Updated: Jul 13
by Paul Fetler
Dad would have that spark in his eyes on certain weekends; the peninsula harbor, winds, and white caps were calling him. We headed towards the nearest harbor, with the white tarp-covered boat attached with rattling wheels behind our car. Looking out the backseat window, I often daydreamed about places I would rather be, like the local miniature golf course. We started going to the sailing docks when I was about nine or ten years old.
On windy days the motorless boat bounced up and down in the Bay, my uneasy stomach churning with it. He laughed like a teenage Sea Scout when the salty waves were rising and crashing. Spray sometimes splashed on our windbreakers and hair. Concerned that we might capsize, I held on tight, making sure that my orange life jacket was strapped.
“Prepare to come about!” my father in a skipper voice said, holding the tiller. I undid the line, let the jib release, quickly ducked to avoid the swinging boom. “Helms alee!” he commanded as the vessel tilted at an angle.
However spirited, he was no Captain Ahab. I never once doubted our safe return. After leaping onto the dock to tie the boat, his strong hand would pull my older sister, me, and when he was old enough, younger brother, out of the boat. Walking on land, my body still felt it was swaying on waves.
Learning the Ropes
The yoga master Paramhansa Yogananda encouraged people to be spiritually adventurous. This involves a creative balance of both making conscious effort and surrendering to higher spiritual forces.
Memories of sailing have given numerous points of reference in my inner voyage. I will mention just some of them.
In yogic life, effort, consistency, and a cooperative spirit are required for inner freedom.
With my siblings, I would unfold sails, attach them with ropes properly, and help to hoist the mast up. Although not defiant outwardly, I still recall silent inner resistance I felt doing this! Practicality and safety are good foundations applied to doing anything safely and well. This applies also spiritually to not putting ourselves in unnecessary danger.
The yogic path involves embracing and channeling the deep and wide unknown waters of being. Our bodies and minds are vessels of transformation. Swami Kriyananda’s affirmation, “I open to the flow of God’s life within me,” comes to mind. It involves an art of being present and feeling the currents of energy.
I asked my father why he put the word 'Ariel' on the boat. He explained that was the name of an ethereal being who could fly and lived on an enchanted island in the sea, from Shakespeare’s The Tempest. On the water, it didn’t take long before I knew what he meant. When sails opened and caught gusty winds, it felt like our boat was gliding. I believe that sailing and waves were Dad’s inner haven.
Green-blue-grey waters expanded my awareness too. I frequently asked myself, “How old is this sea? How large are the fish living at the bottom? How wide does this salt water expand in the world?” The farther we went out into the peninsula bay, the tinier the land masses became on the horizon. My boyhood, and later teenage, preoccupations seemed to recede with them.
My dad gave me the benefit of being with an example of one who knew how to navigate a sailboat safely in what could be unsafe waters.
As yogis and yoginis, we know that to move through crashing waves of emotions toward self-transcendence, it is necessary to have a knowledgeable guide.
In yoga the guru is a spiritual navigator, who has self-mastery to “cross the ocean of delusion.” Only some of what one might drown in are disappointments, self-doubt, self-centeredness, anxiety, resentments, indifference.
If we are receptive, we receive the grace, working within our deepest selves, to calmly learn to sail our own ships. Motivated entirely by compassion, a true guru will “take us by the hand,” through the storms of desires, towards “the shores” of inner freedom.