Pier Paolo Strona, 20th January 2003
Building a culture of our own, open and constantly growing, is one of the basic aspects of our life. It ultimately coincides with the building of our own selves: developing critical analysing and synthesising skills; being able to choose, to select our own main targets in life, to acknowledge them and to stick to them consistently through the mass of models that are being offered to us by the outside world, as well as to adjust them according to the experiences gained; being able to acquire knowledge, information, elements which allow us to fulfil ourselves and to aim at the above targets with persistence and determination; developing the ability to know ourselves better and better and to gradually rationally clarify all those things that were at first but vague intuitions, unexplained spurs and drives magically arising within our deepest inner self.
This is a task for which we can help ourselves in many ways, all of them valid in principle, although normally we all often end up privileging some over others, because of our own innate predisposition, family and cultural background, lifestyle and things we devote ourselves to; of course, those who can keep as open to every option as possible, who keep thinking in terms of 'bothŠ andŠ' rather than of 'eitherŠ orŠ', avoid the risk to give up different and important opportunities to widen their horizons of sensibility and knowledge.
Three paths, among the many we can follow to build what we have defined as our 'culture', can certainly be considered essential: written texts, art and nature.
Books allow us to acquire information and knowledge of all types, but more importantly they allow us to discover the history of the past, thoughts and experiences of those who have lived before us which we can compare to our present and draw lessons and wisdom in our day-to-day behaviour from.
Art teaches us beauty, develops and refines forms and skills of communications in us which may be unwritten and get straight to our heart, allows to express and strengthen our creativity and opens us up to new feelings, new experiences, new horizons.
Nature, its contemplation and particularly activities we can perform in it, help us understanding our ultimate existential condition, the truest, most real, and perhaps the one nowadays we are risking to lose awareness of: the awareness of being an infinitesimal part of the whole.
In nature things are simpler and it becomes easier to clearly see what are the best choices to make and the best route to take: this helps to set our own scale of values in our daily life too, to give different weights to different aspects, thus enabling us to better assess the situations we find ourselves in and consequently to make the best choices.
A good example to explain how, by practising an activity which takes place completely immersed in nature, we can increase our 'culture', reinforce our conscience and inner strength, and learn how to see and make the right choices accepting the consequences deriving from them, is sailing at open sea, especially when the sea is rough and we are sailing amidst the waves.
In such situation, the waves towering above us and crashing onto us are a reality, indeed, they are 'The Reality' the most real reality we can experience, as much as the world we live in is, which crashes onto us in various ways and forms, violent as well as subtle, conditioning us, at times lifting us high up, at others throwing us deep down and submerging us. In both cases, at sea as much as in life, we have to face realities which surmount us and we cannot directly affect so much, realities we meet on our journey and we cannot change, material as well as spiritual realities, objective situations, relationships with others, and so on.
When you sail you are aware of the reality of waves and all in all it is easy to accept them as they are; after one wave there comes another, and so on forever, and nobody would ever think of doing something to stop them; it is the reality of the sea, a clear, simple and unequivocal reality.
In the same way, if we look at the apparently more complicated reality of our day-to-day life, the sea teaches us that expecting to change aspects of reality we find ourselves in and which we cannot affect directly is unwise, vain even; better acknowledging them and accepting them for what they are, just like when we sail we accept the reality of waves without questioning it.
This obviously does not mean being fatalistic or stop acting, quite the opposite!!!
At sea, if we overcome the fear that may strikes us when the first waves covering the boat arrive, we slowly realise that what seemed so terrible is in fact a fantastic sight and we are part of it. Fear gradually becomes excitement, then joy and finally Love: if we manage to transform likewise the way we feel in life, then everything becomes positive and we can face any situation.
Sailors, although surmounted by forces that are enormously greater than they are, can still go wherever they like, as long as they first of all know what their destination is, and secondly can keep the chosen course in mind even when events force them to temporarily divert from it: they can achieve their aim by living in harmony with their reality, their sea, by simply performing small and relatively insignificant actions, little adjustments to the rudder at the right time.
Things are the same in life: although we are surmounted by forces that are immensely greater than we are, we also can always move towards our own aims, provided we have chosen them with care, we do not lose sight of them while on the way, we can bend under the greater forces without breaking inside: in life as at sea, all we need then is to learn to accept our reality, be able to love it and, eventually, try and move whenever we can, with little positive steps and a few humble tugs at the wheel at the right time.