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Wisdom from the Sea: 3 Life Lessons from the Ocean

Growing up near, in, and on the ocean has given me a wonderful opportunity to learn by doing. My neighbors, friends, and coworkers all rely on this vast resource in one way or another.

It shapes and feeds our lives and how we view the world around us. I’ve taken these lessons with me into my working life and have been wonderfully blessed thereby. I’d like to share some with you.

1. Some things need never be said.

I’ve crewed on charter boats and fishing boats, and I’ve seen a marked contrast between those who “get it” and those who don’t.

A tourist comes for the experience of doing battle. They’re looking to take from the ocean some trophy, to wrestle with sun and salt spray and come away victorious. Everything they do, everything they ask–it’s all to accomplish this clear goal: a picture of them with a fish as long as they are tall. And they work hard to attain their prize.

These sometimes fishermen have many questions. “What have you been catching? Do you think we should try somewhere else? Can I use another rod (or reel, or bait)?”

They seem a bit lost when there aren’t any clear answers, and also confused by choices. When a fish is hooked and brought in, there is a flurry of excited activity, a huge rush and expenditure of energy.

In contrast, when I’m out with local fishermen, there is a great deal of silence. Everyone aboard has been in the situation many times. There is little need to speak. We end up being where we need to be when we need to be there. I don’t have to look behind me; I know someone is there with a gaff, and I know which way to turn and where to step.

There are rules of behavior, crafted over time and trained into us by a thousand other trips like this one. There is sweat, and there is effort. Muscles will ache by the end of the day. But we don’t fight the ocean. We dance with it.

There is no need to say what we already know, and there is little point in trying to teach someone new the poetry.

There are things that cannot be said; they have to be experienced.

This principle of leaving the sayable, unsaid has served me well in my business life. I trust the experience of others and in turn, they’re able to trust mine. If there seems to be confusion, I look first to see what they saw and understand what motion they were reacting to.

I was surprised to find a wellspring of competence that I think many overlook in people they deal with. It’s not that teaching has no place, but rather that there is so much in life that cannot be taught other than by living it.

Cajoling and berating doesn’t work; there is no common language between the skilled and the novice. To do, to participate, to engage–these are the pathways to understanding more than words.

2. Everything is impermanent.

Another contrast that I found interesting is how those unfamiliar with ocean life don’t understand that the ocean is a living thing. When we talk about her moods, we aren’t just making a metaphor.

For us, the sea has a personality. It is a living being. An angry sea can kill you. A peaceful sea can inspire and
comfort. And always, always, she is beautiful.

There is an old parable about the hole you leave when you take your hand out of the water. When we are out on the sea, she holds us up, or she may try to take the whole ship down. And when we are not at sea, it is as if we never were.

No one can spot our tracks. Every moment, the ocean remakes herself and heals the wounds of our passing wake.

The lesson for me was one of ceasing to strive against change. The constant change of the ocean erases all that came before. Even the seemingly permanent bottom will one day become a cliff face and then eroded down to become beach.

The ease comes from riding along on this inevitable recycling. I’ve found that simply accepting this as a fundamental idea saves me from much stress and grief. There is a great power in embracing the natural changes that come in my life.

No longer do I have to fret about today’s problems when I know they too will be erased as surely as the hole my hand leaves in the ocean.

3. Quality matters.

When you deal with the ocean, you quickly learn what a foreign and unforgiving place it can be. Each boat and every diver is an island unto itself. You only have what you have with you.

If you have made unwise decisions and sacrificed quality, you will be left without some critical item and it may even be
fatal. On the ocean, quality matters.

Quality can mean the difference between life and death. There is also a fixed limit on what you can take. Each and every item has to have a purpose. There is no room for comforting but non-essential extras.

Fishermen are slow to adopt the new. The old, the solid, and the traditional have become trusted allies.

When you see an actual working boat, you will probably first notice it looks bedraggled and ill-kept. This is an illusion. Each boat grows to meet its purpose. Everything you see is where it is because that is the proper place. Form flows from function.

This lesson has allowed me to see past surface appearance in my business dealings. I respect tradition and experience. It is too easy, in this modern life, to discount the old in favor of the new and the flashy.

So-called “improvements” are usually little more than cosmetic dodges and planned obsolescence. This doesn’t mean I don’t value innovation. But there has to be a quality element.

I would rather understand an older and less efficient way of doing things than adopt something I do not know how to fix or something I will quickly abandon when the next shiny toy comes along.

The two ideas of limits and quality means I will often pay much more for something that I expect to last. I also become a bit loyal to the well-made and the hand-crafted. And when I am producing something, I want to make it to the same standard. This means not taking the shortcut and participating in what I do.

I can tell you, from my direct experience, that there is great satisfaction that comes from putting your whole self into a task. The reward goes far beyond the moment and connects you with a larger ideal.

The Ocean is a wonderful teacher. I am happy to have known her and those honest souls who make a living from her bounty.

Photo by left-hand

Avatar of Jacob Mojiwat

About Jacob Mojiwat

Jacob Mojiwat is passionate about sharing the wonders of scuba diving with others. He is the owner of AsiaDivingVacation.com. His dive company takes divers diving in Sipadan Malaysia as well at other Asia dive destinations.

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  • Brad

    It’s unfortunate humans treat animals like trophies. In a perfect world there would be no death to support anyone or any lifestyle.

  • http://www.facebook.com/roatan.vortex Roatan Vortex

    I’m not a diver, but have chosen to live on the Island of Roatan, renowned for the diving opportunities here. I very much appreciated, and enjoyed reading your, “Three Life Lessons from the Ocean.” Very relevant no matter where you live!

    Thank you,
    Genevieve aka roatanvortex

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  • http://www.twitter.com/amoryann Amory Ann

    This has to be one of my favorite TinyBuddha articles to date. Bravo. A truly fantastic read.

  • http://big-zen.blogspot.com/ Big Zen

    A very nice artice, paricularly the metaphor about the hole left by a hand in the ocean. A great way to think about change.

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