I have never been much of a sailor. But there is something magical about boats. The sails filling as they catch the wind. The bow cutting through the water. Dropping anchor in a sheltered spot and taking respite from the journey.
We all need to drop anchor at some time in our lives. Maybe the place we thought we were going has lost its draw. Maybe we have exhausted ourselves, or lost our bearings. Maybe the wind has died, or changed direction. Maybe the seas are too rough to make the passage. Maybe we have lost our faith or trust in the journey. Maybe the place we were going is no longer there.
There is calm when we drop anchor. An unobstructed view of the horizon. A sense of borrowed space, and time. We are between journeys: the one just finished, and the one that has not yet begun. We are at rest, but alert—to the currents that drag the anchor on the seabed, to nearby rocks, to other boats that may be coming our way.
We might need an hour like this, watching the horizon. We might need years. Either we have a place to go and can begin our travels again, or we don’t. And if we don’t, there is no use trying to rush it. Lao Tzu has this to say in the Tao Te Ching:
Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?
It’s a curious idea that the right action might arise by itself. Yet how often do we go to bed muddled, and wake up clear? Was it us who did that? Or did it happen, by itself?
Bored playing the “shirtless guy on the beach”, in 2008 Matthew McConaughey took a two year break from acting. Then—and seemingly as a result of nothing he did—his phone began to ring. The “McConaissance” that followed brought Mud, True Detective, and Interstellar. It also brought Dallas Buyers Club. Shot on a budget of $4.9m in 25 days, the movie earned McConaughey an Oscar.
Thanks to David Gerken for the Lao Tzu quote. It arose by itself, in my inbox, at just the right time. Also, I love your writing, David. Thank you for that, too.
Ursula Le Guin’s version of the Tao Te Ching is wonderful. I find myself returning to it again and again.
Many thanks to Kate Ground for pointing me to Greenlights. I bought the audio book, Kate, which Matthew McConaughey reads himself. He is delightful!
Thank you for sharing your generous, life-affirming spirit, Matthew McConaughey. Also, thank you for the acting that came after you dropped anchor on rom coms. I loved it all.
Each week I explore a life metaphor that has touched me in my coaching. Subscribe to get my scribblings every Sunday morning. You can also follow me on Medium, or on LinkedIn. Feel free to forward this to a friend, colleague, or loved one, or anyone you think might benefit from reading it.