The Point Of Vacation Is To Be Relaxed Enough To Enjoy It

 

It’s kind of funny, what we do to ourselves on vacation. Some kind of demented off-balancing act: too much food, drink and not enough exercise and forget about the sleep – booze destroys the last half of the sleep cycle.

Yet in this great escape there is no solace. What we do find are hangovers, bulging-waist lines, anxiety and more credit card debt.

Not exactly the recharge you were looking for, was it?

It makes sense though when you think of it. Ever hear of the American Syndrome? Researchers studied health and vitality of people on Friday and then asked the same questions to the same people on Monday.

Guess what they found?

People were worse on Monday. The weekend compounded unease and stress. People were in no way rejuvenated. They did not come to work ready to tackle new issues. They came back more tired from the weekend they had planned.

So what’s really going on here?

The annual vacation is simply a repetition of the cycle we replay all year. We train ourselves to misuse vacation time throughout the year by making poor choices each weekend.

Most of my patients have described to me the following scenario.

“Well Doc I got really stressed out before my vacation. Started working late so I would be caught up by the time I left.”

“Excuse me are you catching up or doing the work you would have had to do if you were here?”

“Both. So then I’m getting home later and eating later. Have a few extra beers to take the edge off. More tired in the morning and so I load up on the coffee. Working out? Yeah, right. No time for that. So my vacation starts”

At this point I interrupt and say, “Most people get sick before their week or two off. Did that happen to you?”

I’m surprised at how often, they say yes. It’s over 50% of the time. Working all year to have a week off and they are sick.

That’s sick.

Ok, let’s say they didn’t get sick. This is how it unfolds.

“So I spend the first two or three days unwinding. Sure, I’m drinking too much, just trying to come off the roller coaster. Resting. Trying to recover. I hit that sweet spot. The one where I can actually rest and recharge for a day and then it happens. It’s Thursday or Friday. I can actually feel my mind thinking about work on Monday. It’s awful. Like a black hole dampening out the light.”

Usually there is a prolonged silence. They do look like a black hole has sucked them out. Bags under the eyes. Shoulders slumped.

Well the math breaks down a little different. So they said, Wednesday maybe Thursday, those were the good days. So that’s not a week off. That’s two days, a weekend. So we are back where we started.

DON’T DO THIS TO YOURSELF.

So, can agree that this model is broken? It’s a complete failure and will break you the longer you try to play with it.

Agreed?

Let’s start by looking at our weekend. The single most important thing you can do for your mental health is have some down time. The human mind and soul thrives on quiet time.

What to do with this time?
Here’s a list, pick at least two this weekend:

1)   Meditate, 15 minutes in the morning and evening.

2)   Pray: 15 minutes in the morning and evening.

3)   Read: 30-60 minutes – it has to be something you love.

4)   Stretch: 30 minutes, no music, turn off the stimuli.

5)   Listen to music. See no problem, just don’t pretend to mulit-task. It doesn’t work.

6)   Cook. Make something spectacular. Eat something with purpose. Call up someone you love but haven’t seen recently. Or, just as good, reach out to somebody new. Open up those horizons.

7)   Take a walk, 30-60 minutes.

8)   Go Outdoors.

9)   Watch the sun rise.

10) Listen to running water, wind.

11) Sing.  

12) Write. 

13) Make a cup of tea and read poems or dig out one of those classics. Something that expands the confines of your mind’s eye. Wow yourself.

14) Knitting. Repetitive motion releases serotonin. 

15) Draw. Over the holiday break in December I drew my first picture since 10th grade art class. It was fun, nostalgic and a good way to bond with my daughter.

Reality dictates that stress will kill you over time. In his ground-breaking work, Hans Selye documented the effects of stress on health, the nervous system and our sense of well being.

Stress works on the body in a very peculiar way. Let’s say you get stressed out. Anxiety and tension are becoming your new best friends.

Stress levels range from 1-10.  When we get stressed out we start at 0, then go up to an 8.

Popular wisdom would say we get stressed out and go back to 0. That’s not true. What really happens is that stress did not return to 0. What happens is that instead of 0, our new set point moves up a notch, to 1.

And that is how it gets us. Over time what we have is an ascending relationship to stress. It takes only a few years in high-stress environments to turn that stress starting point up to 50% of it’s maximum.

That’s how people snap.

They run too long on too much stress and before we know what is happening, the train comes off the rails. It’s almost never the particular event that causes people to loose it. Right? It’s the build up and breakdown. Suddenly that person who cut you off did it on purpose. They woke up with you in mind and won’t be happy until you are run off the road. Right?

So do yourself and those that are around you a favor. Pick two of the activities today to do over next weekend. Do this for a few months and you will have begun building a foundation in which you rest during the weekends and actually have fun on vacation.

You have a great vacation the same way you do anything that shines. You practice until you get it right.

 

(This post was printed about a year ago on TH3RD FORCE and was reprinted due to popular demand)

To Teagle or Not

 

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There is almost nothing I can think of more important as making up your mind. And conversely, to me, the definition of hell is being caught in between two decisions.

Should I do this? Should I do that? A lifetime is easily spent skating between these two poles.

I’m always amazed at how many people describe themselves as decisive. They give me examples: when I go clothes shopping, I know exactly that I like this kind of shirt so I buy 5 at a time. Or, I don’t even think about ordering coffee. I know for me that I want that Americano.

Small decisions are easy game. However once we start getting to the meat of the matter, things change.

OK, how’s the job going?

Well, I kind of hate it but it pays the bills. Hmm, decidedly not decisive.

Home life? My partner is driving me crazy. They come home after work and we’re both tired and nothing is done. It makes me crazy. You know? So are you saying you are happy?

Meh!

How are the kids?

They’re great. Getting into a little trouble as they are aging. Wish they were behaving better.

