You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.
Last weekend I took a Women’s Learn to Sail workshop at the Bedford Basin Yacht Club in Nova Scotia with a group of hilarious, supportive and brave women. It began with an intro evening during which we learned some sailing theory and how to tie knots. We also practiced tiller exchanges on land in dinghys (small boats with no keels). Then we spent two days on the water learning, laughing and blissing out on the water.
Ok it wasn’t all bliss. We also had plenty of opportunity to be humbled and come face to face with fears and limitations. Dingy sailing, it turns out, was particularly humbling for me.
More than once, I found myself doing donuts, stuck in an endless loop of overcompensating the tiller, tacking wildly and then doing the same thing over again. It was a huge relief when the coach who had been my crew and I switched places. I’m sure she was relieved too.
What really threw me off more than doing the donuts though, was how mortified I felt at being incompetent. For the rest of the first day I struggled to forgive myself for not being as clever at sailing as I assumed the others were. I tried to be gentle on myself, remembering that this was a ‘learn to sail’ workshop and that I was ‘learning to sail’. But still I felt deeply inadequate.
Now that I’ve had some time to reflect, I think that what bothered me the most was that I had lost the ability to feel and be in the present. Cut off from that sensitivity, I was rudderless and unable to sail forward, let alone adjust the sails. I also hadn’t noticed that basically every other boat had similar moments of not-yet-competent sailing.
In the debrief at the end of that first day, someone said that if your attention is too much INSIDE the boat, you will run into trouble. It’s just as important – maybe even more – to be aware of what’s going on OUTSIDE the boat – the wind, the water, the current, other boats, the weather… In my panic, my focus was stuck inside the boat, hurtling back and forth, trying to duck the boom as it lurched from side to side with my crazy tiller exchanges.
Sailing, like life, seems to work best when we receive and allow the present to flow through us; when we are guided by the present rather than at odds with it. At first I thought, ‘well that’s it – I’m done with dinghy sailing’ but, now that I’ve recovered, I realize that I can’t wait to get back to the tiller, get out of my head, slow down, feel the wind in the sails and adjust them as they need.
“The present will always be insufficient if we are insufficiently present.” – Philip Shepherd, author of New Self, New World