Zen and the art of kayaking :
the experience of being in the now
"We all come here to take our own tests, face our own trials, and have our own experiences, and no one can accomplish anotherís life for them. Such is the way of the growth of the spirit.
I learned this necessity often and always in my travels up and down the coast during my decade of wandering and growing. One such experience came while in Sitka, during this period of my unpredictable instability which I now see was unavoidable and caused largely by the unrelenting contemplations which hounded me unforgivingly about the all and the everything and my unrequited queries as to my proper role within it. I was endlessly seeking answers for which I did not even have the proper questions, and endlessly seeking destinations towards which I did not even know the way. But a time came during that summer when I would learn a lesson, a way of being, regarding the folly of my desperate seeking and probing and looking ahead- a lesson which would stick with me, and return again and again as I lost and refound it, in many ways, under many guises, but always with the same underlying message.
It came about on a kayaking trip I had decided to take alone down the outer coast of Baranof Island. It was no huge expedition or perilous venture, but it was undertaken as a personal quest to extend myself beyond the tiring round of thinking, drinking, working, contemplating, writing, and sleep. And I remember paddling out of Sitka a little timid, a little concerned about my abilities to handle the full-on coastal waters, but I headed out nonetheless and pushed southward through the islets and reefs, away from all that had come to weigh upon me and which continued to carry only the pretense solidity.
It was a terrific first few days as I paddled below looming snow-capped peaks, and past gigantic rafts of lethargic sea otters that floated indifferently along in the swells. I have often said that if I had to come back to earth again as an animal- other than a free flying bird that is- I would return as a sea-otter, those Taoist priests of the water; I would spend a life of leisure and disconcern, floating in the swells alone, or entering into the pleasant orgy of the rafted community, and Iíd eat urchin caviar all day, and watch the stars and make love all night.
Anyways, along with those otters, humpback whales flipped and flirted about during my trip, and wildflowers and eagles abounded in the earth and sky as I meandered southward. I landed my kayak for a while near a hot-spring, twenty miles or so down the coast, and soothed my bruised and broken spirit in the Motherís steam. It was a beautiful holiday from myself at the beginning of the trip, but soon enough I was back inside, back into the old, relentless brain, pondering over this or that, wondering what it was all about and where it was all headed and who was I to be a part of it, and why didnít I know who I was who was a part of it? I ended up camping on a lonely island and drinking a load of bad American beer and walking about aimlessly on shore without being able to still the chronic investigations which continued to plague me.
But then it happened- as all cries into the ether must eventually have their audience- that as I was paddling back up north a few days later, at no more peace than when I had left, and I could see the final cape looming off ahead of me, at which point I would turn north-east and head for home, that a shift in the weather occurred and a thick blanket of fog came whistling across the water and engulfed me completely, totally blocking out the world around me. The wind, waves, and swells were still minimal, so I continued on my course, heading into the mist in the direction I had already set. I paddled on for perhaps half an hour or so and then without recognizing the subtle movement of my consciousness, something altered within me, something sublime and yet incredibly profound; it came about because I could not see much further ahead than the bow of my boat, and so I had lost all onward vision and sense of destination, and what happened is that I realized that for the first time in my life I was not looking ahead- because I couldnít- I was doing nothing except what I was doing. I was paddling. There was no future, no outcome, no goal, no awaiting experience, there was only the kayak, the sea, and ...me. It is impossible to describe the magnificence of this sudden disentanglement which happened to me. In a goal-directed culture, in a time and accomplishment driven world, I had just fallen through the cracks. Throughout the entire course of my life up until that point I had always been looking ahead, always planning, always waiting for a goal or an answer to appear, always existing where I wasnít actually existing. And then the blinding mist of beingness descended all about me and I could see nothing ahead, plan nothing ahead, and expect nothing ahead. I was just being where I was being, being what I was being, and doing what I was doing, and nothing more. I was right where I was, and only there. As if I had set foot in the true present presence of existence for the very first time. I had attained to the absolute actuality, the bare-bones of beingness. And then I understood why Zen practitioners spend their entire lives pursuing the now-time of being. Yet I knew something better- that it could not be pursued, it could only be lived and allowed and you could not grab hold of it, you could only dance with it, become it, and let it go."