***

You can see where this is going, can’t you? Making up the mind in simple decisions is easy. No problems there. But when it counts, oh man does it get dicey.

We are born with two ways of thinking about things. The first is governed by the heart. We know in our heart if things are right or wrong. No doubt. No worry.

The enemy of the heart is the mind. The mind makes its calculations. It spins data to be more palatable for us. The mind protects us by creating a false world that meets not only our expectations, but insulates us from pain.

A good example of this is seen when, for example, you show up late to an engagement. You were late, let’s say, because your baby sitter showed up late and you were not quite ready anyway.

You show up to your dinner party and the host is mad. You respond by saying, lighten up. I was a few minutes late anyway. In reality you were 30 minutes late and the evening got held up.

Your mind says, things happen. It’s their problem for getting upset. However, you were late because you didn’t take care of things correctly.

Nobody likes to hear that the fault stops with themselves.

The mind constantly takes information and uses it to protect and shield us from our own shortcomings.

In making decisions, it’s important to understand if you are divided, where the fault line lays.

In most cases we know what the right thing to do is. We just talk ourselves out of it. Notice I didn’t say, the right thing in society’s view. My meaning is that sometimes our right thing directly contradicts societal norms. Sometimes doing the right thing is in opposition to all known means of measurement.

Why do we do it then? Why do we get so caught up in the internal battle?

Because we are afraid to make a stand.

It takes guts to finally say to yourself, self, I really love getting that pay check but on a soul level I hate doing what I do. So I am not doing it anymore. I am going to make a careful plan (no winging it here) and execute it on schedule. Shortly I will be

Homework assignment, make a decision that scares and challenges you today.

This is where we grow. I’m not advocating you do anything crazy. I am telling you to do something that just may make you feel like you are on the edge. The edge of what? Something new.

And, before we depart let’s take a page from history. That picture gracing this post (up above) is of a teagle.

Haven’t heard of it?

Me neither until I went on State House in Boston, Massachusetts. The teagle is the result of a mind that could not make a decision. At the time of the creation of this clock there was a debate as to the USA’s national bird. I love you Ben Franklin, but not a fan of your choice, the turkey. The other side, of course, voted eagle.

The clock maker didn’t know who would win and didn’t want to cause either side to be angry. Turkey. Eagle. Turkey. Eagle. Between these two parents, was born a morphed turkey and an eagle.

Make up your mind. And don’t ever, ever, be a teagle.

Photo Credit: Paglia, Iphone.

Swimming Against The Current

When I was in my 20’s, I asked a monk what his spiritual practice was. He looked at me and smiled gently. I don’t like the term, he said. One day you will not either.

With that he moved on through his day. I was left with my racing thoughts. A few months later I asked him about his daily practice. Tricky, huh?

In essence, he said, there was no practice. Life. Just a life. It was impossible to differentiate the parts of his life that were not spent in meditation. In a word, he said, a successful life is one spent in attention.

He looked up from his work and turned to me. I wondered if he could see the ten thousand thoughts of mine spinning in orbit around myself.

There is no practice in this life. We simply pay attention to everything we do. It’s the same with your life, we only wear different clothes. He went back to work. My thoughts only spun faster.

I must have been told a thousand times when I was at the monastery to simply do what I was doing. My old friend Mongo would take a look at me and say, you not doing anything useful. You pretending to sit but you think about work? Food? What? When you are at work you pretend to work. What are you think about? Meditation.

He pierced me with a blood-shot gaze and took another drag off of his cigarette.

This problem, he says, comes across in all life. Married man? Hmmm. We know what you think when you drinky. Yes, what about her?

Mongo!, said his wife, Mrs. Park. Married women do not need to drink to think life would be better with another man. Hummph she said, shaking her finger at us. They need to drink once they find all men same same.

You two are trouble mans.

That was her name for me, trouble man. I had issues with so many things I never understood exactly why she and Mongo put up with me.

For that matter, I hardly understand even today why the people in my life put up with me. It’s not an easy road to love someone for who they are.

 It’s also not an easy road to pave a practice that will yield results. There is no set path either. You have to find for yourself not only what works, but what you will do consistently. Without routine practice that works you will make no headway.

A good starting point for a practice is to simply fill your heart and mind with so much natural beauty that there is no room for anything else. The sheer magnitude of beauty will force your attention. I do this as often as possible. When the mind is stupefied by natural beauty and wonder it’s hard for it to chatter uselessly about what we think is important in this life.

For all my years spent meditating and bugging monks in temples, one of the most significant spiritual experiences I have had was simply observing someone else communing with nature.

A few years back in Winthrop, Washington, my family and I were camping at Early Winters campground. There is a pool of water where the Early Winter creek emerges out of the mountain ice cold, fast and in this one location, deep enough to swim in.

My family and I pulled up some chairs. My girls jumped in the water. It was freezing cold. They screamed but stayed in. I like that about them. They are there to swim, doesn’t matter if the water is glacier fed and barely in its liquid form.

Another family came over after a while. The kids were much older – teenagers. Two couples sat a little way from us. It didn’t take long for me to pick out that one Dad was a little different. He spoke slowly. He didn’t speak a lot. When his kids asked him questions, they waited for him to respond. It took a minute sometimes for him to speak. I assumed head injury. It was obvious his wife held him in disdain. When he stumbled over his words, or took too long, his brother would speak over him.

After a while the man didn’t speak. He simply stared at the kids playing in the water. I could sense no emotion from him. Not content, not happy, not sad. Just a blank space, occupying a shadow by a clear pool on a 90 degree day.

My wife and I talked a bit about the family over dinner. My kids stayed up until they saw the first stars. It was very late by the time I joined my family in our little camper.

Like a bolt I woke up at 6 am.

