As the drum beats, steady as a heartbeat, it opens the doorway between the world we know and the world that knows us. If I let it, the drum will teach me; I close my eyes.
I stood on the shore, looking out into the Western Sea. It is the physical place where the sun goes down and the place where the stars fade; it is the symbolic place of endings and leavings and lettings-go; it is the place in ritual where we come to know death, so that when it comes for us, we know we need not be afraid.
I stepped out onto the waters, and there was a small boat beneath my feet, large enough only for me, and none other. In order to step into this boat, I had to leave behind all my connections and titles, awards and certifications, my earthly goods and my hurtful baggage. I couldn’t take it with me, in such a small boat. Thus relieved of ballast, the sail caught the wind, and I held the mast as I stood and looked out over the open water.
When I was quite a way out, I noticed another boat ahead of me, just like mine; leather hull, small white sail, short mast, standing room for one only. And yet there was no person in it; the boat was empty. I tried to get closer, but my boat would go no further.
Then I realized there was a whole fleet of boats floating ahead of me out on the Western sea, some close together, some with great distance separating them. They were all identical to my boat, and they were all empty. All the way out, until the earth curved and I could see no further, the water was covered in boats with no people in them.
I turned to look behind me and saw that all the way back to the shore, the water was likewise covered in boats, but these boats each had a person in them. There were men and women, young and old, from all nations and all walks of life that could be imagined. Some of these boats were close to mine; some had barely left the shore. But all of the boats could only hold a single person.
And far behind them, back on the shore with no boats at all, were the rest of the people of the world.
Suddenly, it was as though I had been given wings, and I hovered over the Western Sea, able to see all the people in the world in a single view.
Back on the shore were the people who clung to their baggage, their titles, their connections. Some were ignoring the people in boats; some were taunting or deriding them. Some were calling out to the sailors to come back to shore, beguiling them with promises. Others were running into the water, clinging to the sides of other people’s boats, desperate to be allowed onboard, never realizing that all they had to do was want their own boat, and it would appear for them to sail.
My gaze shifted to the people in the boats. Some seemed nervous, casting longing looks back to shore; their boat hadn’t taken them very far, and they floated motionless in the safe harbor. Some were trying to invite others into their boat, with no success. Others had succeeded in casting off their worldly connections of wealth, fame, education, possessions, relationships, longings, hopes, fears, hurts…. The more they cast off, the further from the shore their boat carried them.
I saw again, now from above, this curious divide between the boats with people in them and, further from shore, the boats with no people in them. And then I realized why my boat could not carry me into the midst of the empty boats.
The empty boats were not empty at all; the passengers had simply let go of their bodies along with the other things from the shore that they didn’t need. That divide was the veil of death, and it was not time for me to cross it. All I could do was sit in my boat, surrounded by other sailors of the Western Sea, and look ahead to see that the journey doesn’t end; we just can’t perceive where it goes.