“The cradle of despair is the belief in the incapacity of your own strength,” Li Tzu, the Taoist master, once taught me. It was a difficult period in my existence, as are the transitions imposed by life. According to the meaning of the word, transition is the movement from one existential stage to another. When we don’t understand the flow of life, we make the wrong move. Then we lose the impetus offered by the universe. On the other hand, moving from a known place, where we feel stable and safe, to another unknown place, where the unusual will be present, whether it be delights or disappointments, usually brings fear. Do I take the risks inherent in life, and there are many, or do I take comfort in the sameness of the days and refuse to go beyond myself? “Confidence in one’s own strength brings with it the power and magic of life,” taught Starry Song, the shaman who had the gift of transmitting the ancestral wisdom of his people through music and words.
Complicated? There’s nothing better than starting a story from the beginning to interpret it correctly. These events happened a long time ago. It had been a great love, the kind you see in the movies. At some point, as is common in many marriages, we drifted apart to the point where we seemed strange to each other. When I met her, I was firmly convinced that she was the woman of my life and that we would be together forever. Had I been wrong?
Divorce was very difficult to me because we had all kinds of ties, from emotional to financial. We had a beautiful daughter in her early teens who would still need a lot of care and attention from us; it would be very painful to come home and not find her every day. Financial issues sometimes bring sudden and uncomfortable changes; it requires adaptability and detachment. Although there was no fight, there was a veiled animosity that caused enormous discomfort. For both of us, no doubt about it. The days were grey and, without realising it, I began to wish that the weekends would pass quickly so that the hours spent together would become shorter. So did she.
On one of those weekends, I was taken to an event at Marina da Glória, a harbour for small boats on the shores of Guanabara Bay. At the time, there was a transoceanic crossing exclusively for solo sailors. Sailors from all corners of the globe took part. Alone in their boats, they had completed the Sydney-Rio race. The advertising agency where I worked was responsible for the account of the company that had sponsored the event. That’s when I met Ragnar, skipper of the Asbru, a sailboat built in modern Norwegian shipyards that, despite being only ten metres long, had all the technology available at the time. It was an immediate friendship. We chatted a lot and, at the end of the afternoon, when he heard that I would soon be travelling to San Francisco, the city he had adopted to live in, he invited me to go on a boat trip together. He would be leaving in two days. After talking to my wife, who would meet me at the end of the trip, that was all the time I needed to organise my affairs and give myself a holiday. Apart from the adventure, I would be able to think more about the internal dilemmas that needed to be resolved.
Alone, after the first few days of travelling, it was inevitable that we would talk about our lives. Without going into detail, I mentioned that my marriage was going through a serious crisis and we needed to find a way out. I confessed that I didn’t know what to do.
Ragnar had a characteristic way of expressing himself. He made nautical analogies to aspects of existence, as if observing the sea gave him all the wisdom he needed for life. What I didn’t know in those days was that he was a student of Helena Blavatsky’s Theosophy and a confidant of the writer Louise Hay. Such are the wise, simple and enigmatic. He tried to help me in his own way: “Ocean currents are like rivers that move invisibly through the oceans. They revolutionised the world at a time known as the Age of Great Navigations. When they were discovered and, as they were mapped, they allowed nautical journeys to be reduced to half the time, with the advantage of avoiding many of the storms that caused sad shipwrecks. Distances were reduced when sailors began to navigate the invisible rivers of the oceans. In the same way, personal movements need to be linked to cosmic flows”. Movements and flows were subjects that I only learnt about in greater breadth and depth many years later, when I studied the Tao Te Ching with Li Tzu. As I had never heard of it, I wanted to know how to find these flows so that I could navigate the seas of life with greater intensity. Ragnar seemed to complicate rather than facilitate: “Understand the Laws. They propel or interrupt the flow according to every move you make.” He paused to warn: “Forget the foolishness of thinking about taking undue, petty advantages of them. If the move doesn’t come from the purity of your heart, forget it. You can’t sail with spurious intentions on the ocean of stars. You’ll be shipwrecked.” I got dizzy trying to get my head round these new concepts.
I said I didn’t understand where that idea fitted in with my personal problem. I confessed that I didn’t know what had happened to bring the relationship to that point. I wanted to understand why my wife had changed so much. The Nordic commander reminded me of an old lesson: “The biggest lie is the one we tell ourselves”. I said that I was being honest in my words. He explained: “But you can’t be honest with yourself. Because you can’t handle the truth, you don’t have the best understanding. Because you don’t know exactly what move to make, the flow of life is interrupted. Suffering then sets in and thrives on favourable ground.”