Time for my own practice. I gathered up my clothes and book of Saint John of the Cross and headed outside. After making a cup of coffee I went back to that little pool. Nobody in the campground was up. I enjoyed the warmth of that coffee cup and the solitude.

I was reading a particularly challenging chapter in Saint John when I heard a voice so soft I wasn’t even sure it was there at all.

I looked up. It was the man from yesterday.

Sorry, he said again.

Oh, you are fine. Don’t worry about it.

I can come back, he said, backing up.

Please stay. It’s fine. I’m just reading. It’s public property. Just as much yours as mine.

He stood there for a few moments and then took off his shirt. He walked slowly into the water, much like my kids did. Moved forward an inch. Stopped. Teetered back and forth. Then dove under water. He surfaced and then headed to the roaring stream that fed the pool. He swam against the current until his body gave out and then floated back to the far edge.

He waited a few moments, gasping and then swam at the current. He did this over and over in the growing light of an July morning.

All at once he stopped swimming and sunk. He just hung out there for a while and then came back up. He walked out of the water, right to me, and sat down on a rock.

He talked slowly, not really looking at me. Rather he was staring at the water. His voice just a few decibels louder than the stream spreading in its alluvial fan.

All year I feel the stress building up in me. It’s like a poison. It gets in there everywhere. I try to hold on. I try to hold on so that I can be here. When I am in the water swimming I can think of nothing but being free like the water. I feel larger than I was before swimming.I come here as much as I can. I swim as hard as I can. When I can no longer swim the current takes me to the other side.

He stood up and looked at me.

I’m sorry for being in your alone time here.

No, I said, it was I who was the intruder.

Photo Credit : travelspirit333.com

A Lot Of Noise About Quiet

A friend and I were talking the other day. He was recently divorced in a most unpleasant way. He asked me, after a spell, how it felt to be quiet inside? I laughed. He looked offended for a minute. He said, you spend all that time meditating. Or doing whatever you are doing. Isn’t it quiet in there?

Then I said, quiet comes to those who court it. You have to chase it down, usually making a hell of a lot of noise in the process.

He looked up and started laughing.

Seriously, he said, what did you do? He continued, I’m a mess. My thoughts beat me. It hurts so much. What did you do? I’ve heard you tell stories about what a mess you were. You are not one now. What did you do?

I sat back in my chair for a few moments before answering. I told him, look, I wasn’t joking.

First off it’s not silence you are looking for.

It’s not? What the?

Think about it. Nothing in nature is silent. Why should you be?

Hmm. So what’s the point then?

The point is to have enough perspective so that you can recognize not only the thoughts but the person observing the thoughts.

The what?

The best you can do is not mistake the thoughts as yourself. We are too caught up in that web. I think this. I think that. None of that matters much.

It has to matter, he said. I believe in what’s right and wrong.

No. You believe now, what you think is right or wrong. It will change in time.

Again, the trouble is when you think you are right and wrong. That’s the hell of it all. That’s what creates pain. Your internal and stagnant view of the world clashes with the reality of this life. There is pain. There is suffering.

This is making me feel worse. I came here looking for help. Now I don’t even know what I am aiming for.

You don’t know? Really? I don’t think you believe that. If you did, there would be no emotional reaction. Would there?

Well, I guess not.

No there would not. My words would be meaningless. You would leave here and never think of them. But you are deeply thinking about this. Perhaps that’s the best way to look at it.

Which way?

You are reacting very strongly to me telling you something. You either believe I’m right or you may not care if I am right or wrong. What’s most important is that you believe you may be wrong.

Oh man. This is good. I’m fine for now, he said as he stood up. Just before opening the door he stopped.

OK, can we talk more next time?

Sure I said. Something to think about. The point in which you quit is the point that the image of the self feels most challenged. Quitting reinforces the dominion of the false self. Are you interested in looking over the edge or jumping?

He went back out into his day. Later that evening I did give some thought to how I came to one of many ceasefires with that fire burning in my head.
***
I had been hiking for days without food. I could feel the bones in my hip rubbing raw against the waist-belt of my backpack. Sunburned a while back. Peeling now. My feet were a mess – blistered, swollen and painful through the night.

The only time I didn’t think was when I was moving.

So I just put on the miles. One foot in front of the other. I had aimed at a series of peaks jutting out of the earth. No path to follow, just a visual reminder of distance.

A few weeks before this hike I had packed everything I owned into my little Jetta and headed cross country. I was 22. Nothing but a job I had turned down. No imminent prospects. No destination in mind. Just an unbearable need to move.

In the beginning driving put my mind at ease. That wore off in a few hundred miles. Even driving I began to get uneasy.

A few days into my trip I pulled off the highway. Drove down a dirt road and set up camp. I had almost no money. No hotels. Limited food. Enough gas to keep me moving for at least another month.

In the methodical rhythm of setting up camp I found stillness again. It was hot. I had plenty of water in the back seat. A couple cans of coke. Some jerky and granola bars. That was about it.

I was weary. Climbing in my tent I had some jerky, some water and then dozed for a few hours. I woke up to the sound of coyotes. Opening the zipper to my tent fly, I saw those peaks lit up in the moonlight.

Minutes later I was out there. Walking by moonlight to those hills. My mind quieted and I walked for days. I ran out of food (jerky and granola bars) and just drank water and walked.

I never reached those peaks. I simply figured out that I was without food and soon to be without water. I stopped walking. Looked at the mountains and thought, they were far away as I began.

So I went back.

Climbing back into the car after breaking camp I noticed my mind was a little quieter. The thoughts in my head were strangely less persistent. Not gone, but no longer yelling.

Each day I would drive and then stop. I spent the next morning hiking for at least a couple of hours. Mostly though, I hiked for days at a time.

Each time getting back into the car I felt a little less chaotic. A little quieter. I felt exactly as a kid, waking up in the depths of winter in upstate New York to find everyone asleep and outside my front window a perfectly pure and unbroken field of freshly fallen snow. The sense of wonder forming a bridge between my selves.

