I am only what I do today.