Sunday, July 8, 2001

Sailing: A Meditation on the Wind

This article first appeared in the 2001 Web Journal "Tilting Rock" at Wild Poets dot Com

There is a presumption of insanity whenever friends and family ask me about sailing, because they know that I have become obsessed. It doesn't really bother me at this stage of my life: I think maybe one good obsession is a remedy for many accumulated ills. And besides, before there were friends, there was a wind. Even before there was family, the wind was blowing.

Imagine a liquid place, in darkness or in brilliant light, surrounded by nameless creatures oozing and consuming one another, a place in some remote past before evolution has begun, and up above -- on top of that liquid place -- in the darkness or the sun, there is a wind. To find a means to be swept up by that elemental invisible force, to move through it, to chart some direction by it, and then to circumnavigate a planet .... yes! An obsession. Or a meditation.

I have this memory of a history of dreaming of flying. This memory suddenly arrived, quite unexpectedly, like a dead mouse that the cat had brought proudly to my door. I was 19, in a college dormatory room, sleeping through my first set of classes for the day. I suddenly awoke, frightened, disoriented, and frantic. It was not because I had just missed my World History 101 discussion group.

It was because I had remembered that I had a history of adventures, in dream, in which I had learned to fly. This was not just a single flying dream. This was a history of flying dreams, a set of modulated episodes, one after another, stretching backwards through time to the age of five or six. Each dream was a clear memory, a clear set of milestones, a second life almost entirely separated from the adult life I was now awakening into.

What a revelation, at age 19: Yes! I am this person, but I am also that other person, that person in a dream who can fly. Later, as this memory of this history expanded, some of the most important events of my life occurred during dreams of flying: the birth of my oldest son, the escape from a mind-numbing prison, the loss of my father, on and on. Each episode was self-referential, complete, yet also vaguely connected to this other waking life. And in each of these episodes, it was the wind that propelled my flight.

Things are not as they seem. Nor are they otherwise. How many times will a person awaken into one realm, suddenly fully aware of that separate realm from which he has just escaped? How many realms are there from which to awaken?

In my dorm room my eyes were suddenly drawn to the curtains in my window. It was a spring morning, and the light poured in through the casement. The world was shimmering in light, and there -- invisible to my eyes -- something played, toyed, teased, and tugged at the curtain fabric. This something also was making the new maple leaves on the tree outside vibrate and quiver. It was, of course, a wind. A small wind -- a breeze, you might call it. A beckoning breeze.


Be alive!

Inhale me!

Exhale yourself!

Be me!

They say that a wind is created when the molecules of air absorb the energy of sunlight, causing the molecules to vibrate. This vibration creates an increase in the space between each molecule. This extra space, in essence, makes that body of air lighter than the surrounding air, and so it rises upwards. At a certain height, this body of air cools, the space between the molecules decreases, and the body of air descends once again. Up and down, the pulse goes, wave-like; the heart-beat of an atmosphere. On each rising beat, the rising air pulls cooler air in behind it, and it is this movement of air we have come to recognize as a wind.

Or is it?

Any scientific explanation of the physics of a breeze ignores the most elemental and important vectors: a wind is composed not only of air, but of all the things that exist within it. A foul wind, a pleasant breeze, a wind of change, so many different flavors, colors, intensities, qualities... Are these winds composed merely of atmosphere, or are they formed by the aromas, the sensations, the experiences, the very physical bodies of the creatures that inhabit them.

When the breeze pushes against the skin of your arm, quivering the tiny hairs against your skin, can you sometimes catch the faint scent of your soul mate as it's carried by the breeze across the room to you? Is that person in the wind? Is that breeze the breeze of energy that emanates from this special someone? What does it bring? Desire? Hope? Sadness? Memory?

How many bodies are contained in a single breeze? Microscopic critters, viruses, germs, spores, spirits, memories, esters, aromas, pheromones, angers, sounds, smells, breaths? If all my ancestors have become dust, are they in the wind that I am breathing? Can I seek them out, to ask them questions about how I am or who I am becoming?

Which wind is your wind? Which breeze belongs only to you -- your very own -- composed exclusively of all that you need to be or hope to become?

When I sail, I am searching for that breeze, that wind, that movement of air, that memory. I am searching for the pathway, between where I am and where that other place or person or thing must reside. The sailboat in which I sail is merely a prosthetic. It is only a fiberglass shell with a great wing outstretched to the sky. The sail is my radar, listening for the air. When the wind arrives, it fills the sail and we travel on a knife-like edge of water, balanced against a rudder and a keel. At the right moment, the rigging begins to hum, and I look across to my friends and watch them pass into their own dreams of flying -- a cloudy silence of meditating sleepiness. They are smiling. They can't help themselves. We are the wind.

It no longer matters to me whether anyone else understands my obsession.

Outside my window the leaves of the persimmon tree rustle quietly. The ferny branches of a wild asparagus plant mime and bob at the passing of that same air. We are all caught in the pulse, moved by it, surprised at its power, its invisible speed, its incredible sea of aromas. If this is the realm in which I am to be now awakened, I will find me a sail and learn to fly again.