By the time I got to Colorado I was skimming the surface like a “normal person.” I didn’t have to figure out if there was a God. If there was a God did God live in me? Was there any point to this? Why was there always the sound of someone crying in my head?

In this way I made my way across the country. In this way, the miles slowly halted that shrieking train wreck of a mind.
***

There is no path already written for you. If you are looking for more inner peace and silence you will have to experiment and see what works best. Notice I didn’t say, what feels best. That’s a trap. Observe what works best. For me it was putting hundreds of miles on a backpack. The amount of exhaustion and hunger gave my mind just enough of a pause so that the meditation practice I had could sink in.

Before hiking I thought of my meditation practice in much the same way as throwing a stone against the wall. It was entertaining, for a while, and every so often a rock I threw at the wall came directly back at me.

After hiking I had enough space in my head to allow for the possibility of grace.

Photo Credit: www.freeroamingphotography.com

So Who Are You?

 

I have a confession to make.

After 15 years of clinical experience I have a controversial viewpoint on the whole intro/extrovert dilemma.

I don’t believe in it.

Specifically, I don’t believe a healthy nervous system may be lumped into only two choices.

We are not binary equations. We are life taking place now – an infinity of variables dancing in the wake of each decision we make.

The healthier the nervous system, the more comfort you have in either mode – introvert or extrovert.

First off, I have to admit. I used to be somewhat of a personality-test junky. I loved those things. Depending on my mood I would take one and have a complete analysis of myself. I felt great for the next day or week and then I would think. Maybe I didn’t get it right. Maybe I should take that thing again and come up with an analysis I like better. Sure, I’ll take it again.

Here’s an example of how this typing of yourself works in the real world.

Last week a patient came in. She told me she loves being around people. But she feels exhausted by the end of the day and needs to shut down.

I asked, what’s the problem?

The problem, she said, is that I am an extrovert. If I am not getting energy from the people I meet it’s because I am doing the wrong things. I hate my job.

Oh, I said. What is your employment history like?

What do you mean?

How many times have you found yourself in jobs like this?

Well, not very often (4 jobs in 2 years). I guess I’m really a driven person and if I feel like I am the only one doing anything it really pisses me off. I need my down time too. You know the hardest thing about being a type A? It’s dealing with the morons. Makes me crazy.

Oh, I said. So now you’re an extroverted person who needs alone time and a Type A person that doesn’t really want to work all that much?

Well, not exactly.

She got quiet for a moment. I could see her thinking. She then looked directly at me. Her anger flared in her defense.

What are you trying to say?

All I’m saying is that maybe these descriptions don’t serve you anymore.

What?

You are putting these labels on yourself. In the beginning they operate for introspection. They give us a pre-set guide. Something to hang our psychological hat on. As time goes by, we retreat into these definitions as excuses.

Sorry, can’t do that talk. I’m an introvert don’t you know. Sorry, can’t finish that project by myself. As an extrovert I need people to talk to and interact.

I run through the same issues in my personal life. Last weekend my wife and her friends rented out a party room at the yacht club. It’s a close knit group of friends that has known each other for many years. My wife is the newbie in the group.

We showed up and I headed for the side porch. Nobody was out there. It was a beautiful afternoon. The sun was shining. I couldn’t be happier out there, beer in hand, shining amber in the sun.

Looking at me, you would think, there’s an introvert for you. Happy by himself. Taking some down time away from the party.

But it doesn’t fit.

Flash forward an hour and I’m riffing with a guy about every taboo subject you can name: save the whales, sue your neighbors (the battle cry of self-absorbed Pacific North Westerners), politics: for every degree you are on the left or right, subtract and IQ point or 50.

Pretty soon I had the whole table revved up and ready to go.

Walking around the party gave me ample opportunity to socialize and forge stronger friendships with some interesting new people.

Only thing was, I wasn’t interested in firing up the forge. I was done. I left the party happy to be away from it all but glad I went. My wife caught a ride home with some other friends – by now they had taken over the dance floor. And I, found myself at home with a nice Kung Fu movie to end the night.

When the body is capable of handling stress and discharging anxiety the terms introvert and extrovert mean less and less. What matters more, is that we respond to our environment in the best way we can without sacrificing our store-bought idea about ourselves.

How do we get a healthy nervous system?

Meditate or pray.

It’s easy enough to look into. If you prefer prayer, set a timer for 15 minutes and just recite your favorite prayer. When your mind wanders, which it will, just get back on track with your recitation. This form of prayer has been done in monasteries for thousands of years.

If you want to meditate, pick a word. Any word will do. How about sun? Set a timer for 15 minutes and repeat the word, sun, incessantly. Your mind will wander. Not a big deal. Simply get back to it.

Do this practice, twice a day: once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Research across the board verifies meditation and prayer’s ability to help relieve not only stress, but many stress related health issues.

***

Research:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201309/20-scientific-reasons-start-meditating-today

http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2015/02/09/7-ways-meditation-can-actually-change-the-brain/

 

Image Credit: wildhairmedia.com

Fighting Against The Tide

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Jim Bochsler (left) and Scott Paglia (right) wearing insect antennae (as requested by my daughters) seconds before the beginning of the canoe leg, Ski to Sea 2015

 

 

Funny how cultural norms change. The old maxim used to be, never give up. The punk movement took it a step further: never give up, or in. And now we have the millennials. They are a different sort altogether.

Giving up isn’t a problem. No, these days it’s called being true to yourself.

It’s tricky territory to navigate through all the norms. What position is right? The one we were raised with of course. But really, what works best for ourselves and our families?

