Getting the most out of right now

Midwinter 2003

By Dodge Morgan

There are aspects of a Maine winter experience that remind me of being at sea. One of them is the struggle I have with the meaning of time. In both cases the awareness of time is intensified, either because it drags or it flashes past. Nothing happens or a crisis ensues (weather being the critical essence both places). And one has to deal with so many time-related questions. Does time really have the three dimensions of past, present and future that we express in our verbs? What is more clarifying, history or action or plans? Is the appointment calendar really just words on paper or in a PDA (personal digital assistant)? When eight bells sound, is it noon and who the hell cares?

Once, after spending several months at sea alone, I wrote a consummately obvious thought in my log: “Clocks and calendars are in no way proper ways to measure time.” The statement reads as some kind of an epiphany for me. What? Did I have to spend 100 days in solitude to come to this realization? Had I been able for 56 years to somehow overlook the clear truth of having spent weeks and weeks worth almost nothing and minutes worth a lifetime? Is existence just a series of physical and spiritual orgasms in a sea of emptiness?

There are some lessons in time that solitude has taught me. One of them is to equate the passage of time with the urgency of the moment. When I find myself close to “the possibility of the end,” such as I was in cyclone Ima with 70 knots of wind and 50-foot seas, decks awash in spume and the mainsheet block exploded, my whole existence is one minute. If I can get by this one minute, I will worry about the next one, well, later. Taken this way, one can get through anything. Looking forward any further than the moment at hand can be paralyzing, can only imbue life with a sense of hopelessness. Another lesson is to hold a bias for action no matter what the crisis; make that main sheet fast anyway I can, and do it now. Now!

Which brings me to the power of now. How often do we take the moment as a pure discovery, without a relationship to any plan and free from the slavery of an appointment book or of the boring ritual of clocks, of the time-to-eat, time-to-meet, time-to-sleep foolishness. This has not been an easy trip for me. I have lived much of my life with the idea that what I was doing at the moment was wasted unless I was moving toward some carefully defined goal. It took sailing and solitude and the march of emergencies, as well as Maine winters, to teach me how to take each moment as it comes as if it were the only moment I have. Because it just may be. And because that is the way to get the most out of the “now” given to me.

Well, I still don’t just live only in the present. It is winter in Maine for a sailor and it is impossible to not envision another time when the earth tilts the sun back to where it belongs and to count the hours as they pass the winter solstice.

Solo circumnavigator Dodge Morgan lives on Snow Island in Harpswell, Maine.