Wednesday, November 17, 2010

You Can't Direct the Wind

NOTE:  This essay is from my book, Moving the Mountain, available on the right.  It was originally written in 2007.

You can’t direct the wind, but you can adjust your sails.
--- Anonymous

The reality of life is that it happens.  No matter how we may try, time continues to move forward and we cannot fully control the course it takes.  Sometimes that course is smooth, a peaceful sea stirred only by a slight wind.  Other times we find ourselves in a full gale, the wind buffeting us as it churns the water into mighty waves that threaten to capsize and sink us.  And sometimes there is no wind at all, and we are stuck in flat stasis with nothing external to move our ship.  We can't change the direction or force of the wind, but we can adjust our sails to keep righted and moving on the course we have chosen.  Even when the wind is against us, we can still move forward if we know how to tack into it. 

In sailing, there are many maneuvers that allow our boat to move.  In opposing winds, we can tack, or move in a zigzag pattern, catching the prevailing breeze to keep us moving in the direction we wish to go.  In a storm, we can batten down the hatches and furl the sails and wait, or use the force of the wind to continue forward, although we know we will be heeled over and in danger of capsizing.  With skill, we can come through the gale unharmed.  In the absence of wind, it is up to us to move our boat, using the tools we have prepared for such an eventuality.

So it is with our sobriety.  We have set ourselves on a course leading to a full New Life, and to achieve our goal we must be prepared to face the wind in all its incarnations.  When we first step into sobriety, the wind is often strong against us and the breakers are high. It takes preparation to launch into it.  This preparation comes first with the commitment to sobriety no matter what.  We will sail through the turbulence even though there may be challenges to our ability to move forward.  Knowing this, we can prepare our charts, choosing the paths to take when things are worst.

At first, the best action may be to batten down the hatches, furl the mainsails, and move through the water cautiously and with great focus.  The first days of sobriety can be very difficult as our bodies detoxify from the chemicals that have poisoned us for so long.  The desire to drink is both physiological and psychological, and takes great force of will to withstand the temptations.  It is during this time that we first utilize our own power to move forward, assisted by others who help steer us away from the rocks and encourage us to continue fighting the ocean’s attempts at driving us back to shore.  Our plan will keep us sober and moving forward. The support of others both on the board and in face to face meetings, if we ask for and open to it, shows us how to navigate away from the reefs and into the calmer waters past the breakers.

Once we survive this first storm, we find ourselves in more peaceful waters where the wind is at our backs and we can unfurl our sails to the degree that we move forward at a pace that is comfortable for us.  We begin to study navigation and to adjust our plans to take best advantage of the calm winds and to best weather the rough seas that will undoubtedly arise.  Our skills grow, and we can pass through the waves that at times may be slightly turbulent.

At some point, the winds may shift against us, and we must adjust our course to continue on the forward path.  This involves setting smaller goals and moving to achieve them, even if they don't lead us in a direct line.  It is the skills we have cultivated that allow us to do this.  In sobriety, we have in place plans to overcome these times of temptation and to continue on the path to our New Life without moving backwards first.  We have friends both online and off that we can turn to for encouragement and support.  We know that we can post about our issues and receive feedback that can help us find the best path to take.  And again, we move forward until the wind shifts again.

But what if there is no wind?  What if we find ourselves adrift on a glass smooth sea, our sails not stirred by the slightest breeze.  We can allow the current of the water to carry us where it will, let our guard down thinking that when the wind picks up again it will be favorable and carry us forward without difficulty.  We are drifting course-less.  This happens when we become complacent about our sobriety.  We assume that temptation is no longer a threat or that we can easily overcome it.  We lose sight of our plans and goals and think that we have achieved a full New Life.

We may also worry that the calm precedes a storm and work ourselves into a state where when the gale strikes we aren't prepared and are overcome by it.  Either way, we are not acting to continue forward, rather allowing life to carry us where it will.  It is this period of calm that is the greatest threat to our sobriety, and the time that we should focus the most on moving forward under our own power.  Sailors use engines to push their boats forward through calm seas.  We can use our dedication to sobriety to move us forward without relying on the assistance of the wind.  We must force ourselves to be vigilant, to prepare for rough seas, but not to be so frightened of what might lay ahead that we lose sight of the fact that we can adjust our course and find favorable winds again.

In the end, while the wind moves us, it is our own skill and determination which take advantage of it.  The statements provide a framework by which we can weather all faces of the wind and by living them we increase the likelihood that we can find favorable winds and avoid the storms that lie in our path.  Don't be afraid to launch into the storm that frightens us when we first choose sobriety.  It is our willingness to sail through it that allows us to the calmer, more favorable winds that wait on the other side.  We can enjoy our New Life with a pleasant breeze blowing us along, steering the best path forward, and knowing that whatever lies ahead, we can weather without fear.  In life, as in sailing, the great joy lies in moving forward. We may not be able to direct the wind that our external circumstances create, but we can adjust our sails to take full advantage of the opportunities that wind presents us.  Sobriety offers us this, and through the statements and our own willingness to grow, we can fully enjoy the journey.

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