Just look around you. What we see is what collapse looks like. It’s not the dramatic plot of some Apocalyptic movie. Such flashy spectacles are just a symptom of our decline. In the end it’s not only our inability to adapt to changing conditions that holds us in its grip. We are in collapse because we refuse to even consider adapting to changing conditions. We act blind, as if clueless.
Trapped on an up-escalator. We call it Progress!™. We insist we must accept every new scheme. They come at us fast and furious. Shoved down our throats by marketing. Part of the broader tide of a Thaumaturgy. A doubling-down, a power-play conceived by those who profit from the ongoing destruction of our world. We are carried up and up. Although we rarely consider if there is any value in it worth the effort. Any viability to be found by pushing ahead, chasing after what might be waiting for us on that top floor. Reaching higher and higher, the entire edifice already caving-in, falling-down, collapsing around us.
Those of us who love boats have a visceral sense of what is at stake. We, more than most, have an inkling of what is being lost as we persist on this peripatetic ride. Unlike our hero illustrated above, we tend to have our eyes open. Boats demand it of us.
Looking back at past cultural collapses, it’s easy to discern a common trajectory. A pinnacle of – let’s just call it being good at something – is followed by a stuttering fall. A series of faltering steps punctuated by a few genuinely bad days. Most todays are just like yesterday. Catabolic collapse is a death of a thousand cuts.
Not Sodom & Gomorrah. No single dramatic moment dropping fire and brimstone out of the blue to end it all. Although this perennial Apocalyptic fantasy has become a possibility since the summer of 1945…. On any given day it’s more like life in a Lubec Maine, an upstate New York, Detroit. These are American examples. The world abounds in rough parallels. One day the bustle falters. Things start wearing thin. Gaps appear as what’s left burns down, more often by arson than accident. We consider these places backward. When, in fact, they are in the vanguard.
That’s how it appears in hindsight. What do we think we are doing as we stumble down this path?
At least that’s the plan…. Enthralled by an array of glitzy talisman of the great promised Future!™. Shiny crap is still being made somewhere. Sold hard, the message, “Buy this and everything will be all right!” Or at least, “Buy this and you will be better-off than the next guy!” Those of us with some ability and ambition to create are expected to, “Innovate!”
What does this mean?
To boil it down, an alleged innovation is an ill-considered scheme to make some bold jump into the NEW!™ with no thought to the wider context. No basic assumptions are challenged and the inevitability of unintended consequences – our blameless excuse for doing the same sort of blunder over and over again – is forgotten in the believer’s zeal at finally discovering that one “Killer AP!™” that will solve everything.
The impulse to chase innovations would be like a scramble for the exits in a crowded theater, smoke wafting in the air. If only we were fighting each other to get out. We’re not. We’re scrambling to stay in that burning theater. Desperate to see how the Show turns out. Our eyes glued to a fantasy Apocalypse on screen we ensure we get the worst possible result here in real life once the fire can no longer be ignored.
To return to that up-escalator, we’re knocking each other down to reach that top-floor so that we can fall farther once the whole edifice crumbles down. Looking for ways to speed its run with no thought to whether it’s a good idea.
Everything boils down to attention. I do mean everything. There’s only one thing we can say we own, our attention. As much as we protest that others demand we turn it this way and that. There are precious few things we can say are within our grasp with no real impediments to doing what we want. Where we place, what holds, our attention. These are truly up to us.
Collapse is the result of our failure to pay attention.
We ignore that our entire enterprise is based on perpetuating schemes whose numbers just don’t add-up. We allow our selves to be distracted from anything that actually matters to us and follow precisely the wrong people. Those who shout the loudest, insisting that we must do what they say. We know this can only lead to disaster. We are not defeated by circumstances. We abdicate. We fall because we fail to bring our attention to bear.
We know that boats call to us as vessels of transformation. Yet we hesitate and fail to attend to the very different sorts of promise they offer us.
This can be seen – if we care to look – in every discontinuity, every incoherence, we let slip past us as we turn and re-turn to the boats we love. Our excuses are legion. “How can I enjoy a boat without working at some clearly destructive industry? How can I find time to build, or maintain, my boat if I don’t have all the latest ‘labor-saving’ devices? How can I get to the water to sail effortlessly on the wind without fueling the biggest SUV I can buy?”
There are thousands of examples of our incoherence. We are stuck in double-binds. We feel we don’t have the energy, or the time, to ask how things might be different. Let alone address where these questions might lead us.
This is how collapse happens. External realities close-in. Systemic failures and the bankruptcy of institutionalized responses are real. We cannot avoid their implications; but this is no excuse for why we do not attend to our own incoherence.