Ragnar clarified: “It’s marvellous when you find someone to sail alongside you during the Great Crossing. However, don’t forget that this journey takes place inside and outside of us at the same time. As with any journey, it’s full of possibilities and setbacks, moments in which we can lose track of who’s with us. We have different perspectives, tastes, perceptions, sensitivities, principles, values and rhythms. All of this is very personal and, when understood, creates an authentic way of being and living. We often drift apart without any bad faith or even negligence. We simply change. Remember, we need to change in order to evolve. Everyone changes or should change. However, transformations take place from the inside out, they are very intimate and personal, and then they manifest in the world. Everyone has their own pace and rhythm. Sometimes one advances and the other isn’t yet ready to keep up; at other times, both transform, but these changes cause the affinities that once existed to disappear, because they’ve become enamoured of different landscapes. Nothing wrong with that, that’s just the way it is. In other words, one followed the flow of life while the other remained stationary. Or, it could also be that they followed different sea currents and are now sailing on different oceans. Either possibility creates distance. The evolutionary process, being unique, is individual. It won’t always be possible to be by that person’s side, at least to the degree of intimate affinity, for the whole journey.”
“Don’t mope on the edge of the quay. Sea currents are essential to life in the oceans, they never cease. The reason for a boat’s existence is not the quay, but the sea. Setting out on a crossing is the primordial movement; understanding the flow of the seas brings the ability to sail lightly to reach ever more distant harbours.” He paused to conclude: “Don’t forget, the sea is for everyone who wants to sail”.
I remarked that life seemed to punish us for having been negligent in our relationships. The Nordic man shook his head and said: “Forget this crude idea of punishment and start working with more elaborate concepts. Life is a school of great masters and teaches through methods suited to the capacity of each pupil. To educate is to become better. This is how we evolve. We lose the flow that drives life when we move against evolution. Nothing more.”
I asked if it was possible to find the flow again. Ragnar smiled, nodded and said: “Always. To do so, go back to the point where you lost yourself and understand the movement that took you out of the cosmic flow. Realign yourself on your own axis, reconnect with your guiding principles and creative values; always be consistent with your truth to the exact limit that it reaches. Never negotiate with the truth, but never stop being kind to yourself and others. Remember the virtues, they are indispensable navigational tools. They are orderly movements for resuming the flow and the crossing”.
Later on, I realised that he was also subliminally addressing some of the various cosmic laws. Like sea currents, they have the power to intensify or restrict the flow of life. The Law of Affinity, the Law of Infinite Possibilities and the Law of Return were all touched on in that conversation. The Law of Affinity is an inexorable cosmic flow that brings like-minded people together and, as a result, pushes them apart when common ground fades. The Law of Infinite Possibilities teaches that there will always be a chance to start again, never according to desires, always in tune with learning needs. That of the Return is a flow of education and justice, with the aim of teaching that the navigator’s movements establish the strength of the tides and the direction of the winds of his own sailing, reaching distant countries or an imminent shipwreck. Difficulties can also be linked to another Law, that of Impermanence, whose purpose is to teach us to sail under all conditions, whatever the winds and tides. The latter has the inestimable value of honing a primordial virtue: trust. Lack of trust is one of the reasons why there are so many people huddled on the quayside despising the sea.
I still hadn’t understood the correlation he was making with my marriage crisis. Ragnar clarified: “It takes sincerity and courage to answer whether the pillars of the relationship are still the affinities that keep the flame of love burning or whether it’s the interests of comfort and convenience. Transformation usually takes a lot of work and, more seriously, the transition can generate insecurity. The fear of living unusual days, completely out of the routine we believe we have mastered, without knowing if they will be better or worse, will be present. There will be thoughts like: bad with him, worse without him. Early questions will arise, stimulated by fear: What if I regret it? What if I never find someone who wants to live by my side? Yes, fear is a cruel jailer and builds the great prisons of humanity. Often, we prefer to leave life as it is, even living days without joy, because we’re afraid of losing what little we have.”
