“We must sail sometimes with the wind and sometimes against it — but we must sail,
and not drift, nor lie at anchor.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Since today, October 12, is the traditional Columbus Day, a nautical theme seemed apt. And when I found this quote, it ushered in the feeling that I was meant to ponder the four paths that Oliver described. Here are some thoughts on the possibilities they offer us:
Sailing with the wind: When we sail with the wind, we make progress quickly and easily. The wind works in harmony with our vessel and we know the joys of speed and the satisfaction of feeling that we are moving in the right direction. We are unencumbered and free. These moments may be rare, but we’ve all experienced them: We’re in a state of flow — everything sails along as if we are sliding on glass. The ocean of words yields up its treasures to us and we experience a joyful freedom, even exhilaration.
Sailing against the wind: This is rough going all around: The ocean batters our frail bark and we fear we may sink and disappear, never to be heard from again. There are obstacles, there is friction, there is energy-sapping fatigue as we struggle against forces that seem to challenge our very right to do what we are doing. These are tough moments: whatever we’re writing seems to defy us and invite us to give up, give in, and let ourselves down.
Drifting: This is almost worse than sailing against the wind. When we sail against the wind, we know our opponent — we have something to battle. It can be fatigue or lack of confidence or external circumstances that buffet us and threaten to blow us off course. But when we drift, there’s no friction and no progress, however slight. We simply wander aimlessly and often stray off course, overcome by our lack of direction and purpose.
Lying at anchor: When we lie at anchor, we’re not even in the game. We’re not under sail and on our way somewhere. We’re not honing our gifts or charting our path or battling the elements. We’re safe and secure. We haven’t left our comfort zone and so nothing’s going to happen. We may talk a good game, but when it comes to putting pen to paper or fingers to the keys, there’s something holding us back. And so we never weigh anchor and sail.
“We must sail,” Oliver tells us: We’re either riding with the wind or sailing against it. Drifting along aimlessly or never leaving port aren’t viable options. So let’s ride the waves! Sometimes, they’ll carry us along with the wind at our back and everything will go smoothly: We’ll have a great few hours or even days on the page. And sometimes, we’ll be sailing against the wind, struggling to keep ourselves on course. But as so often happens in life, these moments of struggle create movement and open up new opportunities. Conflict creates change and change opens the door to fresh ideas and invention.
Let’s be wave riders — and write on!