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Monday, September 5, 2011

On meditation, Yoga and the forward stroke

The past few weeks I have been exceptionally busy. Rolling back into work after seven weeks of adventuring has been challenging. Adding to that I have spent most of my time away from work, working on the video from the trip. I have to travel for family this weekend, and the next two weekends I will be teaching far from home.

Despite this a couple of things have occurred that I have really enjoyed. A friend mentioned to me that Depak Chopra was offering a free 21 day meditation challenge, and would I be interested in doing it. It would be her first foray into meditation. I meditate far too infrequently, but when I do it clears my head, makes me noticeably more calm, and despite the fact that I find it very difficult, I truly enjoy it.

I took part in the Chopra meditation challenge for all of one day. They are guided meditations that were created so I could not download them, which presented a challenge. (I use a couple of apps on my iPhone to help me meditate, one is a guided meditation app, and the other creates nature sounds which is nice when meditating in a noisy or busy place, like my gym where I frequently meditate). I found myself 8 minutes into the first 13 minute meditation and I was still listening to instructions, and goals of the meditation challenge. It was a little too 'self help' for me.

But while I abandoned Chopra, I didn't abandon the challenge. I began meditating daily in support of my friend, and though I did miss a day, she has not and I am very proud of her.

I find, for me, a much better form of meditation is paddling. Particularly when focusing on the forward stroke. It gives me a clear focus, and takes my mind out of the daily race it is in. I was reminded of this recently as I was teaching two students at the same time. One, paddling a sit on top kayak - a very nice sit on top, the WS tarpon 140 - and one paddling a loaner touring kayak while she waits for delivery of her hand made wood strip kayak. He, on the tarpon is a very active in yoga, and has previously been very active in martial arts. I have seen in previous students that martial artists pick up kayaking very quickly, and he did as well. The young woman in the touring kayak had the struggles that most do their first time when they have to unlearn what their body thinks kayaking is. Martial Artists, and I think to a degree yoga practitioners have a better connection to their body. And this makes forcing your body to do something that at first seems unnatural significantly easier. Also, as I have mentioned previously, the rotation of kayaking is very similar to the rotation throwing a punch.

I made the comment to both of them that it was important that when you stray from pushing and rotation, and slide back into slouching and pulling with your arms, which you will do, that it is important not to chastise yourself. Just acknowledge that it has happened, and come back to where you need to be.

This is equally true for meditation. if for example you are focused on your breathing your mind will invariably stray to something like, what should I cook for dinner, or why did he say that to me? It is important to accept that you have strayed from where you want to be, and bring your self back. Without criticizing, or judging. Just accept and move on. It isn't normal - or really, what we are used to - for our minds to be calmed to the point of no thought, particularly in our multi-tasking world. I am envious of a monk who can focus on one thing - sweeping the floor of the temple - for an entire day. That is his only concern. His only focus. Focus and meditation can be in anything we choose.

My wife, who has close to 30 years of martial arts experience has this summer in my absence taken yoga as her new daily ritual. She is doing yoga in our gym, or at a local yoga studio, and when she can't make either of those occur, I will come home from work and find her doing poses in the living room. She does nothing 'just a little bit'. So naturally I have been doing some yoga as well. We stopped on the way home from Alaska and did Yoga in Vancouver and Boulder, Colorado. I enjoy yoga, but it doesn't sing to me the way some other things do.

But it was in a yoga class that an instructor said something I find myself saying to students over, and over again. Which is not to chastise yourself when you can't do something. Or when your mind strays, or when it takes you a little longer to do something than your neighbor, partner, friend or co-worker does. We are all different, and all have different skills. I know that I am very good at forgiving those around me for their missteps. I work daily to be at ease with the world around me and to offer compassion to those in need of it. But I am not so good at offering that same compassion to myself.

My favorite quote of the Dalai Lama, when asked to describe his religion he said 'my religion is very simple, my religion is kindness'. Offer kindness to the people around you, but direct some of it back to yourself. Particularly when your forward stroke strays from where it should be.


Friday, September 2, 2011

The Power of VHF

An important part of my kit on this trip was a hand held, waterproof VHF radio. Primarily for localized weather reports, but also for communication with vessels while paddling. I envisioned my VHF being for primarily weather and the occasional 'securite' call. A securite is a process whereby you let vessels - or potential vessels - know of your position and intentions. It is essentially a warning. When I thought of securite calls before the trip I thought of alerting vessels in our vicinity to our plans for a crossing. It would sound something like this: Securite sécurité sécurité. To all vessels in the vicinity of Cape Fanshaw. Please be advised that two kayaks - one red, one white - will be crossing from cape Fanshaw, west to the entrance of Seymour Canal. We will be traversing both the finger islands and the brothers on a heading of 280º. Our approximate crossing time will be three hours. Thank you. This is a fairly basic securite. It is telling vessels the intentions of two - hard to see, invisible on radar - kayaks as the move across a channel, perpendicular to powered boat traffic. While I have done securite calls in Alaska before I didn't get to make this kind of call on this trip. In fact for the first time in my life a securite was made so I would know the intentions of a vessel. A much larger vessel. As we were paddling towards Juneau we had to do a five mile cross with an island in the middle. The crossing would bring us across the Tracy arm, a popular destination for cruise ships to see calving tidewater glaciers, but we would be moving parallel to the main channel. As we concluded the first half of the crossing - to the island in the middle - I noticed an increase in boat traffic. A number of small fishing vessels, a black hulled ship - that we later identified as U.S. Coast Guard, and a large white Cruise ship. Because traffic was building I decided to take the VHF out of its pelican case in my cockpit, turn it on and attach it to my PFD. I only did this because I wanted to monitor the radio traffic - if any - in our vicinity. Less than five minutes later we heard this: "Securite sécurité. This is the Carnival Spirit. In approximately ten minutes we will be entering the Tracy arm." Sarah and I discussed this - in a mildly frantic tone of voice - for a few seconds. His course would take him directly across our paths. and while we had the right of way 'legally', he had the right of tonnage. We decided to make him aware of our presence. I responded: "Securite, sécurité, Carnival Spirit, please be advised you have two kayaks on your starboard side." He immediately responded: "Confirmed! We have a visual on you and will be passing you on our starboard side." Translated, this was him telling us that 'we see you, and you should really stay right where you are in the vicinity of that island, while we cut in front of you.' I responded again: "Carnival Spirit, we are holding our position until you are passed." Translated, Okay, you win. we aren't moving. This illustrates perfectly the use of VHF and its importance. Sarah and I did discuss one thing though. We are curious if the cruise ship made the securite because the Coast guard was there - listening to the entire conversation. If the coast guard hadn't been there would they have just gone, passing in front of us? We hoped to see the ship in Juneau. I promised Sarah that if it were there I would get us on board and talk to the person on the other end of the radio. But Alas by the time we got to Juneau the ship was gone.