“Despite bringing so little joy, the dreary days give us the feeling that we are in control of the situation. We believe that in this way we remain masters of our existences and masters of our choices. We just forget that when we move away from the flow of life, we don’t even belong to ourselves anymore. We’re like rotting boats stuck on sandbanks. On the other hand, if the affinities that brought the couple together in the past still exist, all it takes is the correction of course in convergent movements so that the two boats, lost after a brief fog, can sail again as a squadron”.
I asked him if there was no consensus. He was clear: “No one is obliged to stay at the quay just because the other doesn’t want to sail. Similarly, no one is obliged to make a journey they don’t want to make.”
I asked which situation my case would fall into. The Nordic frowned and said: “Only you can answer that question. No-one else. Inside every person there is an unknown and unexplored universe. This is the adventure for all of us, a journey to discover the wonders of the universe so that we can be enchanted by the beauties of the world beyond. By getting to know yourself, you will gain real power over your choices. They are the movements that expand or restrict cosmic flows. They determine whether you will remain at the dock, continue coastal sailing or whether you are already capable of sailing unimaginable seas and discovering fantastic worlds by aligning yourself with the most powerful maritime currents in existence.”
“The effects of your movements are another reason why nobody decides for you. All the consequences, be they good winds or storms, will hit your boat. Get it right or get it wrong, but make each choice within the limits of your understanding and truth. Don’t be afraid of storms, they are what generate confidence in the sailor, awaken his strength and give him power over his boat. Both the navigational chart and the rudder must be under your absolute command, because they affect your life, whether you move forwards or backwards, as well as establishing who you already are. You can’t awaken your own strength or understand the power of alignment with life without full confidence in yourself”.
I commented that it was a very difficult decision because it was very important. It would bring significant changes to my life if I decided to end the marriage. I wondered if I should try to find the woman I had lost in the fog one day. Ragnar warned: “Talking is always important, but be prepared to hear what you don’t want to hear or don’t think is fair. It’s her perspective; right or wrong, it will help you understand her heart better, which is invaluable. Show your truth calmly and clearly. Never argue; no reason survives irritation, just as no decision should be made under this pernicious influence”. He paused and warned: “Don’t make a choice until it’s completely mature. On the other hand, don’t delay too long so that the choice doesn’t rot. The absence of a decision is equivalent to a choice. It’s like losing your rudder and sailing adrift, a common cause of the saddest shipwrecks.”
He looked at me seriously and said: “The main attribute of a navigator is self-confidence. There will be a lack of wind, squalls, fog, boat problems, stormy seas and mutinies on board. However, no difficulty will be able to stop those who trust in their own strength and power; therein lies the art of navigation. Those who cannot free themselves from fear will never be able to set sail or will be mere passengers on other people’s boats.”
The next day we hardly spoke to each other. The captain knew that I needed silence and stillness to think. We were close to the Patagonian coast. I had heard many stories of shipwrecks at the dreaded Cape Horn, at the confluence of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. A region of capricious winds and temperamental sea currents. Ragnar realised the fear in my eyes and said: “Trust in your strength and power, otherwise any breeze will have the fury of a storm. What else, apart from trusting in myself, allows me to cross the endless immensity of the oceans in a boat of minimal size and resources?”. He paused and taught an unforgettable lesson: “I can because I am!”. I closed myself off in thought.
We were on deck, sitting at the stern of the sailboat. As always, Ragnar was at the helm. His eyes were on the infinite horizon, as if he were talking to the sea and the wind. Nearing the Tierra del Fuego archipelago, my tension increased. The stories of the countless shipwrecks in that region kept coming back to my mind. The wind increased in intensity and the sea got colder. The rough waves shook the brave sailboat as it continued steadily on its course. Every second the ocean seemed to rage as if the Asbru was not allowed to cross that threshold. Ragnar had serene features; he didn’t smile, but he didn’t show any fear either. That’s when he surprised me. He said he needed to go to the toilet. I asked him to wait a while. The commander explained that he was feeling unwell. I would have to take over at that moment and he gave me a simple instruction: “Go round the islands and head north-west”. Without waiting for my reply, he got up and went down to the cabin. I was left alone on deck with the responsibility of steering the Asbru.
In fact, it was a threshold. Not for the Asbru, but for me. The guardian was watching me.
