Monday, 9 December 2013

Sailing analogies....

Today was a nautically themed teaching day. I love using sailing analogies in my teaching, and never more than with a sailing student; things drop into place so easily.

Gentle hands....
Today my experienced sailor student and I were talking about the difference between being in a ‘right position’ versus looking for what she beautifully phrased as, “Sensing the innate sense of balance within”. She then told me how she had seen it during the last few day's enquiry. She told me almost the same story as my son had told me the night before (which was weird!) about helming (steering) on a long passage in big seas with the wind coming from behind. In this situation the boat’s bow (pointy bit at the front!) tends to wander left and right as the seas ride up from behind, flow underneath and disappear away in front; most often moving faster than the boat herself. She was remembering a time when she had helmed through the night, holding the tiller tightly to try and stop this swinging off course, and for sailors who know what I mean, to ‘prevent a crash gybe’*...that most especially! When she came off watch, she went below to rest and found she had a most painful and stiff shoulder from holding her arm so tightly to stop the boat’s swinging movements. (* see later.)

In the morning she went on deck to find her husband in the cockpit, but with no hand on the tiller! The boat however was going along nicely. She questioned him and he said he had been experimenting during his watch. He found the boat would naturally right herself back on course after each swing and he had to do far less than he thought he had to. When my student tried helming again with just a light hand on the tiller, she found the same; her hand was now more in ‘listening and sensing mode’ than ‘assuming all would be lost mode’. She found herself simply resisting too much movement if it occurred, and then releasing any
My son helming in big 'following seas' in the Pacific.
demand or effort on the tiller the moment the boat began to bring herself back on course a few moments later. Then it might go the other way, but my student would allow the same thing to happen. The swing would lessen and she was spared the rigid arm and sore shoulder. She then felt such a one-ness with herself, the boat, the sea, and the wind. 

My son said the same thing; that all too often inexperienced people on the helm would desperately try to keep the boat on course by turning the wheel from side to side, back and forth. This resulted in the boat being oversteered and not having a chance to find her way back naturally in just a few seconds. They would be left steering left even though the boat was already bringing herself back that way on her own. If the oversteer got too bad, the boat would slew way off course left and right, and the wind would then get on the wrong side of the sail and the dreaded ‘crash gybe’ would happen. This is when the boom and sail suddenly and violently slam right across the boat from one side to the other, often breaking lines (ropes), rigging, even bringing the mast down and risking serious injury to all on deck. My son said he will always teach that people don’t get totally fixed on the compass, but get a sense of the boat’s movements and to allow them - to feel the way she comes back from a swing on her own, and that she will rarely, left to her own devices, swing more than 5-10 degrees either side of the course set. it’s the gentle-but-firm intention that she doesn’t go too far over that deviation, and then the releasing of the hands’ grip on the wheel to let it slide through the fingers back to the middle again as she comes back on course. Never a fight, never ignoring it, but never pushing, pulling or fixing.

All so close to going very wrong....!
And so it is in our balance - instead of trying to be in a fixed right position, we allow ourselves to find our balance. To let the parts of ourselves come into an integrated flow. Our muscles can intend, they can ‘steer’, but never too much; like a boat, we are always moving, always being affected by what's going on around us. In sailing, having to do too much on the helm (wheel/tiller) means something else needs to change - less or more sail, setting a different course to the new wind direction - and so it is in us. If we have too much on our own helm - too much tension in our head-neck area - something else has to change. Less going on in our abdomen, less in our chest and throat, something different in our legs....sometimes a softening, sometimes a lengthening. Then, as we move through life, we have a gentle-but-wise hand on our own tiller, on our own wheel. We are absorbing the sea-state beneath us - the stimuli we are receiving all day. We know our ‘course to steer’ - what we intend to accomplish, being washing up or playing the piano - but we allow the balance of our ‘vessel’ to right itself as far as it can on its own, to know what to do and how to be. Wrestling ourselves through life with no deviation allowed off the line is incredibly hard work, strains the rigging (muscular-skeletal system) and the ‘crew’ (us) end up exhausted and demoralised, thinking we are always going to lose out to the power of the sea, to the seeming powerlessness we experience in our self. Yet the more ‘miles under the keel’ we acquire with this new conscious awareness, the greater our ‘helming’ skills will become.

We also enjoyed acknowledging the fact that all boats seem to have a preferred ‘tack’ - some boats sail better with the wind coming from the port side, and some from the starboard side.... Some boats handle rough water well and some don’t. Some are ocean going and some are coastal. That’s just how they are; they all look like boats, but different shape boats are for different waters. All boats look as if their two sides are the same, but they are only ever similar; nothing can ever be 100% symetrical. Like you and me? I reckon so! So which is your preferred tack? Do you ‘favour’ a side - left handed? Lead with the right leg? Do you prefer coastal sailing (calm living) or ocean racing (the cut and thrust of adrenaline living). And can you let all this be and not fight it? Instead let your particular vessel be free to flow? To point your nose to the sea ahead, set a course, and just go?

We had such fun playing with sailing analogies and reckon we could write a book; there are so many more! But basically how about this with which to finish the blog - trust your balance, set your sails well, be gentle on your wheel/tiller - and listen and learn from your very wise vessel - your body.... YOU!