‘A ship in harbour is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.’ I read this quote by John A. Shedd in class last week. A lot of discussion was provoked by very few words. As one student said, “there’s a lot in there”.
Some of the comments related directly to travel and how visiting far flung places of different culture can expand the mind. There was talk of making good preparations for journeys or tasks to optimise the outcome. But the first comment of all, referred to ‘getting out of the comfort zone’ – meeting new challenges and developing courage.
We explored what the comfort zone might mean to different people. One student felt that her father had never left the ‘safe harbour’ of what he knew. She said she didn’t feel he had fulfilled his potential and that maybe he didn’t even realise what that might have been. But she said he had always been content.
For other people being ‘out at sea’ might be the comfortable place – those who move around without ever settling in one place for long, always on the lookout for the next challenge. One student talked of conflict between being in the ‘householder’ stage of her life with small children to care for and having a longing for adventure. In contrast she has a friend who was happy to ‘settle down’ and is completely content in her role as wife and mother.
When I was newly married, in my early twenties, I remember my father-in-law saying that having everything at once would lead to discontentment. He was referring to the material things that are acquired in making a home. In a sense I think he was right – there can be food for the soul in taking time to beautify a home – rather than getting it all ‘done’ at once. But some people suffer discontent and unease because they need to be sailing out in the ocean – they feel constrained by a life that isn’t feeding their soul. Collecting material stuff just for the sake of it, may be activity in place of what the heart is really longing for.
It can be difficult for the indvidual who needs to follow his/her heart, if surrounded by those who are happy to stay in ‘the harbour.’ They may suffer disapprobation for not fitting in with the social mores of the ‘stay in the harbour folk’. And it can work the other way too, so when we’d discussed the dad who stayed in his comfort zone, we concluded that if people are happy to stay in the harbour, that is fine too!
One student said “how do you know if you’re at sea or in the harbour?!” If we don’t know, it could mean that we think we’re fulfilling our dharma when in fact we’re deluding ourselves by denying our authenticity. Alternatively we might be wrestling with difficult life/personal issues with an outward appearance of having it all sorted. The same student added – with a grin – “harbours are for retirement!”
However from witnessing the difficulties my own father has faced in his retirement, I think the apparently cosy existence can be anything but. He was a respected ‘captain of industry’, a renowned public speaker and he did everything FAST. Now in enforced retirement, he has Parkinson’s Disease which involves increasing difficulty with mobility. All movement is an effort, including facial expression and making himself heard. His mind is as sharp as ever and so he is fully aware of a gradual imprisonment within his body. Some harbour eh?
As Chairman of Waddingtons in the eighties, he successfully fought off two takeover bids from Robert Maxwell. The stress of that and a previous bid from Norton Opax, caused him to lose a stone in weight which he never regained. I admired how he navigated those choppy waters but my admiration is greater as I witness the courage, patience and acceptance that he is demonstrating now.
Although I teach my parents yoga from time to time, the focus is on their mobility, so my father has cultivated these qualities on his own. As yogis we aim to practise kindness and compassion. I’m thinking I need to draw on my biggest reserves of this for my parents and all others driven out to sea in a ship that doesn’t work very well any more and no freedom to go where they want.