At first it wasn’t very complicated, except for the fact that I had never steered a boat before and that we were in such a dangerous area. After a few moments, the sea became enraged, as if to say that you shall not pass! I felt very scared. At first I wished that the sailboat would crash into the rocks so that the suffering would end. The next second, I recognised the stupidity of that idea and realised that the opponent to be defeated was not the sea or Cape Horn, but my fear. I steered the Asbru towards the waves so that it wouldn’t be hit from the side. If we ran away from them, the boat would capsize. As we faced the waves head-on, we began to gallop through them, like on a delicious rollercoaster. At that moment, I realised that this is what we have to do with fear. The right move brings the flow of life. It’s no different with fear. The next thing I knew, I was having fun with the waves as good companions. I realised that the waves and winds weren’t there to knock me down, but to strengthen me by making me believe in myself. They also gave me the power to sail in full harmony with the sea. Fear also allows us to make the same transition, from fear to the wholeness of life, depending on the choices I make in the face of it. The primordial movement is trust in my strength, so I unite with the immeasurable power of the flow of life.
The fear completely vanished. I smiled at the marvellous feeling that enveloped me and thanked the sea for that invaluable lesson. Then the guardian authorised my passage across the threshold.
The sea calmed down as we sailed off the Chilean coast for almost an hour. With a mischievous smile and without saying a word, Ragnar returned to the deck with two mugs of coffee and sat down next to me. The journey to San Francisco was uneventful and we didn’t talk about it again. It wasn’t necessary. There I said goodbye to my friend and recognised the privilege of having sailed alongside a wise man. I met up with my wife. We talked a lot. The various disagreements that existed were the result of people looking at life from different angles. Neither better nor worse, just different. Disagreements don’t have to generate conflict. When used well, they can lead to many advances. Whether it’s to understand mistakes we made when not thinking clearly, or for new resolutions. In this way, they become a reason for convergence. We both came to the conclusion that we shared the same house, but inhabited different worlds. There was nothing to stop us from taking the best care of our daughter and accepting that marriage had turned into a friendship that, depending on us, could be very beautiful. It was time to break up the squad. Understanding new ways of being and living is an attribute of evolution. Living together is not about convincing the other person to fulfil your wishes, but it is about the art of taking a step beyond yourself to meet that person where they have never been before. Everyone moves on.
Many years have passed. I got married and remarried a few times. In that time, I’ve changed course to sail unimaginable seas. I was in San Francisco twice. Both times, Ragnar was travelling on distant oceans. Recently, I finally returned to that city with Denise. Asbru was in the shipyard for essential upgrades. Then I met the Nordic man again. It was the kind of joy that happens every time friends meet again. Time never damages true friendships. We went for lunch. I made a point of showing my gratitude for all the changes that had come from the famous voyage across the dreaded Cape Horn. I remarked that it had been crazy to leave the boat under my command at such a critical moment. We could have been shipwrecked like so many others. Ragnar confessed: “I wasn’t feeling ill, I just wanted you to awaken the self-confidence without which you would never be able to fulfil anything else in life.” I confessed that I was suspicious of this, but the risks were enormous. The Nordic surprised me: “When I went down to the cabin, I went to the navigation table and watched to see if your movements were aligned with both the sea currents and the cosmic flow. From there, I could deactivate the deck control and take control of the sailboat”. I was upset, it had all been a mere illusion.
Ragnar disagreed and baffled me with another lesson: “The best way to teach a child to walk is to encourage their confidence at the first steps. If they believe they can, they will walk and soon be able to travel the world. That’s what happened that day.” He paused and concluded: “Fear, despair and failure have their roots in the belief that a person is incapable of realising their own strength. Without confidence, life diminishes, the world frightens us and we can’t turn into all that we can become.” He arched his lips in a slight smile and concluded: “Everyone carries within them the seed of confidence. It is essential to awaken this primordial force. Otherwise, they will forever be like toddlers, never able to walk. Nobody walks without believing in their own strength and power.”
I bowed my head before the greatness of the sage. Behind the spoken teachings about movement and flow lay a silent and equally precious lesson. Without my perception of it, he had taught me about the strength of trust and the power of when this movement is used in tune with the flow of life. This is called faith. I had never realised the exact size of the help I had received. Now I knew.
The next day, Ragnar returned to the sea. He never docked in San Francisco again. No-one had any further news of the Nordic commander. In fair and deserved transition, I have no doubt that today the Asbru sails the oceans of the Highlands.
Translated by Cazmilian Zórdic.