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Life Lesson from Hell's Gates

Pay attention

White lighthouse on rocks, with Indian Ocean in the distance, and low hills. Blue harbour water in the foreground. Ladder from rocks to lighthouse visible.
The lighthouse at Hell's Gates, at the entrance to Macquarie Harbour in Tasmania, Australia.

The stormy ocean of difficult situations is where we often find ourselves, and the harbour of serenity is where we want to be.


While recently holidaying in Tasmania I went on a short cruise along the Gordon River. It included going through the narrow, treacherous stretch of water at the mouth of Macquarie Harbour, aptly named Hell’s Gates.


The ship’s captain spoke over the intercom about previous shipwrecks as he confidently steered us safely between the rocky shore to our left and the lighthouse built on boulders to our right. It was one of those rare days, he said, where we could leave the peaceful waters of the harbour and briefly experience the power of the Roaring Forties whipping up swells out in the Indian Ocean.


I zipped up my puffer jacket, clung to the railing with both hands, and shut my mouth so my back teeth wouldn’t ache in the icy-cold air. After a few minutes, the captain turned the ship around and took us back into the safe harbour.


The contrast between the turbulence of the open seas and the calmness of the harbour reminded me of life.


The stormy ocean of difficult situations is where we often find ourselves, and the harbour of serenity is where we want to be. The trick is to find a way to get safely from one to the other, without shipwrecking ourselves against further difficulties in the process.


For instance, you may be experiencing the turbulence of a relationship crisis.


Your partner isn’t doing what you want them to do. Maybe you wish they would remember your birthday, get along with your friends, or agree to go to Antarctica with you next winter. The fierce winds of verbal disagreement and surging waves of emotions buffet you both. You long for a peaceful outcome, but there is no peaceful outcome in sight, only rocky shoals of further insults, bitter recriminations, and regurgitated bad memories which could smash the relationship to smithereens.


When things get this bad there’s only one way to bring you both safely into the harbour.


At least one of you must let go of your ego.


How To Let Go of Ego


A simple way to let go of your ego is to imagine that you are the captain of a ship, negotiating treacherous waters.


If you were that captain, what would you be doing?


You would be paying attention.


Your full attention would be focussed on the situation.


Just like you can’t be in calm waters and stormy seas at the same time, you can’t pay attention and be egoic at the same time. They are mutually exclusive.


When you pay attention, the ego dissolves.


Paying attention calms you – and therefore the situation – immediately.


I’m not saying your partner will remember your birthday next year, suddenly like your friends, or rush out to buy those two tickets to Antarctica. But by letting go of your ego and paying attention, you will find a harbour big enough for both of you, without you being dashed on the rocks of Hell’s Gates.


Paying attention is one of life’s magical gifts.


With love, Marlane

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