The Tao of Boating with
Charlie doesn’t consciously practice the Tao of anything and certainly
not anything like pure Zen.
stretching it to call him enlightened, yet he has a self contained
harmony a Yin Yang balance all of his own.
If you were to suggest to him that he was the least bit spiritual, he’d
Tell him that he was grounded and he’d be off like a shot, down to the
creek to check on Panope
However, there is something about
him, some basic awareness of being part of a greater whole an awareness
of his environment of being in tune with whatever he is doing.
it’s to do with his love of sailing, the connecting with the sails, the
wind, the boat and water to achieve that harmony.
between the tight curve of the sail, the push of the tide, the gurgle
of the bow wave and the boat moving towards it’s destination.
perhaps sailing is just a manifestation of his naturally spiritual
mindset, because it is also evident in most of what he does.
There’s an engaging easiness about my
Despite his rough and ready
appearance he has a pervasive grace, a sort of harmony with the nature
This is especially noticeable
when he is sailing, when he seems to move in concert with the wind, sea
and the boat.
He seems to have an especially
wise way of being with his world that fulfills the needs of the
particular and the general.
I've often been mesmerized by
the sight of him helming Panope as he seems to
move in accord with the energy of wind and sea, anticipating wind
shifts and the rise and fall of the waves.
There’s never any struggle or
wasted effort, just a spontaneous fluidity and ease that comes from
being in profound accord with nature.
It’s as if he is guided by a
deep empathy, like a sage moving with the Tao.
But don’t get me wrong he is
never sat there as if in some sort of trance.
He is always very much in the
moment, using all his senses as well as paying attention to the GPS,
compass, depth sounder, chart and his eyes.
And, as a good skipper should
he will keep his crew informed and have planned ahead,.
Now when I say planned ahead I
don’t mean that he will have a definitive outcome which must be reached
come what may.
There will be a plan to sail
‘towards’ a destination, but there will be no compunction to force the
Being aware of the vagaries of
winds, tides and weather he has learnt to embrace the flow, to enjoy
the journey and be open to alternatives.
There is no stressful attempt
to force an outcome, thus making the journey much more enjoyable.
Somehow he also seems to
infect his crew with his centered, balanced approach as he involves and
Perhaps this centering, this
focusing of energy is due in part to his discipline in small things.
He has his little rituals,
such as when he has dropped the anchor he will just stand looking
around for a few moments quietly absorbing his surroundings, the set of
the tide, a couple of transits, the tug on the anchor rode.
Then next thing is to see to
the boat, tidying sails and coiling and tidying the running rigging etc.
And only then does he sit back
to roll a cigarette and quietly enjoy the smoke and the scenery, it’s
like his own ritual tea ceremony.
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I wouldn’t call Uncle Charlie an
environmentalist, certainly not in the trendy mold.
The occasional bang and cloud
of exhaust smoke from Panope’s engine certainly
wouldn’t endear him to the noise and pollution lobby.
But then the engine is rarely
used and only when sailing is impossible.
However, perhaps it’s because
he is a sailor that he dose have a feeling and knowledge of the
environment, the sound and smell of wind the feel of the waves, the
motion of the boat that seems to come within.
Of course being a sailor he is
in tune with the cycles that occur in nature, the ebb and flow of the
tide, phases of the moon and the changes of the seasons.
And while he does refer to the
tide tables and such like he also has a spontaneous, natural, and
It’s as if he just flows with
the experiences, feelings and other input as they come and go.
And this includes a love of
The coming and going of the
water fowl, the seasonal running of fish, the lore of nature that comes
from a sense of being connected to the Tao of the environment.
It is not motivated by a sense
of separateness but of being part of nature which must be respected.
It’s a respect which is not
ego-motivated or entirely out of self-interest just a desire to take
care of the things he loves.
He is acutely aware, for
instance that any garbage that is tossed into the oceans or rivers will
not just disappear but turn up to disfigure somewhere else.
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The Tao of Woodworking.
The Tao or the Way as it is sometimes
called is often likened to flowing water.
The water just effortlessly
goes around obstacles in its path such as rocks and stones.
It just naturally takes the
shape of any container it finds its self in.
So what has this to do with
Uncle Charlie and the Tao of woodworking?
Well it’s not easy to describe
or understand but it is the way, like water he seems to do without
That’s not to say that all his
projects are trouble-free or that they don’t require lots of effort but
it’s the way in which he seems to be guided by the possibilities in the
wood and his tools.
But perhaps it’s because he is
unconsciously in harmony with the Tao that he never seems to get
Perhaps it’s because of his
appreciation for the natural beauty and spontaneity of wood and his
reverence his tools and woodworking methods.
Just watching him sharpen a
chisel reminds me of the Samurai Warrior sharpening his sword.
Now, whether he has any
spiritual insights into the discipline of his woodworking craftsmanship
is hard to say.
Ask him if he has any Taoist
principles that have sustained and nurtured his creative experience and
he’ll get a bit self-conscious.
But maybe that is the real
secret of the Tao.
Like water, he just has a
certain acceptance of things as they are, allowing him to follow the
natural rhythms of a stress free life.
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"In building a small yacht the absence of mechanical items can cut
Working on the premise that the first rule of economy is deletion and
the second rule is substitution."
Well anyone who has managed to read
this far will by now have gathered that I'm a bit hazy on what the Tao
is all about.
But then it is a rather
And perhaps my Uncle Charlie
has the secret, don’t think about it just follow the flow.
However, I do remember those
times, particularly when I've been sailing alone when the sails were
trimmed perfectly and the boat just sailed herself and everything just
seemed to come together.
The smell, the sounds, and
feel of those times when all seemed well with the world and I just felt
at one with the universe, was that what is meant by being on the Zen
path, at on with the Tao?
The feeling, the mindlessness
of the moment probably only lasted for a moment.
But I guess that that is the
Tao for you.
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