We had this come up in the clinic the other week. A patient came in. He’s was in his 50’s. Nice guy, owns a local business. He was very stressed. I asked him, what’s the matter? He said, one of my employees didn’t like our logo. They complained about it incessantly. They even went so far as to request time to redo the logo, even though it wasn’t their job.

If it made them happy, he said, I was all for it.

So they went to work. Weeks went by. No sight of the logo. We had an event coming up and needed to print our logo on some banners. Another team member asked him for the logo.

Still not done.

So the day before it’s due they have a meeting. He says he will get it done. We all sat there and agreed upon the course of action.

As of this morning, it’s not done.

We went with the old logo because, to my eyes, it’s been fine for 10 years. One more event won’t matter.

During our staff meeting we went over what happened. My employee, who didn’t get the work done, gave this as his excuse: I had to be true to myself. I was tired when I got home. I’m feeling stressed and needed some personal space for myself. I had to honor that part of me that said take it easy. So that’s why I didn’t work all night on it.

He leaned forward in his chair, obviously distressed. The worst part, Scott, is I looked around and could see my office staff (all millennials) shaking their heads, if not agreeing, then understanding

Uh oh.

So I asked him. I said, let me get this straight. You said you would finish a job and then didn’t?

Yes.

You left your team mate hanging in the wind?

Well, I can see how you may think that. But really, it’s complicated. You don’t know how stressed I am.

He just went on and on. I felt like I was talking to a different species. But you know, that’s how young people think these days. Being true to themselves. It’s quite a work-family feud we have right now. I want them to feel supported. I want this to work out.

***

I sat back and watched it all play out. There really was two conflicting patterns to observe.

  • Be true to you lowest self, not your higher self. That higher part of us doesn’t mind self sacrifice. In fact the higher self is pretty much determined by the amount we are willing to sacrifice for the greater good. The part of you that doesn’t want to stress yourself out. The part of you that says, I am tired and need to slow down is not the true self.
  • The team-player ethic. Each of them depended on each other to help each other out. They had to depend on each other because they are a small business. There are no specialists.

What’s implied in the second issue is that people count on each other and it’s important to the modern workplace. The first issue says I will conditionally commit.

I told my patient, you have a family alright. A very dysfunctional one at that.

He looked up at me shocked.

What do you mean?

I said, well you competed in the Ski To Sea race as a company team. Yes, he replied. Let’s use that as an example.

The Ski To Sea Race (http://www.skitosea.com/) is one of the oldest multi-sport races in the world. It starts on Mt. Baker and finishes on the bay. The events are: Cross Country Ski, Uphill Run/Ski, Downhill Run, Bicycle, Canoe, Cyclo-Cross and Kayak.

This year we had a very strange winter. In prior years Mt. Baker set a world record for most snowfall. This last winter, hardly any fell. In fact, snow pack levels were at 10% of norms by season’s end.

This lack of snow created quite a problem for the first two legs of the race as there was no snow.

Did the race officials sit down with their inner selves and say it’s too hard? I just don’t have time to set up a new race.

No.

They changed it up. This year we started with an uphill run and finished with an extra leg, Mountain Biking.

The new legs caused quite a few teams to sit down with their personal selves and say, if it’s not the race I am used to, I am not going to compete.

There were far fewer competitors this year: 350. Last year there were 430 teams.

I checked with race officials.

Turns out there were far fewer recreational teams. The top competitors largely remained the same. They overcome the obstacle of the course to compete.

There is a fine lesson here.

The teams that traditionally did well did so again this year. The teams that never fared well, simply ceased to exist.

Athletes had to try out new legs of the race. Some (as in our team) became support crews for the race. Our cross country skier got up at 4 am on race day to help our bicyclist get warmed up and stay warmed up on the mountain. He could have easily said, no thanks, would rather just see you all at the party.

Perhaps the lesson here is that internal voice telling you to give in and give up is the only thing that will remain constant, as long as you listen to it.

Doesn’t matter if it’s a race or a project. Unless you set your heart and mind to it, it will dissolve.

In Chinese the character for Integrity means direct connection between the heart (feelings) and mind (thoughts) and our mouth.

He looked at me kind of stunned and smiled.

Do you get it?

Yeah, I do. I’ve been catering to the new culture instead of the right culture. So much for those workshops I took. Time to get back to basics.

***

For all of our loyal readers. This is how our team did.

Well we were named 8 Drunken Pirates and An Adjunct Harle (the guy who woke up early to be on support crew). Out of the 350 we placed 48th. Not bad for a team of actual friends who are all over the age of 40. How did the canoe team do? We placed 54th. Last year 100. The year before 116. Each year we refine our time, our equipment. This year we are focusing on technique. That and not flipping over in the middle of the lake and getting rescued!

Aluminum Foil and Sub-Arctic Sleeping Arrangements

 

In tenth grade I was a mess. I was very small and quite erratic: mentally, socially, physically and spiritually. I knew there was a god out there but after the suicide of my friend, I couldn’t understand the game plan. I stayed up most nights either wandering the lake my family lived on or driving my mountain bike over to Bill’s house.  

As you can imagine, I made a seemingly easy target for bullies.

I had made friends with a girl in my grade. I never made a move or asked her out. I was simply happy to have a friend.

Her boyfriend wasn’t so happy about it.

One day in gym class I was running down the field and he took me out. I ended up a tangled mess of elbows, knees and rage.

The gym teacher saw what happened and looked the other way. He disliked me chiefly because I was not likable at that age. The guy that took me out was one of the football players. He was one of the “good kids.” My claim to fame was that I had quit the wrestling team and had many social/ societal/authority issues.

In other words I was an outsider.

I picked myself up and headed inside. In the locker room this guy, let’s call him Football Head (FB), said he was going to kick my ass.

Later that afternoon I ended up at Bill’s house, as usual. I was talking to him about what to do.  FB was bigger than both of us and was kind of friends with Bill – they were both on sports teams together.

