Today we cross from the Atlantic to the Pacific via the Panama Canal. As we entered the canal at 8:00 this morning I stood on Deck 9 towards the bow and pondered how it was possible that I was about to be one of the few people on Earth who will have this experience. I knew of the Panama Canal of course but I had never given much thought to the possibility that I might one day be on a ship that would go through it.
Our ship is now on Lake Gatun. We are surrounded by rain and fog as we wait for a pilot to take our ship through the Lake to the next set of locks which will bring our ship to the Pacific Ocean. By the end of the day I will have travelled through one of the world's greatest engineering marvels; one that allows this ship and all her passengers float across the Continental Divide at 85 feet above sea level. Human beings can do amazing things when we put our minds to it. I wish though that we'd put our minds to finding a way to live side by side in harmony.
As we wait for the arrival of our pilot I have come below decks to charge my electronics and to write today's blog post. The card I drew today is Teacher of Cups: Exploring the Inner Landscape. When I turned the card over its imagery and hidden picture drew me in. I stared at it for several minutes trying to take in all that was in it.
I love the idea of this card. I say I love the "idea" because while I recognize the importance of taking the time to look inside and explore my own inner workings, I have a lot of issues with the behaviors and language that permeate the western self-help and new age culture. I have an almost reflexive cringe that happens when I hear terms like being your finding happiness, identifying your authentic self or following your bliss.
The thing is that I know where this cringe reflex comes from. It stems directly from having witnessed so much bad, unkind, rude and cruel behavior done in the name of bliss chasing and authenticity. In the extreme I've seen people ditch familial responsibilities and abandon those in need to chase their bliss. I've heard cruel words said to others in the name of being authentic. I've seen honesty and authenticity used as an excuse for a lot of selfish behaviors and unnecessary criticism of others. Knowing oneself should not come at the expense of other people. We have to learn not only to know ourselves but to also know how we can use that self-knowledge to create a kinder and more compassionate world.
Looking inward is something I have had ample opportunity to do on this Semester at Sea journey. I have filled more pages in my hardcopy journal over the past two and half months that I did in all of last year. But I have had moments where my pen has stalled out on the page because I found myself questioning if the path of self-exploration I am feeling drawn to is a selfish one. Do I risk becoming one of the bad examples that I have witnessed?
I suppose that the risk is indeed there, but it is my hope that my awareness of its existence will mean that I remain attentive to it. Knowing oneself is an ongoing process; one that I'm not sure ever really ends. Though we can hope that the exploration becomes easier as we become more adept at using the tools we acquire in the process.
Neither we nor our world is a static place. Life is always going to challenge and change us. Knowing myself also means being comfortable with the fact that that self is likely to change. This might mean that in the end I may never fully know myself and may simply have to settle for a deeper sense of knowing myself better. Perhaps it is in accepting the fact that even as we explore ourselves more deeply, we are still not ever likely to know everything, that humility is the be found.