Sailing into Spirituality

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can’t see, can’t hear;
Can’t know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren’t always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

- "Eagle Poem" by Joy Harjo,
U.S. Poet Laureate


My commute each day takes me across the Huguenot Bridge. In the winter, when the sun sets early, one sees some spectacular sunsets looking west up the river as you cross the bridge… carefully. That is, if one takes the time to notice and appreciate the sunset.

For most of my life I thought of spirituality and being spiritual as a religious matter. While a life-long participant in a formal religion, I did not consider myself a particularly spiritual person. A good person, yes; but not a spiritual person.

Then in 2018, I joined the third class of The Innerwork Center’s (formerly Chrysalis’) Spiritual Paths program. The stated purpose of Spiritual Paths is to help participants cultivate a life of meaning through spiritual practice. One of our first assignments was to write our spiritual autobiography. Because I equated spirituality with formal religion, I did not have a clue where to begin or what to say. My thought was that this was going to be a very short autobiography!

Fortunately, before the assignment was due, I had a make-up session with one of our instructors. He explained that spirituality is a much broader concept than its religious connotations. In the words of Brené Brown, “Spirituality is recognizing and celebrating that we are all inextricably connected to each other by a power greater than all of us, and that our connection to that power and to one another is grounded in love and compassion. Practicing spirituality brings a sense of perspective, meaning, and purpose to our lives.”

Suddenly I realized I am a spiritual person and have been for most of my life. Being aware of, and appreciating, the sunset as I commute across the Huguenot Bridge is a spiritual experience for me.

Nature has always played a special role in my spiritual life. I have sailed the Chesapeake Bay for more than thirty years. To me, there is nothing more glorious than being on the water, under sail, on a beautiful spring or fall day. When the sails are set, the motor is turned off, and I am guiding the boat solely by virtue of the wind with the sound of the hull moving through the water...that is a spiritual moment. When I see a glorious sunrise or sunset, I thank God for that day and for giving me the blessing of being alive and being able to experience what is before me. The scenic beauty of the ocean and the mountains speak to me in spiritual ways. The feel and the scent of a sea breeze are spiritual to me.

Coupled with the notion of spirituality is the realization of impermanence. Everything changes; nothing remains the same. I became aware of this notion of impermanence while taking an online course several years ago entitled “The Power of Awareness” taught by Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach. I watched a related video of Jack Kornfield where he speaks about impermanence as a cause of human suffering. We cause our own suffering when we “want things to be other than they are.” Rather than accept a situation as it is, in a nonjudgmental fashion, we struggle with ourselves in anger because we want the situation to be the way we envision it.

Have you ever planned a party or a vacation and pictured in your mind how it will unfold only to be angry and disappointed when it turns out differently than you envisioned? Real life often does not play out the way we want it to. Everything changes.

A recent example in my own life was the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral. I was driving home from work when I heard the news on the car radio. My reaction upon hearing the news was evidenced by a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, especially since I assumed at the time that it must have been a terrorist attack. I was somewhat relieved when I learned later that it was not the result of terrorists, but rather an accident. Then I remembered impermanence. “Oh yes,” I told myself. “Everything changes. Nothing remains the same; not even 850-year-old cathedrals.” I was still sad for the loss, but I could accept that it was part of life and not wring my hands wanting things to be other than they were. There was a fire. Notre Dame was damaged, but the walls remained intact and relics were saved. Life continues.

As you reflect on these words, you may realize that you are also a spiritual person and just never knew it. You may remember times in your life when accepting the realization of impermanence may have helped. 

Be well.

Mike Grow is currently the President of the Board at The Innerwork Center. He has served as COO at World Pediatric Project for the past 12 years. Following college at UVA, Mike served in the U.S. Air Force, attaining the rank of Captain. He has been married 52 years and has 2 adult children and 2 grandchildren.

Elizabeth Smartt