Our friend Michael Marsh overhead this conversation. He asked who we were talking about.  I told him the story and didn’t think much about it after that.

I was ready in school the next day for FB when he came up to me. I had been here before. We moved a lot growing up. Bullies always take their time to start a fight.

It’s best to hit first.

As FB walked up to me I clenched my fist, gritted my teeth and sunk lower in my stance.

He reached out with his hand for me to shake. It just hung there like an unopened letter.

I looked at the hand, suspended in air. Not making a move.

I’m sorry he blurted out grabbing my hand. The look on his face was nothing but fear. He shook my hand and said, I don’t want any trouble. I’m sorry.

He left me in the locker room stunned.

Later that day, back at Bill’s, I told him the story. Bill just shrugged his shoulders. We went over to Marshy’s house to see what he was up to. I told him what happened.

Marshy said, of course, Guito (that’s what he called me). I told him he was on the list.

The list?

Yeah, I have a list of people that do bad things. And I’m going to pay every one of those people back.

But I thought you guys were friends?

Friends? Not really. Besides, he shouldn’t be picking on you, he’s much bigger. I hate that. I hate when people make you feel this way. Yep. I told him I moved him up to number one.

And that was that. I never had trouble from FB again.

I guess a couple words of explanation are due?

Marshy grew up on Fair Street in Otego, New York. He was an outlier. He was on the fringe. He was also a little too smart. After scoring very high on the SAT’s he was courted by universities and the military.

Instead of accepting these offers, he decided to live underground, literally for two years.

Along the way, he lived outside in negative 30 degree winters in upstate New York. Decided to flatten out the back lawn because the angles of solar reflection were interfering with his thoughts. There was the time he tied a loaf of bread onto the frame of his bike and pedaled from Cape Cod back to upstate New York because, as he joked, it was all downhill.

Marshy had a long and complicated personal and family history with mental illness. So when he said you are on the list, there was no doubt that there was an actual list. Marshy’s story also makes his decision to help me all the more meaningful. Basically, every kid wants to fit in. Every kid wants and needs people to like them. By helping me, a complete outsider, Marshy jeopardized what little he had in common with the more popular kids. And that sort of uncommon courage sums up Marshy, himself.

Years ago when my first mentor died (http://th3rdforce.com/?p=384) I went back to upstate and stayed at Bill’s family home. We knocked on Marshy’s door. To be honest I was apprehensive. I had never called to check in. I knew he wasn’t doing well. When he opened the door he came outside and told me about his latest project – putting aluminum foil on all of his plants and taking massive quantities of rare mineral salts. He joined us for dinner later that evening.

What I remembered about that evening was that instead of making me feel uncomfortable, he complimented me on how good I looked. He was deeply interested in how my life had worked out. He asked me a lot of questions about being married. Having kids. At the end of our talk, he looked pleased. He told me, I’m glad you are OK because you really see things. I knew what he meant, outlier to outlier.

These stories about Marshy I shared with you all are part of the glue that binds that group of friends I grew up with. We share these stories with each other when we visit. We don’t talk about characters in TV shows or movies. We share the real-life stories of our friends because in reality, these heroes are the only people worth keeping company with.

Another thing that Marshy did for me was again give me a different perspective on life. A few months ago he was diagnosed with cancer. I called the hospital room but could not get to him. He blocked all calls.

Bill and his father went to visit Marshy. The visit didn’t go well. Marshy had lost what little traction he had with this reality. Mr. Donnelly left the room and Bill told me it took maybe 20 minutes to get through the anger, frustration and paranoia.

The demons had taken over.

In the end though, Marshy made his last appearance. He came back for a few moments before losing himself against the tide.

That final lesson?

Well there was no doubt Marshy was in pain and was suffering terribly from his cancer and his inner demons.

We all know that light is the only way to dispel darkness. And for me, pain is simply the darkness we choose to share with ourselves, by ourselves.

Marshy not only asked Mr. Donnelly to leave, but eventually refused further contact with Bill after a few more weeks.

He ended his life as he wished to. Alone in a room by himself on April 18, 2015.

But you see it didn’t work. He closed that door but we were still there, talking about him and sending him good thoughts.

I thought, driving to work the other day, in what way am I closing doors on the ones that could ease my pain? In what ways are my own decisions leading to more pain?

Bill and I will continue to share these stories. We will continue to keep the memory of our friend alive, in real time.

This morning I told a very cleaned up version of the story of “the list” to my kids. My youngest got quiet for a minute. I looked over at her. Hon, I said, what are you thinking about?

Her eyes were hooded and she was lost in thought. She smiled. A list poppa! Your friend was so lucky he had a whole list of people close to his heart. I can’t wait to hear him.

Hear him?

Yeah, when he tells god to look after you because he’s not here anymore, I’ll hear it.

With that, all 8 years of her walked up the stairs and got ready for her school day.

Goodbye my brother. You will be missed, but more importantly, you will live on.

Photo  Credit: www.deviantart.com

Making Sense Of It All (Part 3)

 

After that second beer my buddy took off. I sat in the yard watching my kids ride their bikes. The sun had come out and shone brightly on my body. For once I sat there absorbing that warmth.

I had to admit, I felt great. A steady rush of adrenalin was coursing through my system. I love riding that wave. I can sense when my nervous system is getting jacked up. I fan the fires until I’m part of that hormonal storm.

I was riding that wave even as I put my kids to sleep. I poured a proper dram of Redbreast Whisky and sent off some messages to my Ski To Sea team, and to my friends on Quora. Then I dialed myself down and watched a movie. Afterward I laid my head to the pillow and went out without any fight.

I woke up several times to monitor my daughter’s blood sugar levels that night. I noticed my hand shaking very badly at the 3 a.m. check. Must be coming off of that ride. I sat up in bed, meditating until sleep took me to the other side of night.

