Pondering on the question of whether or not a book changed my life, I would be quicker to say there was one book that woke me up and ultimately steered me down a certain path. I’ve often wondered if I even had a choice, and if I’d chosen differently who would I be had this book not appeared in my life. Did it change me? It definitely steered my course towards being mindful and making changes in how I behave in life — not that I was always successful, but it got the wheel turning. And I cannot ignore how blatantly obvious the Universe was in placing this book in my path. Such an event is not to be ignored! So the wheel begins to turn with Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous as a book that possibly changed my life.
In 1969, 19 years old, I sailed from Hawai’i to San Francisco, falling in love with deepwater sailing. Upon returning to Hawai’i, I bought the Wanderer II, a 24-foot gaff-rigged cutter, with all intentions of sailing around the world by myself. Besides the sails and necessary equipment to sail, there were two books onboard. One was The Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda (a book I never got around to reading until 2010 when I moved to Costa Rica).
The second was In Search of the Miraculous, which conveys the teachings of George Gurdjieff, a Russian philosopher, mystic, and spiritual teacher. It was deep and heavy reading for my naive and unworldly mind. I remember studying that book like my life depended upon it though. There was something being taught that no one, no education, had introduced me to. And I’m happy to say, Houston, there was ignition and lift-off from the ground of sleepwalking into a glimmer of a higher consciousness. Though I would fall asleep again and again, the wheel was turning and the direction of my life seemed to have shifted.
I ended up selling the Wanderer a year later, freeing myself to crew on other boats. I made two more deliveries from Hawai’i to the Mainland before I caught a boat to the South Pacific where I sailed and lived for seven years. The ocean itself deepened my focus, lending its contemplative space to my mystic ruminations. I eventually returned to the U.S., as a parent, entering the path of family and responsibility. As those years rolled past, the spark was kept alive by books and workshops by the then current popular spiritual teachers like Gary Zukav and Deepok Chopra and others.
Of course, I’d indulge in novels that brought tears and laughter, as well understanding and compassion, but I continued reading books in pursuit of this higher consciousness, in search of that mystic enlightenment. Those readings began to lean towards Buddhism. Of course, I’d read Siddhartha in high school; but I revisited it with a deeper understanding. I read David Wright’s Why Buddhism is True, The Essence of Buddhism by Traleg Kyabgon, Jack Kornfield’s books, as well as dozens if not hundreds of others, devouring the philosophy and thought.
Then I read Peter Coyote’s memoir, The Rainman’s Cure. The wheel of life turned me a bit further down the path. Coyote’s book was pivotal in me realizing that reading about Buddhism was far different than the practice of sitting on the cushion and actually meditating. It was with that awareness instilled by Coyote’s memoir that I began, and continue, my meditation practice in the Thai Forest tradition and the teachings of Ajahn Chah.
Becoming more mindful and focused, I found that my meditation practice provided the discipline to finally sit down and write my memoir, Aweigh of Life, the experiences of those seven years sailing and living in the South Pacific 45 years previously.
The process of writing Aweigh of Life was — quite unexpectedly — an extremely cathartic experience. After all, one must be very honest with oneself when writing a memoir, and in that honesty, well-hidden “secrets” are often revealed. Though it’s a “sweeping tale” (as one reader put it) of my adventures, including the unique experience of giving birth to my first child on a remote island in Papua New Guinea, and interlaced with historical, cultural and geographical descriptions, the writing process itself brought into the forefront of my awareness what had been driving me my entire life to be aweigh of life. Recognizing myths I’ve lived by — I have found — heightens my meditation practice, my mindfulness, and the wheel keeps turning.
So I could say that Aweigh of Life is that book that changed my life because of the cathartic experience in writing it and the next level of awareness it brought to me? Or I could say Ouspensky’s In Search of the Miraculous was that book, 50 years ago, that ignited that spark to pursue a more awake life of contemplation, meditation, and mindfulness?
Or I could say it all just is the way it is. I am the way I am. Nothing changed me.
Who knows for sure if a book or anything at all changed me?
It all just was the way it was.
It just is.