The most compelling thing about boats is the way they bring us to the moment at hand. They call to us with a cheerful, no-nonsense rigor. We can certainly waste the opportunities they present us with and take another booze-cruise, or two, or twenty. But we cannot long avoid the demands boats make on us and survive. Let alone enjoy our time on the water. If we fail to pay attention the boat lets us know. A sail trembles at the edge of luffing. A keel rumbles as we skip over a ledge. A wheelbarrow load of water pours in over the lee rail as we are surprised by a gust. All these and so many more nudges. The boat keeps us honest. And that honesty is fulfilled simply by paying attention.
Paying attention is not collecting data. It’s not about learning theories or facts. It’s about being there and building experience. We know what to do in a new situation because we have been through many other novel situations and have developed a working sense of how these things play-out. Boats are adept at putting us into situations that are appealing and enjoyable while at the same time never letting us forget that what we do is a matter of life and death. Even today with deus-ex-machina helicopters-on-demand at the other end of our cell-phone tether and a gps annoyingly calling out our every next move; we are more likely to see the connections and act accordingly on a boat as anywhere else. In these privileged moments on the water we are truly pathetic, squandering dolts if we fail to see what’s being handed to us!
Well, boats are not necessarily proof against the allure of stuff….
Life consists of a series of adaptations to conditions. We are alive when we address the moment we find our selves in. Collapse occurs when we have not only failed to make a series of ever-more drastic corrections as conditions diverge from our distracted expectations, but when we have forgotten not only how to adapt, but even how to pay attention at all. Collapse becomes widespread and inexorable as the dynamics leading us away from direct confrontation and immersion in the moment have more power over us than we have the strength to resist them.
This is where the promise of boats remains vital. Boats present us in every moment we engage with them with the challenge and opportunity to become stronger. Strength measured in every conceivable way. They increase our physical strength – if we let them, rowing and sailing are both strenuous activities in their own ways. They strengthen our attention. And, they strengthen our capacity to suspend our fears and address the moment at hand.
Perhaps the most important way they strengthen us is by connecting us with the moment and all that surrounds us in ways that open us to a capacity to find Joy and attend to it. The only way to become immune to the false-promises of some commercial pursuit-of-happiness is to have direct experience of the true fulfillment to be found in attending to the Joy there available in every moment lived instead of deferred.
This is how we can know the traps for what they are. We stop dreading a collapse that is not only inevitable but necessary – in the hard and fast way that any flight from life into a chase after power that can only lead to destruction will always find its Nemesis. It is not only inevitable and necessary. It takes us towards the possibility of something so much better.
Of course, in our distracted and incoherent expectations better has become confused with more-of-the-same, only shinier. We jump to this reflex without considering how inane its premise. Again, it is only through genuine experience of what else is possible that we can claw our way out of this Siren’s Trap. And boats….
We let ourselves be paralyzed by a lack of Certain Solutions™. We are led to believe – by those profiting at the expense of our weakness – that such things are necessary and that if we only continue to believe they are, “Right around the corner!”
Boats show us the lie in this in every moment afloat. There are no certainties. And life is not what happens after we have been handed answers, solutions.
Let’s bring these certainties-of-another-order to bear. Let’s approach our boats with all this in mind. Not that we must attain some ideological purity before we can continue. Or that the only alternative to that is to remain in denial of our complicity in what is going on. Boats are there waiting, waiting for Spring in their cradles, or floating at their anchors and moorings, gently challenging us to pay attention. That’s all. Boats have shown each of us countless times that we risk everything if we insist on closing our minds and peering at the complexity of it all though any sort of self-imposed blinders. They have shown each of us that we can surf complexity. They have shown each of us that in fact this is how we know we are truly alive.
We don’t get to windward by pointing the bow into the wind and wishing and hoping and insisting we be delivered to our destination. We work every nuance of wind and current and tide and we take what we can and accept what we can’t change. The more we attend to the entirety of our conditions the better we are able to attain our goal – or modify and change it! Even drastically and on the spur-of-the-all-encompassing-moment at that!
Let’s do the same with our most pressing conditions. The way we are headed has no future. The distraction and misdirection are legion. Most people have no idea what to do in a situation like this, but we do have an inkling. We’ve been there on the water. We seek it out each time we step aboard.
It’s easy to see how the knowledge and capacities accumulated in our life-time’s engagement with the craft-of-boats and with boats-as-craft might be useful in some unforeseeable ways. It’s a mistake not to take it one step further. What boats have given us; what boats offer to us today; is a way to strengthen our capacity to attend and in so doing give us a chance. We know what clear-air feels like. We know what it means to weather a lee shore.
Let’s bring these strengths to bear in our daily lives. We’d never put-up with just drifting into dangerous waters without a thought while afloat. We don’t take the shock of a bad turn as an excuse to innovate our way out of trouble. We attend.
Why is that?
And, how do we bring that same capacity to our lives right now?