I woke up at 7 a.m.

Nobody awake yet. Good, I thought to myself. I propped myself up in bed and meditated for a good hour or so. I woke up and prepared a beautiful pot of French press coffee.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I was not all the way right.

The kids woke up and we made breakfast. Afterward I was tired, so they played games while I fell asleep on the couch. My wife came home a few hours later. We gave her all the gory details.

She asked me before we went to bed. Were you scared out there in the water?

No, I told her, we were not. You see I grew up on a lake in upstate New York. We flipped the canoe at all times of the year and even had the good sense to walk on thin ice and break through.

Being cold in a canoe, if anything, reminded me of my high school days.

Do you remember the movie, What About Bob? Another one of Bill Murray’s fine works. There is a scene where he (a man with severe psychological problems) is working through his fears. He is afraid of the water. In order to conquer the fear, he straps himself to the mast and as the camera pans to him, he’s yelling “I’m Sailing. I’m Sailing.”

In an image, that’s what was going through my mind as the water rushed all about us. That’s what I thought of when my skin started burning. There we were in the lake, sailing underwater, as it were. No big deal.

Monday came and I woke up, off. Here’s the deal.  When I wake up I give thanks for my family and my friends and my health and. . .  And then in the silence that follows I feel the rush of energy. It courses through my body and simply radiates. That feeling of energy runs through me as a living current. It’s how I wake up. It’s how I am.

I sat in bed waiting for it to come. It never did. Strange I thought to myself, getting out of bed. My mood was flat. I got irritated waiting for the girls to get ready for school.

At work it just got worse. It was if all the angles and trajectories had been chiseled down into a flat line. There was nothing to ride. Nothing to crank up for or about.

I was not happy. I was not sad. I was not calm. I was not agitated. I simply was along for the ride.

Over the years I have heard patients say that after a close call they just felt down. This feeling of being down was often mistaken by their peer group as dissatisfaction or even worse, depression. Having been close to the edge more than a few times I was not prepared for this reaction: a flat line.

When the adrenal system kicked into fight or flight and the water started bringing my core temperature down the body went into an emergency state. And now I was paying for that excess.

 

__________________________________

Pro-Tip #1

You may not have a big emotional response to a close call and this is fine. Be aware however, that you will have to repay that overload in the nervous system. You may find yourself tired for days. Tired isn’t the right word: bone weary is a better fit.

__________________________________

Let’s say, for this field guide, that things had gone wrong and the mind got caught up in the moment and went down like a plane falling out of the sky.

About 5 weeks before my marriage my wife and I were driving home from Prince Rupert, B.C. 

For some reason, I didn’t sleep much at all the night before. I was so tired that my wife offered to drive. I took her up on that kindness and put my seat in full recline position.

Off to sleep I went. I, to quote Walt Whitman, I loafed and I invited my soul. . .

Bam. The next thing I heard, and to this day continue to hear, was a large bang, like a paper bag made of metal rupturing on all sides of me.

I opened my eyes as I was thrown forward in my seat. The seat belt grabbed me and then I felt another impact – an aerial rag doll in flight for a brief moment.

I must have blacked out for a couple of moments. Honestly I don’t recall anything afterward. I tried to open my eyes. They were covered in the dust from broken glass. I was wet. I could feel that. I kept trying to get the glass and blood out of my mouth.

Tears running down my face. The pain was overwhelming. My fiance was talking to me. I couldn’t understand what happened.

Then I felt the world dissolving around me. Stay here. Stay here.

What’s happening?

It’s raining honey, my fiance’s voice was a thin wire connecting me to this world. The roof was torn off.

Where’s the roof?

A deer jumped into us. It went through the windshield. As it rolled over the car it got caught up in the kayak racks and got gutted. It took the roof with it. We were covered in a coagulating blanket of blood, hair and glass dust.

Are you OK? Can you hear me?

Tears were streaking down my face. I thought for sure I was going to throw up. I had to go to the bathroom.

I felt fingers on my face. How did Kerry get on the other side of the car? How did she get outside of the car? The fingers on my face were gentle. I was shaking by now. Wet.

I am an EMT. I got you. What happened? Are you alright? She asked my wife these questions in rapid fire, all the while trying to clear my eyes.

Gloves?

What?

I can feel your skin on mine. You should have gloves on if you are doing this.

Her voice shook a bit as she told me to not worry about her. By then she was trying to get us covered up from the rain. The sky opened up and it started pouring. She tried to put up clothes from the back seat but everything was covered in blood.

I’m just up here on vacation. We were the first car on the scene, she explained to my wife.

It took a while for the ambulance to show up. I was in and out. They were irrigating my eyes. I was separated from Kerry. I was on a stretcher on the road.

People were looking on. Then I saw him. A guy from the wedding last night. Why was he here? He had a strange look on his face. At this moment my nervous system and I parted ways. I freaked out. I thought for sure I was dead. How was this guy here? Four hours from the wedding? None of this was making sense. What else did I miss? An EMT would know not to put herself at risk trying to wipe blood out of the eyes of some stranger.

Kerry, Kerry. They are coming for me. They are coming for me. I didn’t know if I was saying this out loud or not. The world stopped and I blacked out.

About five weeks later my buddies came out for my wedding. New York was still on fire as their plane took flight over the city. There were a few days we couldn’t get hold of Bill. He sent me an email, from Manhattan, which back then was strange, saying he was OK.

My wife and I were married Sept 22, 2001.

In the weeks and years before and after, what should have been going through my head was memories of the wedding. Instead I was seeing the car accident, dozens and dozens of times each day. It is always the same: that bang, sensation of flight, impact, white noise.

We were also living off of credit cards by this point. I had been unable to work for weeks (my clinic was less that a year old so we were flat broke to begin with). That thin line we as a family walked became a piano wire around my neck. I was bleeding out on all sides.

