Paddling on Calm Waters
Just south of Vancouver, the Deas Slough travels under highway ninety nine. Just as your eyes adjust to being in a tunnel, you resurface and for just a moment, you notice two marinas and a patch of flat calm water. The water’s surface reflects the passing cumulus clouds. You won’t hear the scream of an eagle. You will not see the wake of a swimming otter. That is why I now paddle here. It is a chance for me to follow a wobbling path into my own beliefs and to discover what may or may not be there.
When you think about it, standing up in a floating object is something we are taught not to do. “Don’t stand up in a canoe!” is what you were actually taught at camp. I even shared this nugget of wisdom with my own students when I was a canoe instructor. Put you body in a position of imbalance and you have to face the consequences. In fact, standing up when other are sitting down is also not condoned. Think of a restless student, glued to their seat, wishing only to get up and move around. When you think about it, there is something boldly contrary about defying a belief about something as unquestionable as gravity. You need a sense of trust to believe in your own self. So I mutter to my self “It is ok. The worst thing that is going to happen is that I will get wet”. I also have to be honest with my own “self”. Sure, I may look stupid or even get some muck up my nose or in my ears but what is really driving the board, my trusting “self” or my own fears?
When I first arrived at the slough, all the rowers were already on the water. I was the only person on the shore and I had never taken “Clarity” out onto such calm water. Since early this spring, every voyage on any paddle has been a test of my sense of balance to responds to the action of the water beneath my board. At first, I made the mistake of tensing up my whole sense of awareness. I learned to adapt to the ripples by bending my knees and feeling where the weight was in my feet. The larger the wave, the lower to the board I got. I even dropped to the board on all fours to ride out a powerboat wake. After many times on the water, I actually lost control, fell into the water and almost drifted into a powerboat at the dock. Fear was running the show and my body was responding. I put my self into a situation where I was reacting to a tiger who was not even near me. My beliefs about that tiger was the tension that my body was feeling.
Gliding onto the calm slough surface, there is still the unmistakeable tension in my legs. I still judge how fast or slow it takes me to stand up. I still hesitate as I stand up and put the paddle into the water. Thankfully, I no longer spend that much time indulging in listening to my inner fearful voice . Now I sense pure and simple sensory neuron messages to the ol cerebellum. Just stand up! To heck with the upper noggin getting into the game, it is all about balance. One more stroke and the grin begins to grow. I am feeling courage, not in my own inner monolog but with each muscle contraction in my arms. I bend over and attempt to pull harder. Then I have to be honest with my self. There is going to be lower back pain but I can overcome this. A quiet calming voice relays a private note to self , “there is no need to hurt your self”.
The calm surface of the water begins to create an integrated sensation of floating and movement between my body and the glassy surface of the water. Still the “tiger” may be lurking. So I still scan the surface for possible ripples. Is there a boat coming out of that marina? Is that jet ski going to slow down? The doubtful fearful voice just will not go away. There is still the tension in my twitching calf muscles and my feet feel like they are going numb. Instead of pretending that I am calm as the surrounding water, I begin to honestly accept the fact that my body is still feeling a contrary sensation.
A hawk hovers over a nearby fence. It too is defying gravity. Instead of soaring, it is frozen in space looking for it’s breakfast. For the first twenty or more strokes the slough is completely empty of any vessel. There is the distant roar of the highway over pass that is soon hushed by the trees thick with new leaves on the shore. There is a muted silences accept for the simple act of putting the paddle into the water.
Then it begins and some how my thoughts begin to wander. What is that branch over there? Why is there foam on the water? How deep is this murky brown solution? Why did I forget to bring my watch? One bad paddle entry and the hips do a yip and rule one kicks into play. Keep your paddle in the water. Sense the surface of the water with your feet. Feel the connection between you, the board and the water. This is when the actual act of honesty kicks in. You cannot lie to your self when you are in a state of imbalance or under the illusion of being balanced. It is no big stretch to understand why you are wearing a grin. You are opening up to your own renewing nature. You are taking ownership for your own paddling experience. There is no judge on the shore giving out points. There no one wondering who the grey haired dude is paddling on this quiet morning. It is time for the ol self to take a back seat and just listen to the slow ripple of a wake that follows the board.
So what do I learn while paddling. That is sometimes takes a type of courage to be honest with your own self. Even in the calm waters, you can fool your self into beliefs and fears that just are not there. Letting go of those beliefs, like the lack of wind on the waters surface, creates a calm.
So later this evening, I read “honesty is a path that leads to happiness. Becoming honest is an act of self renewal”. I get that from paddling on the slough, my arms ache and the calves cramp up but I smile as I watch an elderly skipper varnish his Christa Craft. No wake here, just dealing with the responsibilities of owning a vessel.
Later, I am lucky enough to share a walk on car free Main Street in of Vancouver. I enjoy the sensation of sensing the wind as it causes nearby flags to flutter. I see the diversity of the passers by. I recall another quote from Living Deliberately, “ The result of living honestly is feeling and sharing-compassion and empathy! There is a joy in willingly integrating with the consciousness of others”. I do know that I fail in some of these attempts. Instead of pointless judgements, I say to my self “you are both innocent and responsible for your own actions”. Unlike being on “Clarity”, my consequence is not a splash into the water. I look into nearby eyes and wonder what they are seeing and thinking. Honestly, I try to find a way to glide over the fears of unknown consequences.
So each day, I attempt to take this nebulous understanding of peace back from the water I have traveled upon. I am sore and happily tired. Yes, my words sometimes blurt out of my mouth like a misplaced paddle stroke. I look into another person’s eyes and I lurch and feel a possible imbalance. With the new technology, there is always a misunderstood text or an email that may be unanswered. I turn off the thoughts of fear and let the feeling of calm flow through. A friend’s quote rings true, “do not push the river”. I ride the sensation of waves of feelings and do not indulge in giving them a label. I know that I can muster up the responsibility and the courage. I can honestly say.” yup I did that because I was honestly afraid”. Even in the calmest of waters or oddest of situations, you have to have the courage to be honest enough with your own self and trust that self.
Keep the paddle in the water and keep moving even if the surface is glassy and flat. Beneath the surface are those hidden beliefs that you need to challenge and question. There is nothing to fear in these murky waters. We can let go of those fears and beliefs that may be shaping the actual floating experience above them. “Is there some dark corner in the human mind into which none dare to look? Some core assumption that none dare to utter?..” perhaps it is the actual attempt to seek out incontrovertible truths”…Yes..Jack…I can handle the truth! Hurrah!
Quotes from Living Deliberately by Harry Palmer