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STOIC POETRY | Sailing the inner sea

Updated: Sep 4, 2021

There is a sea within us upon which circumstance presses restless winds night and day; forming crests and troughs, moving over the face of the waters in scale relative to whatever may be happening around us, and to us, and to those whom we know and love and the things we possess and care for and call our own. In mild times the waters are still or rising just slightly with a gentle breeze blowing in the direction of mild climes. Sometimes though, a wind picks up as our life seemingly tumbles along through challenges and hardship and pain, and our inner sea becomes ragged with a heaving face and a broken, foaming white churn of confusion, disorder and noise. And still other times a gale does come and great waves form and the sky and the stars are lost in the mountains of our mad inner sea—and we fear then that we too may be lost, swept below by the great moving tide to sink into the cold darkness of an abyss of ruin and failure and death.

To sail tranquilly, Over placid inner seas Or an inner tempest Or the maelstrom of dying days

But, our vessel is more capable than we know, more seaworthy than we think, more buoyant than any storm may overcome—but only if we remember not to steer, or to steer just very little. The key to surviving the inner sea is to clasp the tiller but lightly, or barely, or, if very strong, not at all. We float best when we guide our vessel with only the most distant and subtle commands, giving direction by indication less than command, backed by an accepting resignation rather than resistance to whatever is more than we might control or overcome. Such steerage may guide us through any sea—over placid midnight calm; or the blowing freshet of dawn, bringing the waters to an undulating pulse and promise of new day; or the afternoon gale, lashing like anger and the sore inclination of fate; to the great storm of nightfall, when churning waves rise high to overcome, and we forecast a coming night of terror, riding blindly the dark seas of our doom, lost into midnight, and our forethought imagining of every dread thing we do fear. And so we do sail. And so we do live our lives upon the inner sea.

And so we must sail. And so we must live our lives upon the sea—there being no one to truly help or save us out there upon the waves—where we can, and we must, and we will survive. So then, come out from the still deeper inner cabin of warmth and light, take your seat now at the helm facing fore, and put your trembling hand to the steering beam, but only lightly, touch your hand just barely to the guide—and then be blown where the storm and seas must take you, leading the way yourself with every slight determined turn, knowing you must only go where the wind must push, pretending to steer, imagining command, sailing boldly and with peace into the terrible good night. Always merely lost. Never truly quite in control. At peace wherever your ship may go. Wherever you do hardly guide.


My name is Kurt Bell.

You can learn more about The Good Life in my book Going Alone.

Be safe... But not too safe.

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