Life Awash: 5 Principles Learned From the Ocean

A guest post by Jacob Mojiwat- originally published in Goodlife Zen

Growing up in the Pacific tropics, I was immersed in paradise from the day I was born. When you live on an island, visitors are often the life blood of the local economy. That’s how I ended spending a lot of time on the ocean, whether it was to take tourists to fish or dive, or for my own pleasure. I’ve done both and I’ve learned some of the lessons the ocean has to teach.

Happy skipper driving sailing ship

Ah, the ocean. It permeates everything we do. On an island, the ocean touches everything. Even when you are inland where you cannot see or smell it, the ocean sends the weather – mostly fair, rarely foul. As a crew member and later as a junior captain, I’ve learned some valuable lessons from traveling on the sea and having it a part of every moment of the day.

  1. Take only what you need.
  2. For me, this principle has a double meaning. The first is that moana is a bountiful giver and it is easy to take more than necessary. I’ve seen it a hundred times – when the fishing is good, the temptation is to gather with both hands. But then what? For a tourist, after a picture, a big catch is just a dead animal. What actually happens is that the client gets a portion in a cooler and the rest goes to market. It isn’t wasted. This is different than the island way. Everything caught is eaten or smoked to eat later. There is no sport in simply catching a fish without purpose.

    The second meaning comes from the difference between a boat and being on land. On a boat, space is precious – even more so on an island canoe. Everything you take must have a purpose and there is little room for the minutiae of life. It takes time to learn this lesson, and I learned it primarily from charter clients. They would forever bring too much “gear” – cell phones and other electronics that don’t like salt water, chairs, blankets, purses the size of knapsacks…the list is endless.

    I have learned to examine carefully; not just what I need, but why I need it.

  3. Not knowing where you are going will take you somewhere else.
  4. The water moves. The boat moves. The winds move. All three of these may be moving in different directions. I sometimes feel just that way, even now, far from the water.

    To get where you want to go, all of these various motions have to be considered. None is more important that the other. A bad captain will waste fuel and time by over-relying on their electronics without regard for what’s around him. It is no different than the swimmer caught in an undertow. To reach the shore, they must swim parallel to it

    My habit was to fish one side of the island in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Why? Because the weather changes as the island heats up and creates clouds. The winds change, and of course, the currents do what the currents do. I’ve taken this principle with me, this balancing the factors that would sway me one way or another and move me far from my goal. Too often I hear from others about what they do not want. My question is, “What do you want?” It is a harder question to answer than most people think.

  5. You can observe a great deal by watching.
  6. I was amazed to find that what was so plain to the islanders was often invisible to outsiders. One example is the jungle. Quite often I found that people from the mainland couldn’t see more than the occasional orchid with its bright colors. The rest of the vegetation was just a smear of green to them. Where I saw a finger banana tree set back, or a mango or passion fruit, they saw nothing but shadow and shades of emerald and jade. This was just as true for wildlife and distant weather coming across the ocean. Tourists couldn’t see what was plainly there. There was little need for a weather report unless you are planning a day or two ahead. We just looked out over the ocean to see what was headed our way.

    But, as much as I criticized the mainlanders for their lack of penetration, I found my own blind spots. Watching the ocean from a low canoe is much different than from a boat. When the older native men pointed out the flicker on the water that meant fish were herding and eating a bait ball; or when they could spot a new freshwater outflow by the way the birds gathered. These and many more examples taught me to stop and observe, to quiet my own thoughts and see.

  7. The perfect moment.
  8. For a time, I took people out snorkeling in the shallows. When I supervised, I always kept one eye on things I thought they would want to see and the other one them – always looking for trouble and shepherding my little flock. This was even more important when scuba diving. The sheer newness can overwhelm even experienced divers and they get confused. Getting disoriented can be fatal.

    On my own though, I had the chance to follow my own nose. There is nothing quite like slipping into still, warm water and seeing all the little life that plays in the shallows. I didn’t learn to settle into it for years. And then, one lazy afternoon, with nothing on my mind but relaxation and no one to watch over, I suddenly felt I was no longer a spectator. I was just floating in sunlit buoyancy, no need to swim or reason to push ahead. The light and shadow were playing games in the water and there was a gentle rock and surge as the warm water carried me. I could feel the weight of the water above me and sense the water below.

    I learned to crave those moments and appreciate how I could bring some of that spirit away with me. I will not claim perfection for my moments as part of the flow, and I certainly didn’t quit fighting to make a living because of those moments – but they serve as a touchstone and a grounding for me.

  9. A conversation isn’t something I have.
  10. When you go out on the ocean for several days, there is time. When the ocean is quiet and the stars are out, there is nothing quite like just laying out on the deck and listening to the sound of the wavelets against the hull. This is when people talk about nothing and everything, when it is fine to be silent for one minute or ten, when time stretches out thin as gauze. For some, it makes them crazy. They tweet with lighted machines or demand names for dots in the sky or start rehearsing tomorrow’s troubles. And I’ve been there as well; polite and meaningless chit-chat to keep the vast ocean and sky at bay.

    Then again, when there is time like that and you are with someone of merit, a very cool thing can emerge. If I can listen carefully to another’s self reflection and share my own – that is a fine thing. Silence is part of the communication and thoughtful consideration is required.

    I credit this lesson to both the circumstances and someone who taught me what it means to have a real conversation. He was a Native American from the Midwest. He started by remarking how being on the boat, under the stars, was like home for him; the same blazing stars shifted with some new ones on the horizon, but still familiar. He convinced me to put out all the lights on the boat and he told me about growing up on the Rez. And I told him about growing up on an island in the Pacific. No judgment except the conclusions we’d discovered from our own lives. A great deal of silence. Very few questions.

    I didn’t have that conversation, we had it. And when I talked, I didn’t talk about what bothered me; I talked from my heart about what I believed to be so, about Hawaiian traditions and about growing up in paradise. Real conversation changes you, makes you more than you were going in.

I’m no longer on the ocean and I no longer make my living on the water. It will always be a part of me, the shush-shush of moana as it moves with the rhythm of existence, always there waiting for me to return and take another gift, a small gift – nothing more than is needed.

Jacob Mojiwat is passionate  scuba diving with others. He is the owner of  a dive company.