One of our primary offerings at Inviting Abundance is something we call “wayfinding.” In its most general sense, wayfinding is the system by which all living beings orientate themselves in space and navigate their surroundings. When linked to the processes of grieving and education, wayfinding names the methods we use to thrive amid life’s challenges, from living with the death of loved ones to encountering the bewildering complexity of being human. In this post, I (Will) want to analyze and reflect upon a strange phrase that first drew me to the concept of wayfinding. This phrase is “dead reckoning.”
The term, however, is more common in the world of nautical navigation. Historically, sailors would determine their current position by calculating their previous position (such as port of embarkation) and their ships’ speed over a specific duration. With the knowledge of their current location, sailors could then adjust their heading and navigate around known obstacles. The process of finding one’s location at sea was called dead reckoning.
In this task of healing, we come upon a specific dimension of the word “dead”: “of water, ‘still, standing,’ from Proto-Germanic *daudaz.” Grief drops us in the still waters of the deep ocean of the soul. Without wind or current, these waters keep us in place and force us to comprehend the depth and expanse of the waters in which we are floating. I think of this dead water as the doldrums, a word that surfaces in Book IV of Homer’s Odyssey and refers to windless ocean travel, the worst kind of situation for a sailor trying to make his way home. The only way to summon the wind is to make an offering to the right spirit (Proteus) and/or god (Poseidon). Without faith in such spirits, people are left to float until chance intervenes. Even with faith and certainty in the spirit world, helping hands from beyond arrive on their own schedule, and waiting for help can be just as painful as the original traumatic experience that left us stranded in the first place.
But in that still water where no wind blows, an opportunity also presents itself. It is there that we have cause to think and talk to ourselves. The gnawing boredom we feel during the incessant waiting amid grief actually sparks the imagination and forces a necessary encounter with the self. Nietzsche referred to this “boredom” as “that disagreeable ‘lull’ of the soul that precedes a happy voyage and cheerful winds.” It is a disposition common among artists who actually need this boredom brought on by still waters in order to ruminate, connive, and create. Most importantly, the doldrums bring about a stillness of soul that helps us individually to reckon with ourselves, as if to say, “Ok. Fine. What is this all about then? What am I doing here? What is here?”