“Voyage upon life’s sea, To yourself be true, And, whatever your lot may be, Paddle your own canoe” (Sarah Bolton)
Navigating life is like canoeing down a river. If you only venture out when it’s calm, or in fact cling to the side and never venture out, then you will be halted by the turbulence and your fears and doubts that you can survive it. Alternatively if you learn how to ride the turbulence, and the more you do the more experienced you get, the easier it gets and then you can travel further with less fears. And enjoy it more.
I used to think that the more you learn about yourself and face things, or eliminate certain reactions, the calmer life gets – but actually it’s the calmer you get whilst it all is chaos around you. And then you get to control the canoe, the direction and experience, rather than being swayed by what goes on around. In plain speak – you control your thoughts and emotions rather than be at their whim. You could think of your thoughts as the currents in the river, you either ride them or get battered about by them. You also then become a stabilizing influence on others.
I hate canoeing so I have no idea why this analogy came to me, but I do like the idea of how a canoeist doesn’t fear or avoid turbulence, but see’s them as a challenge and opportunity to learn better so the next time is even easier. He will enjoy the calm and use that, but also to not so calm and enjoy that. He doesn’t sit there wishing it wasn’t so, or raging against the river for being so unfair – he just deals with it. He also doesn’t avoid going out if the going might turn rough.
This all came to me when I was beating myself up for being annoyed about something, after all hadn’t I sent years trying to get myself to a place where I didn’t get annoyed? Then I read that when you start looking at yourself, and noticing what goes on inside, you notice the turbulence more. It’s like the difference between ignoring a river and actually looking at it’s patterns. Turbulence in rivers is part of nature – it comes and goes. So are difficulties in life, we just learn to not judge them as difficulties anymore because we know how to navigate them, and that they will pass. Without that knowledge and experience we would fear, or avoid difficulties, we’d fall apart when they happen, or make them worse by raging against them.
There are things you can do to change your thinking in order to help you through this, just as there are techniques you can practise as a canoeist, but the big part is also being comfortable throughout it, being calm and comfortable as you do those techniques. This is the same with us, learning how to be comfortable and calm with whatever emotions and thoughts we are experiencing, as it’s those that determine whether something is difficult or not. (if you doubt that just think of the difference between how you respond to something you fear, and something you don’t because you’ve already been through it).
One thing I’ve been doing recently is just sitting and noticing what goes on inside me. It’s not the easiest of things sometimes, especially when you feel restless and notice your mind trying to get you to ‘do’ something, but that’s when it’s so interesting to sit back and notice what’s going on. To get comfortable with all those emotions rather than try and get rid of them, cos when you do they dissolve right in front of you. Sometimes they get stronger and then subside, sometimes they transform into something else, but eventually they just float off. I also find it fascinating to see how easily my mind distracts and goes off at a tangent, hopping from one thing to another until you are left wondering how you got from noticing your breath to thinking about a wedding you went to last year. It doesn’t matter if it does wander off as long as you notice and bring back, and then you notice quicker and quicker. This helps you look into all the nooks and crannies in your mind too, so you have no fear or places to avoid. How freeing is that? And the beauty is the more you befriend your thinking and emotions, the more comfortable you become with them all, the less they bother you and you can focus on doing what you want and being comfortable whatever comes your way. And all that comes from just sitting and watching, sitting and feeling. Not doing, but realising that doing becomes easier afterwards.
And the nice thing is how much more secure it feels knowing your own thoughts and emotions don’t scare you. Even my angst has become a friend now, thankfully!!
So try sitting and noticing. A good way to do this is to notice and name how you feel, just say restless, or bored, or irritated etc. No story, or trying to get rid. You could even say hello to it! Notice the thoughts behind it, what is causing the feeling, and welcome them too. When you notice you aren’t caught up in them and they can float away. It’s all just information, so no making judgements about what it means. As someone who likes to analyse and pull apart I know this can be hard to resist, but give it a go. It is so much nicer this way, and works. Analysing is the mind trying to work out the mind, and that can lead to a tangle so stepping out and observing can help free you up. They both are useful but for now be gentle and curious. You are worth knowing….