Paddling on Calm Waters

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

Semper Gumby…stay flexible

Semper Gumby (Stay flexible)

What is the net affect of little lessons that we learn in life? How do a few words become the directional marks upon a moral compass? I am standing upon my new paddleboard and I am about to leave the safety of the harbour. I have paddled past the last bridge and the fuel station and now power boats are able to kick in the their engines and create wakes that will test my own balance.

It seems that every faith system has it’s own code or pillars of belief. It is common to hear ”well these are the four primary things to remember” or “one must abide by these three crucial rules”.

At a young and impressionable age, the words honour, courage and commitment got tossed my way. For me, the initial meaning of honour seemed to bring forth images of knights and their round table. It was an understanding of integrity that had to be a deep and personal understanding. Courage was that scene you saw in all the movies, where the brave Marine would sacrifice their own lives for the rest of the platoon. Commitment, well I always think of a quote Anson Dorrance wrote about Mia Hamm. “The vision of a champion is bent over, drenched in sweat, at the point of exhaustion, when nobody else is looking.

I grew up with these ideas in my noggin. After a nearly fatal motorcycle accident, it appeared that I might never run or even walk again. I drew strength from these words.

Contrary  to some folks assumptions, I rose up the ranks within professional yachting to become a skipper and tactician. Later in life, I entered my own profession of teaching and became a master educator. Along the way, the way my ethos tempered. With time, my beliefs gave way to less hostile situations and I wondered if I could return the my youth and just “abide”. Could you take the code of the marines and fuse it with a Zen perception?

When you think of it, honour is to believe in something larger than your own self. It is letting go of the ego voice and letting the body and spirit combine to show a hidden voice. Likewise, courage is to have the strength to let go of those things that hold you back and to reach for a point of acceptance. Finally there is the whole set of challenges of commitment. What do you do when your faith fails you and your feet soar into the air after yet another hug wake?

My newfound love of paddle boarding has been inspired by a lovely lady’s love who went over the horizon. She left me with a path to follow, “Keep paddling”. So I took her advice to heart. I began redefining my own relationship with my own body. I lost thirty-five pounds prior to even stepping onto a board. I began to honour not only my own body but also my own emotions. It was ok to feel these waves and even attempt to overcome them. Instead of doubt, I started to listen to that inner voice that gave me courage. “You can do it”, said my inner child. You have the courage! The pain in my back became less, I accepted the challenges of paddling into the wind. Most of all, I let go of my own fears and felt the strength of love. I could hear her voice, “keep paddling” and I saw my own body overcoming something I had thought I could never do.

Slowly, I have started to define my own pillars of paddling. I wrote them down and played around with their order. Most of all, I decided that if I was going to make some changes that it started with me. For ten years, I had held my self back both with pain, excess weight and an inner voice that was not fuelled by spirit but by doubt. The first challenge was to focus on the present. The first step, the first stroke and yes even the first splash into the water, inspired me to create the F.I.R.S.T. Paddle boarding and life pneumonic.

So stay with me and let see how this flies.

You are placing your board in the water, the wind is slowly blowing through the rigging at the dock. You can hear the cry of gulls and you feel the warmth of the sun on your face. You attach you foot cord and prior to that first step onto the board, you let go of the inner voices and feel the present. Feel your pulse as you grip the paddle and feel you feet attempt to find balance.

Yes, you on the water and with imbalance you will get wet. You are mostly salt water any way and the wet suit and or extra gear and flotation device will keep you afloat. I…let go of the I and realize ..it is only water. So what if you fall in. So what if you make a fool of your self in front of a restaurant deck full of dining patrons. So you didn’t adapt quickly enough and the tenth harbour ferries wake caught you napping. It is only water.

There is the shudder, the forward and backward lurch and the grin as you taunt the gods and a newfound balance kicks in. Now is the time to breath. Inward, for five seconds, hold the breath and then let go. This too will pass. With each wobble is a moment in between when you can find balance. Remember to breath.

Spend too much time looking at your feet and you will not be able to find balance. Spend too much time in your own head and you lose sight of the horizon that is guiding you onward. See outside of the board. Prior to the wakes catching you off guard, watch for their patterns and adjust your course to go across the wake at an angle. Repeating back to feeling the moment, relaxing and repeating a quiet mantra, |..it is only water..remember..breath and the final but most important advice..

Keep your paddle tip in contact with the water. Keep moving. The greatest risk of imbalance is when you are not moving. Stay stagnant and there is no change. Change is always occurring though. How to deal with change? Put your self first. Honouring that self does not mean to boast or brag. It shows a sense of integrity to start from within and find that source to move with. Tip to water.

On the water, I find a sense of peace that sometimes eludes me on shore. I find that state of mind where I can heal and let go of the ruffles of the day. Now I look at my new board and smile, it is my own personal device to get “my Zen on”. I can go back in time and fuel that fire within and yelp like an innocent child. I can laugh and smile when inside, there may be emotions that attempt to create salty tears. It is only water.

It is one of four primal states of matter. My inner compass keeps guiding me back onto the water. Yes, I have now soared into the air due to another massive wake. Yes, I am griping my paddle both with rage and a clear understanding of how much I paid for the bloody thing. What on earth was I thinking! Yet the fire is within and with that fire, I climb onto my board. I breath in and pause. I look to see if there are any more boats and with a wobble and a grunt, I stand up and immediately put my paddle into the water. You come F.I.R.S.T. if you have the strength to honour what you body, mind and spirit can achieve. Yes, she is right…I must keep paddling.

1. F for find balance

2. I for I am not afraid..it is only water

3. R for remember to breath

4. S for see outside of the board

5. T for tip in the water..the paddle tip..not you!

Keep paddling!