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Zen and the Art of Shipping: An Inquiry into the Value of Cargo.

Zen and the Art of Shipping: An Inquiry into the Value of Cargo.


3 Minute Read.

(Apologies to Robert M. Pirsig.)

Note: What follows should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on shipping, either.

The shipping industry: We live in a constant swirl of figures, estimates and predictions. Lately a lot of them are wrong. As I stated in my last well-researched and cogent post, last year was just the worst for shipping, wasn’t it? It was, I checked. We need to set a new course.

It’s time for the shipping industry to embrace the principles of Zen Buddhism.

I know what you’re thinking: Canada’s new policy of marijuana legalization has come into force. Actually it’s hit a few roadblocks, but that’s not the point. The point is that the maritime industry is in real pain.

To paraphrase someone much smarter than I: When one person suffers from a delusion, it’s called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it’s called a shipping schedule.

Zen Buddhism teaches us that pain comes from comparing the real world to an imaginary ideal world. For example, in the ideal shipping world, everything that is supposed to leave, leaves on time, arrives on time, is dispersed in a timely and orderly fashion at port and commerce continues uninterrupted in spite of hurricanes and Aliens. In the real shipping world, mega-ships are struggling to fill to 90% capacity, some of the world’s biggest oil tankers are being used as floating gas stations in the hopes the price will skyrocket and pirates are running off with our iPhones. Wishing that the real shipping world were the same as the imaginary one causes us pain.

Accepting reality takes away our pain. Maybe we’re so busy making sure we get somewhere on time, we lose track of where we’re going. It’s time to let go of your pain.

It’s time for Zen Shipping.

Talking to people all over this rapidly changing industry every day has made the truth extremely clear and the truth is: no one knows what’s going to happen with the shipping industry, but everyone has a theory. Everyone’s holding up a bucket of water and screaming that they know all about the ocean.

“The man, the art, the work–it is all one.” Eugen Herrigel.

So how would Zen Shipping work? How can shipping be seen to have a spiritual aspect? Nothing could be more utilitarian. We just move stuff around, one place to another. But it could be spiritual if you see shipping as a contest, not as one person against another, but as you against yourself. In Zen Shipping, you don’t achieve perfection or failure, you strive to ship better today than you did yesterday.

Just as the shipping industry brings products from East to West, shipping itself could bring calming Eastern philosophy to our busy Western world. Doing an ordinary task can have a spiritual dimension. Anything, entering a course, tying up a ship, moving containers, can be a chance for self-improvement. Every day is a chance for innovation. Every day can bring you closer to perfection.

“When you live in the moment, you’re always on time.”

The Japanese archer doesn’t hit the target by aiming. He hits the target by not aiming. He lets go of his expectations and desires and the arrow naturally hits the target. We’re always trying to hit targets, shipping volumes, arrival times, unloading times, and the harder we try to hit those targets, the more anxious we become, the harder it is to hit the targets and it goes on and on. Maybe, just maybe, like the Japanese archer, we can hit our targets by not trying so hard to hit them. Like the water that disperses to accept the ship, maybe we can change our shape to accept reality. Maybe we can stop fighting against reality and start competing with ourselves.

Zen Shipping. Admit it – It’s not the craziest idea you’ve heard lately.

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