OUT OF THE BLUE
Many, many years ago I embarked upon a sailing trip across the Indian Ocean in a 55ft (16,764m) yacht, from Durban, South Africa to Fremantle/Perth Australia. The estimated duration for the trip was six weeks. There were six of us on board.
Other than a ‘temperamental’ radio system for calling the nearest port in case of an emergency (at 38 ½ degrees latitude, optimism at its best!), there were no cell phones or means of contact with loved ones and naturally no guarantee of a safe arrival (or arrival at all) at our destination.
Once we had lost sight of shore we became the centre of a blue-ish circle with a surface that ranged from flat to, shall we say, undulating. That, I could have said, sums up the extent of the variation of day-to-day life on board during those six weeks, other than the odd adrenaline rush when, for example, undulations driven by wind and rain caused sails to rip in the middle of the night. But such incidents were the exception.
So why am I giving you a snippet of my history?
There’s a parallel that has become apparent to me between the lockdown situation now and that time of somewhere-at-sea, allowing me to draw on what I discovered during the trip as well as retrospectively, what helped me, my sanity and my soul.
Yes, I chose to go sailing, but once out at sea the only choice I had was ‘to walk the plank’ or to persevere at trying to find out where the hell my sea legs were supposed to be while constantly trying to find some sort of balance, both literally and metaphorically.
Pre-trip anxiety was somewhat dumbed down by a combination of ignorance and not unleashing my imagination – it’s true, the what if thinking honestly did not gain permanent residency in my mind, and I cannot give an explanation for that. I wasn’t ‘coachified’ then so who knows! Perhaps one reason could be that I believed the two experienced co-owners of the yacht knew what they were doing.
But an important take-away here is that the territory of ‘what if’ is really of no benefit to us.
Instead it causes suffering which infiltrates our intercellular messaging highways, ultimately affecting our health. When you feel anxiety rising, and who hasn’t during this pandemic crisis, observe the anxiety with compassion and then gently refocus your thinking onto something else.
There’s an upside to ignorance
Too much news grows the anxiety muscle with its insidious knack of eroding our every thought. Had there been all the news outlets, not to mention social media, back in the day, I may well have been reduced to a quivering mound of flesh incapable of setting one foot on a yacht, thereby missing out on an amazing experience. Rather give the news a miss or if the compulsion becomes too strong, occasionally check in on a reliable source.
As Eckhart Tolle outlines anxiety, and I’m paraphrasing:
We worry about what could happen. It hasn’t happened yet, but we nonetheless still choose to worry about it now.
With the power of presence you can face anything, but when it is in your imagination, there is nothing you can do, hence your suffering.
Free yourself by becoming aware of this. Without awareness you have no free will.
The control we have is over our attitude
If your situation of isolation is freaking you out, filter your perception through appreciation. In other words, start appreciating all that you have, such as a chair to sit on, internet or the beautiful cloud patterns in the sky and so on. By stopping to smell the roses you’ll notice how more and more emerges that is not only worthy of appreciation but beautiful too.
Variety on board the yacht was introduced through the little things. Perhaps little when you live in the fast lane, but appreciation fertiliser when you are carving your way through the blue. Gazing into the water became mesmerising, peace-inducing. Birds floated or flew by, odd fish shapes passed by in the water. The night sky was beyond special, infusing me with a sense of awe during my shift at the wheel.
And then there was time
Having the time to read is considered by many as a luxury – and oh did we read. Some of us did extensive journaling while one person wrote entertaining ditties about our life on the yacht. Expansion through the written word dissolves perceptions of confinement.
And despite the physical limitations of space, it was still possible to have time out, aided by the respect from others.
If you are in isolation with family members, give each other either time out or your full presence, whichever is required. And if others don’t get it, gently communicate how you are feeling. On the yacht, relationships just had to work otherwise it would have been a very loooong trip. I think key to our success was humour and respect, valuable qualities in any situation.
And for one last point about time. Draw up a schedule of all that you would like to achieve during this period of extra time, to prevent your hours from disappearing down the rabbit hole of social media and other such outlets. That can happen easily with a mind-set of “there’s loads of time”. A sense of accomplishment can buoy the spirit and avert that feeling of stagnation.
Hands on the wheel no matter what!
That’s how we crossed the Indian Ocean, by steering, whether through doldrums or difficult, heavy swells. We weren’t hapless victims being tossed around by the sea. We had a course to follow and depending on wind direction, sails were adjusted. Strong winds could be scary, but they also signified progress. Life isn’t a continuum of only smooth sailing, it’s a journey of peaks and valleys.
Our mind is our wheel, and our attitude our sails – both in our control