“Abandon the safety of your small life.”
“You get to feel safe.”
~ The same, beloved, life coach!
Once upon a time, the following inspirational quotation was used to beat someone over the head — or so it felt to the recipient of the wisdom:
“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”
~ John Augustus Shedd (at least that’s who most often receives credit)
Those sailing the open seas often turn into missionaries — eager for everyone to thrill as they do!
Set sail, set sail! the zealous sailors shout.
But I want to be safe — I crave peace, murmurs a member of their target audience. Don’t rock my boat.
In Buddhism, each desirable attitude is opposed not only by its direct opposite (far enemy) but also by a behavior that seems similar yet actually undermines a right life (near enemy). Insightmeditationcenter.org lists the big four:
Four Brahma-viharas — Heavenly or sublime abodes (best home)
- Lovingkindness, good-will (metta)
- Near enemy – attachment
- Far enemy – hatred
- Compassion (karuna)
- Near enemy – pity
- Far enemy – cruelty
- Sympathetic joy, appreciation (mudita), joy at the good fortune of others
- Near enemy – comparison, hypocrisy, insincerity, joy for others but tinged with identification (my team, my child)
- Far enemy – envy
- Equanimity (upekkha)
- Near enemy – indifference
- Far enemy – anxiety, greed
So is harbor-sitting really just stagnating — a kind of fearful and cowardly passivity — and hence a near enemy of personal peace because it blocks the right actions that could bring joy?
Here’s what I have found in my life and the lives of those I love — friends, clients, family.
If you have actually experienced an environment of very real danger, harm, or neglect, then you will crave safety. And that is not only okay but natural and healthy. If you know someone who has had this experience, do not be hasty in saying they should be leaping into unknown waters. If you know someone who clings to safety and peace, be aware that this may be their experience. And remember that you don’t know how it feels to be them, what they have gone through, or what they need.
You really don’t.
When I heard Beloved Coach say “you get to feel safe,” I wept.
And then a funny thing. Once that permission was granted — once I felt seen and accepted — I allowed myself to relax without guilt into what I had created for myself (a lovely and safe harbor indeed). Before I knew it, I was sailing in the middle of terrifying uncharted waters BY CHOICE (albeit sweaty, afraid choice) and the fear seemed desirable somehow and I KNEW that THIS exhilaration is THE best kind of peace — a dynamic peace.
It happened just like that. Quickly.
And I was thrilled and OF COURSE immediately ready to convert everyone else to the life of the open sea. That was not pleasant for me or my potential converts.
And so I got to re-experience the truth (from yet another perspective): harbors are not the near enemy of peace. They are part of peace. They in fact may lead to oceanic adventures that bring a very active joy — or not. It doesn’t matter, I think, because… well try this: Say out loud to yourself “What IS peace’s near enemy?”
Peace does not have enemies. That’s why it’s peace.
“I have no enemies and no hatred.”
~ Liu Xiaobo, 2010 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, “My Final Statement” (upon the occasion of his prison sentencing for human rights activism).
Harbor on, beloved.