Addendum to An Unquenchable Thirst

I spoke with a Catholic friend about An Unquenchable Thirst and got a very different perspective from that of the author (see my previous blog). My friend is very spiritual, not necessarily in a Catholic way but more in a Native Athabaskan way that reflects her heritage and culture.

She reminded me that there is a level of spiritual connection that can occur between any spiritual person and God that in fact transcends the need for the human connection and material satisfaction that the author so desperately sought. This enlightenment is the ultimate goal of a spiritual journey, whether one is Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic, shaman or otherwise, and sacrifice is always a major part of it. I already know this and didn’t consider it as I reacted more to the words on the page of the book.

Rather than delete my previous blog altogether I feel compelled to amend it with this note because the story is still legitimately the author’s experience and either way, I commend her for her honesty and integrity and inspiration to live a meaningful life. But I do feel sorry for her that she never fully transcended the every day drudgery and politics to achieve the bliss and compassion that would have come with enlightenment. I will continue to believe that the majority of those who dedicate their lives to a spiritual path will eventually arrive at the unitive way they seek, and I will continue to be happy for the author that she found her peace elsewhere.

 

An Unquenchable Thirst

Two weeks ago a newly published book arrived in my mailbox that I was to forward on to a friend. The title and first few pages intrigued me, as it looked like it was going to be a book about life in the nunnery and insights into the life of Mother Teresa. In my romanticized view of what goes on behind the cloistered walls, I have always imagined monks and nuns sitting in the garden much of the day, meditating and contemplating God, doing a few odd jobs to keep them busy and singing Gregorian chants in the chapel, so I was interested to see if I was even half right. Not surprisingly, that is not how they spend their days! The more I read in this book, the more horrified I became about the so-called contemplative lifestyle, and then I needed to keep reading to know what it was going to take for the author to get out of her commitment to God and leave the Missionaries of Charity. My friend generously let me finish the book before sending it on, and I completed it this morning. This is the fastest I have read 544 pages in recent memory!

The book is called An Unquenchable Thirst: Following Mother Teresa in Search of Love, Service and an Authentic Life, a memoir by Mary Johnson, a former sister in Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. I am not Catholic, was not raised Catholic and in fact have issues with the Catholic Church as I do with most organized religions and their dogma, which are more about greed and self aggrandizement than anything else (like the missionaries who came to Hawai’i to do good, and in fact did well). Yet I was curious, wondering what the life of a nun is like in the twentieth and twenty first centuries and wanting to learn more about the mystique of Mother Teresa. Who knows, maybe I would have changed my opinion, at least about the Catholic Church.

‘An Unquenchable Thirst’ is simply written, the author recreates dialogue with the sisters she encounters over the years to move the story forward. Although the author’s journey began almost 35 years ago, the events feel fresh, raw, like it all happened earlier this year. Her story includes a fascinating, sometimes voyeuristic exposé of life in the convent. The sisters are expected to live without any of the conveniences of modern life, they are worked long hours, they are not particularly treated well by their superiors, they practice disciplines (self punishment) and probably harshest of all, their marriage to Jesus is expected to fill every need in their lives, including the need – and desire – for human closeness. I find it hard to believe that Jesus would have wanted his followers to live under such conditions or to practice such a lifestyle. As a reader who was getting my first glimpse into life as a nun in this day and age, I have to say I was shocked, and I started wondering how this lifestyle differs from that in any other cult in which Faith and Rules and a Strict Hierarchy are the cement that holds everything else together. What moved me about this book, however, was the author’s courage to tell her story, including every mistake, every painful decision she had to make that finally led her to realize that she could no longer be part of this society. As Joseph Campbell said, “follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls”. It took an enormous amount of bravery and integrity for her to follow her bliss, and it’s not clear how much God helped.

I am grateful that this book found its way into my house as I would not likely have sought it out or otherwise found it. I am enriched by the author’s perseverance and compassion and mostly by her honesty and willingness to tell this powerful story. It further confirms my poor opinion of the church, but mostly the story renewed my desire and motivation to try and live a life that matters, which I think is what this book is ultimately about. Mahalo ia ‘oe, Mary Johnson.

 

Outrigger canoe paddling – a microcosm of life

I said in an earlier blog that I started this website because I wanted to make commentary on actions and decisions that take place in the community (mostly by politicians, of course).
Outrigger canoe paddling2Then I chickened out as I would not want to say something that could come back and haunt me. Even if I don’t name names, the likelihood of people knowing whom I am talking about is higher than if I lived in a larger community and so I therefore choose not to insult anyone as people tend to take things more personally in a small community. They also have long memories.

