Buddha and a boat

Wells, Dyana
Johnson, Stephanie
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Master of Creative Writing
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Auckland University of Technology

Buddha and a Boat is the second of a trilogy I have been working on. In the first book Alice sails over to Fiji with her father and meets Cornelius, with whom she falls in love. In the first book I explore the way Alice mixes up the mystical and sexual. She is very narcissistic and creates fantasy in order to maintain a sense of adventure, romance and self-worth. Fantasy and reality are all mixed up. In the second book, Buddha and a Boat, Alice continues her journeying. In this book there is a sharper focus on the Buddhist teachings she is trying to understand. It is a semi-autobiographical novel. The story begins with her son Oliver returning home from Canada because his father is dying. Oliver has fifteen years in IT behind him and is in the throes of a mid-life crisis. He wants to know who his mother was when he was a child and why she was so drawn to spirituality. He is reluctantly but persistently curious about her spiritual adventures. Mainly around the fireside, Alice describes her teachers and the irresistible pull of spiritual experience. ‘Reality’ was knocking at her door. Oliver is sceptical, as is his sister, Emilee. Alice, the main antagonist, is in her late sixties at the beginning of the novel. The writer is currently 56, hence the semi-autobiographical description.

The novel is also about a sailing adventure set in Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. This was a real adventure and the story remains reasonably true to the facts. Alice and her father Jack set out from New Zealand for a six-month holiday sailing the Pacific. They are both looking forward to adventure and possible romance. Alice is also after the mystical. She needs to fill herself up with love, both human and divine. She meets and falls in love with Cornelius. The relationship is passionate and doomed because she confuses Cornelius with her mystical beloved, and because she has difficulty in relationships with men. Alice realises she needs to bring her two worlds together – the mystical and the ordinary. This challenge is the central theme of the trilogy.

A third level of the story explores Alice’s meditation experiences when, as a young mother, she went on frequent meditation retreats. These early retreats captivated her, offering mystical experiences and insights into the nature of perception and self. This part of the story is autobiographical.

Many Buddhist themes are explored in this novel. The confusion between the Vipassana and Samatha – bliss and insight – is highlighted, because I see this confusion as a serious handicap to spiritual progress. The book explores in depth the Buddhist understanding of self and emptiness, the significance of re-experiencing and understanding the stages of the womb, the importance of finding ‘good’ mother and the nature of ‘free’ child.

Creative writing novel , Spirituality
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