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SEA Currents: SSV Robert C. Seamans

June 08, 2017

Stanford@SEA: The Big Picture

Emma Gee, Stanford

Stanford@SEA

Photo: Stanford@SEA

You think about a lot of things while standing at the helm and steering a 140-foot-long tall ship.  Like the drift of the swell that rocks the Seamans, my mind often wanders off over the horizon and into ill-explored territory.  Lately, this has varied from wracking my brain for the lyrics to "Jessie's Girl" to wondering whether anyone could make a wrap-up of all the news we've missed, Liz Lemon-style.

The tangled threads of my thoughts often lead back to a central knot.  I've been turning it over again and again, but there seems to be no unraveling it.  What I've been trying to get at with my thoughts and my contemplating and my mental poking and prodding is a feeling I have in the part of my mind that doesn't think.  The issue at hand is that the big picture, the basic undertaking of this experience-sailing through the Pacific-doesn't feel real to me.  I look out over the seemingly endless expanse of the sea and something in my brain gets jammed up.  The message doesn't translate from my brain to my heart.  As a result, a sense of wonder gets lost, and I feel no differently than when I look out a car window or out my front door.  Maybe it's sensory overload, or maybe it's how far-flung this experience is from any other I've ever had, but there's a disconnect between what I know is happening and what I feel.

You've probably experienced a similar dissonance between the head and the heart.  A good example is an irrational fear-you tell yourself that the thing won't hurt you, but the fear you have is deep down in an unreachable place.  We have our conscious thoughts, which are completely within our control, and then we have the things we really feel in our guts.  These feelings can't be easily created or changed through conscious thought.  I can tell myself that I'm on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but feeling that in my gut is an entirely different beast. 

It's not that everything about the trip has felt unreal.  Picking through zooplankton at 4 AM feels real.  Deep-cleaning the heads on field day definitely feels real.  But when I look out into the vastness of the ocean, something doesn't click.  What I'm seeing sits at the surface of my understanding and goes no deeper.

In the first half of the voyage, this was cause for panic.  I think that that gut understanding is vital to actually experiencing something, as opposed to just going through it.  I don't want to live my life just going through things, especially as unique an experience as this.  I wanted to untangle the knot, to make the connection click.  A part of me also hoped that the problem would work itself out on its own.

The problem did not work itself out on its own.  While we were anchored at Palmerston, I went up into the rigging to take some time to do nothing but sit and think, of which there is precious little on a ship. 

Aloft, I stared out over the reef for upwards of an hour.  There was no grand revelation, but I did a lot of thinking.  I thought about my processing issues, and about the worry it was causing.  The worrying is very much within my control, and I decided to rein it in.  There's no reason to add it to the existing problem.

In a way, I've given up.  I'm no longer trying to get myself take in the overarching picture.  However, I've fully experienced plenty of small moments-the most excited I've ever been to see pasta, the hardest I've ever laughed at 5 AM, the most supported I've ever felt while being in charge and also being completely clueless-to know that a larger whole is forming.

Categories: Robert C. Seamans, • Topics: stanford@sea  life at sea • (0) Comments

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