Paddling is no different. I would love to give examples about how paddling mirrors life – the highs, lows, dysfunctions, personal agendas, etc. But then I don’t want to lose my seat in the canoe if someone thinks I may be talking about her (or him), takes it personally, and blabs to the coach that I have a “bad attitude”.

Having said all that, last weekend at the Hawai’i Canoe Racing Association state championship canoe races on Maui, my crew got disqualified for moving into the next lane and interfering with another canoe. There was a certain irony to this and thinking about it inspires me to at least make some general observations about the world of outrigger canoe paddling.

A crew consists of the six people in the outrigger canoe as well as those waiting on shore for their turn to paddle. One must leave their ego, whatever baggage they may be carrying from the day, whatever they may think about other people in the canoe, etc. on the shore before setting out, otherwise the canoe will not move forward. In my experience I have discovered this to be very true. One can – and should – do everything one needs to do to prepare for canoe practice, which includes aerobic and weight training and even visualizing the technique that the coach wants everyone to follow. In the canoe one must stay focused and always do one’s best. Beyond that, there is nothing one can do about the coach’s decisions or anyone else in the canoe other than hope that everyone shares the same goals and motivation. All outrigger canoe clubs have their own issues (more familiarly known as ‘paddletiks’) and in the end, it’s best to ignore everything beyond your control and just paddle.

Does that sound like life?

 

Women of the Sea

While regatta paddling is a microcosm of life – sometimes the grittier aspects (see my previous blog), long distance paddling is pure joy and love of being one with the ocean.


Women of the Sea2I can’t remember the last time I paddled during the long distance season – maybe 2000? I paddled pre-season races this year but those races are only 6-8 miles. The first real race of the long distance season for women is the Dad Center race, which is 25 miles. The season culminates at the end of September with the 41 mile crossing of the Ka’iwi Channel between Moloka’i and O’ahu. With these kinds of distances, it’s a huge commitment to paddle, from a rigorous training schedule to everything else that goes along with racing, including loading and rigging canoes the day before the race to the expense of entry fees, escort boats and inter-island travel. For the first time since I last paddled the Ka’iwi Channel we had a masters crew, and without committing to the entire season, I decided to do the Dad Center race this year, which to me is the best race of them all. The course from Kailua Bay to the Outrigger Canoe Club on Waikiki Beach is challenging, there is spectacular scenery along the rugged side of the O’ahu coastline and it finishes at the Outrigger, where hot showers and an excellent lunch are served, not to mention the cool pareaus they gave out this year instead of t-shirts!

Paddling out in the deep blue of the ocean in a six man canoe means leaving everything else behind. There is only one task at hand, and that is to follow the blade in front of you. It doesn’t mean that one becomes oblivious to everything else, on the contrary, all senses are heightened. The color of the water, the speed and direction of the wind, the direction and pull of the current, the wave action, these are all details of the environment that one processes while paddling because one must be ready for anything, like rogue waves. Yet the experience is purely meditative. There is a rhythm, and one’s entire body moves in sync with it. Training means pushing oneself, though, so with each practice the runs get longer and the paddling more intense. Lower body is as important as upper body strength as all muscles are used. Being able to pull oneself into the canoe quickly during an ocean change is critical, as a slow or bad change can cost valuable time in a race as other canoes take full advantage of others’ mistakes.

Another great aspect of long distance outrigger paddling is the bonding among crew members. Everyone is in this adventure together, and so share the same determination, love of the ocean, and attention to maintaining a healthy and strong body. It is a different microcosm of life than regatta paddling because there is the addition of a survival element of paddling on the open ocean, and we must all watch out for each other. The politics are gone, we are women of the sea.

All this to say that we had a great race this past Sunday. It was a beautiful day and ocean conditions were perfect. There was excitement along the way as we paddled through breaking waves, nearly huli’d at least once and passed other canoes when we flew through our home waters from Hawai’i Kai to Waikiki. The water was spectacular shades of blue along the way and everyone had a great time. It doesn’t get much better than this.

 

vaka at METC

The seven vaka are docked at the Marine Educational Training Center on Sand Island this week where the crews are all staying as well. They are giving tours of the vaka for anyone who wants to come down and see them and talk to crew members. What an inspiration and a dream to be able to sail on one of these beautiful vessels. The large solar panels provide all the power they need, including for their propellors that they use only when they pull into dock so they donʻt have to be towed.

vaka at METC2