by Mark Nepo
Teaching me how to steer the thirty-foot sailboat he built, my father would say, “It’s the sail that follows the wind, and the rudder that follows the sail.” The sail by its nature, will catch the wind and lean into it. The rudder is for steering once we’ve set sail.
Our soul is like a sail. Once hoisted, it’s filled by the wind of Spirit, which establishes our course and direction. Our will is our rudder; its job is to follow where the soul filled with Spirit leads, helping to steer our way. When we lean on will to make things happen, we can grow stubborn, confused or lost. Clear sailing comes when we’re being carried toward a vision greater than our self, feeling wholly alive along the way.
Scudding along the sea, my father lived once for all time, feeling the sensation of all life in that moment. We all yearn to live in these moments forever, yet even a taste of aliveness can fill, sustain and refresh us in the midst of daily tasks.
We all face times beyond our control when life doesn’t follow our designs and we’re asked to work with life and not fight, curse or hide from it. When insisting on our way, we can get so tangled in our will that we can’t find or feel the wind of Spirit. During these times—when we fear there is no meaning and it seems there’s nothing holding us up—our will can puff, snap, and flap about in a desperate attempt to fill what looms as an empty life.
But even setting out on the sea, it’s never easy. My father remarked, “It’s always harder to sail toward a fixed point, because you will inevitably have to cross the wind several times to get there.” By contrast, a boat moves its fastest and cleanest when it simply follows the wind. It’s the same when we listen for where life is taking us, instead of busily thinking about where we’re going. Devoting ourselves to experiencing the journey, rather than determining a destination, we discover our way.
Like a sail, our life must be out in the open before the wind will show its face. Likewise, Spirit fills us when we can inhabit our true nature. We miss what awaits us if we hover too close to the shore of our past, our family, someone else’s dream for us, or an old identity. To feel the wind in our face, we must leave the shallows and harbors for the deep. Only then will the larger, timeless destination show itself and our soul be filled enough with Spirit that our smaller self will have no choice but to engage in steering us toward all that matters.