A recent article about piracy in the Caribbean just showed up in my inbox, along with some comments that reminded me of our experience of piracy when we were cruising the Caribbean on our sailboat Lightheart. I had written about it in a 2012 Huffington Post article, and now I'm bringing it here to Captains Courageous:
My husband Peter and I spent last year cruising the Caribbean in our 40-foot sailboat Lightheart. One bright moonlit night we were anchored in a beautiful and remote bay in Tobago. Inside the boat it was very dark, but the moonlight in the cockpit above backlit the companionway (the entrance from the cockpit down into the cabin). Peter had gotten up from a deep sleep in our forward cabin to go to the toilet, and en route almost stumbled into a man standing near the companionway stairs. Peter looked up to see the silhouetted man wheel around, raising a machete overhead.
As the machete came down, Peter instinctively lunged at the man and punched him, screaming “Get off my boat!” The intruder quickly turned and fled up the companionway steps and dove overboard. The commotion had awakened me by then, and I ran up on deck with our spotlight. We swept the beam across the water until we saw the intruder swimming to shore and disappearing into the woods. Despite hours of interviews with the police, no one was ever prosecuted. Fortunately, the intruder had taken only a few items (later found discarded underwater, along with the machete), and Peter suffered only minor cuts on his hand and a bruise on his arm — exactly the shape of the butt of the machete. We got off easy, but it was a frightening incident and a call to heightened awareness.
Initially that heightened awareness was all about safety aboard — adding locks and security systems to the boat, refining our strategies for worst-case scenarios, and being the conversational center of numerous cruiser gatherings in our next port, some folks asking questions, some offering advice, and some just soaking up the drama.
Recently I was reflecting on this incident, and I had a heightened awareness of quite a different order — and that was about the power in Peter that caused the much larger and well-armed intruder simply to flee. When asked about the incident, Peter says that his actions came out of pure instinct — which we could call the fight-or-flight instinct — and that he had only one thought guiding him, one single determination: There was no way he was going to let that intruder get any closer to our forward cabin, where I lay sleeping. Peter is much smaller than the intruder, has no experience fighting, was completely unarmed, and only got in one punch. Yet his power, grounded in clear intention, was enough to prevail over the intruder, who had every other advantage in the situation. Peter was not judging or hating the intruder, he wasn’t even thinking about him. He was entirely focused on protecting what he loved. He was simply ordering “Get off my boat!” with such fierce commitment that his command had to be obeyed.
Now having read this far, maybe you want to have a debate about the fight, the fist, the knife, the psychology of the intruder, the physiology of the fight-or-flight instinct, the nature of criminal justice in developing countries, the wisdom or foolishness of sailing in foreign waters, the epidemic of piracy, the preference for firearms or none, and on and on. Believe me, we’ve been a part of those debates over and over, and all they ever come to is the realization that there’s very little agreement to be had on any of those subjects. But perhaps one place we can agree is this: A warrior of the heart is a force to be contended with.
When I say “warrior of the heart,” I am not referring to one who fights great public battles, and certainly not one who is driven by his ego to dominate, to win. Rather, a warrior of the heart is one who stands clearly and powerfully for that which his heart and soul hold dear. Peter embodied that as he rose up — strong, centered, focused, brave, and with a noble purpose. His action was not fueled by aggression against the intruder, but rather protection of his wife, himself and his boat. He was motivated by love, and his love made him strong. His command to “Get off my boat!” carried a power far beyond his physical ability to enforce it.
Peter demonstrated outwardly the kind of warrior that I want to be inwardly in the boat that is my life. When I am intruded upon by doubt, judgment, hurt, anger, disappointment, self-righteousness or blame, I want to stand up in the power of my love, in fierce commitment to my heart, and command “Get off my boat!” I want to have the clear intention to allow nothing to get into the forward cabin of loving, acceptance, connectedness, generosity of spirit, openness, forgiveness. I want to stand up to what may seem to be a much bigger, darker, well-armed and scary force, and with the power of my heart and soul command “Get off my boat!” — as many times and in as many ways as it takes. It is I who have left my boat open to the intruding sentiments of negativity, and it is I who must rise up to protect my boat’s sanctity, not with aggression, but with a love so strong that it must be obeyed.
Peter and I both know there was divine protection at work on our boat in Tobago. But we also know that Peter summoned that divine protection through the clear intention and fierce commitment of his heart and soul. That was his prayer. And I now take that prayer as my own.
How about you? What are your experiences of being a warrior of the heart? Please add your comment, and we’ll explore more in a later post.