__________________________________

Pro-Tip #2

When you are got up in the thralls of Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome there is something you can do. I nicknamed my technique, going to the movies. At first, when the film ran, my heart rate and blood pressure spiked out of control. I started playing a game with myself. When the film ran, I focused on my breath. I went into meditation mode. Within a couple of weeks I could watch the film without noticeable changes in heart rate, emotion or blood pressure. This went on for almost two years. The film would play, I observed. The film ended. I went on with my life. Yesterday driving home, I was thinking of this post, when I heard that sound again, bam. No film. Just the noise. Where’s the popcorn when you need it? So if you don’t have a meditation practice going, this, I hope is good incentive to look at starting one.

__________________________________

Prior to the car accident I was becoming morbidly preoccupied with the clinic going out of business. Why? I have no idea. The stress of being a first-time business owner had gotten to me. I was sure the clinic was failing. After the car accident, we did. We were in an economic free fall. After the accident I lost fine motor control of my left hand (which is quite a problem for a left-handed acupuncturist) and couldn’t feel my right leg or foot for several years. I also, at this time, started having very intense migraines. After several weeks I went back to work and had to needle right handed for a while. Faced with our imminent closure I learned another valuable lesson.

__________________________________

Pro Tip #3

Ask for help. When you are down and there is nowhere concrete to go you have to ask for help.

__________________________________

I wrote a letter to all of my patients and explained to them that after the car accident I was unable to continue with my work. I mailed it out on Friday. By Monday the next week I had a string of phone calls. My patients and former patients wanted to come in. They were bringing friends. And slowly, very slowly, the dream of my clinic was born again and continues to this day. I dropped all pretense of the ideas of work and free time and threw myself into my practice. The clinic was living on borrowed time. I had to repay it by mastering the medicine. I had to repay the kindness I received by helping alleviate the suffering of others.

In parting, there is nothing to learn gratuitously by suffering or coming close to death. You have to find the lessons and they are written in pain. They are forged in agony. And these lessons can, as St. John of the Cross promised, transmute our soul into something that feels more divine than human.  

Photo Credit: vickiwhiting.com

Field Guide To Near Death Experiences: Part 2

FullSizeRenderThe Rescue Photo!

 

Waves are crashing over our head. The wind is whipping. The sky went dark.

We try a very lame and poorly executed canoe flip. It doesn’t work. Two years ago I managed a self-rescue on my solo canoe when I got certified for Level 1 Wilderness Canoe Skills. I remembered that day. It was sunny day, with just a little bit of snow falling. Pleasant except for the whole freezing in the water thing, but, they did provide us wet suits which we did not have the foresight to procure for our present venture.

So much for school and gentler days. Out here we are getting our asses kicked.

I finally catch my breath. We decide to head for the shore. We each grab a part of the canoe and start paddling towards land. We check in with each other. My friend is white as the caps which are everywhere by now. I tell him my death speech, now I’m riffing off of another awful movie, The Perfect Storm. We both start laughing. More paddling. Each time a wave breaks over my head it clears the water that had been warming by my skin in my jacket. My skin is burning.

Well ahhhh. Bless me father for I have sinnnnnnnnned. But it’s the same old story again and again and again. Ah!

We are singing Flogging Molly to each other. We are the Rebels of the Sacred Heart. And our sacred hearts are feeling icy cold by now.

I don’t think we are making much progress to shore. My buddy disagrees. I like his version much better than mine. One benefit of the aging process: I don’t argue points I don’t want to win.

I’m feeling a second me. As if my awareness just moved a couple inches lateral to the rest of my body. I am OK with this. I’m focusing on my breathing now. I’m in an underwater zendo. Life is good. I am good with the world. Growing up in upstate New York we would flip our canoe at all times of the year. What can I say? Not much to do up there. I’m good with the memories and the swim.

However I am not good with the sirens. I hear them now. We look up the lake. Nobody and nothing in the water. A motor boat had passed us when we first flipped. They drove right by. There was no way they could have seen us in those waves.

I don’t see any boats. Me neither. I have a passing idea that I’m thinking in the third person. Hmm. Shelf that one for now.

We look to the shore. There it is. An ambulance driving slowly on the road.

God, dearest God, I say, please let them keep driving.

They pass us, moving slowly.

Victory I think.

The little red wagon (thank you for that Armin) slows down. I see a row boat coming towards us. More waves crash over my head. The skin stopped burning a while ago.

“Get in the boat. Hop over the side.” He’s done this before. “Don’t worry about your boat. I promise you it’s not going anywhere and I promise I will come back for it.”

My buddy says, take him.

Take him? What is he talking about? I’m staying with the boat. The guy turns towards me and watches me try to get in the boat. He reaches over and hauls me in.  Like a dead salmon, I flop to the bottom of the boat.

I say thank you so much for helping us. I am Scott. He looks at me and says nothing for a few minutes.

“You know the bay is 50 degrees and this water is 51 degrees. It’s cold out here. Cold enough to take you with it.”

He’s not looking at me, oh kind-hearted, stone faced no name. Now he’s moving the boat over to my buddy. He’s in a catamaran dinghy. It’s not flipping over. Not by a long shot. He hauls my friend in. I offer to row back to shore. He doesn’t look at me. He rows us in to our welcome committee: the paramedics are here! The paramedics are here!

I do the old, I’m right as rain. Just want to get my boat and we will be off. No thanks don’t need any help. One of the medics says, fine, let me just get a temperature from you. He has some new high tech gizmo that is supposed to read your temp with a forehead swipe.

It’s not registering, he says, which means you have won a trip to the back of the ambulance.

I’m trying to follow him to the back of the ambulance. My legs aren’t working right. I have to look down at where they are moving and how they are stepping.

The medics fumble around with a couple different thermometers. Someone turns on the heat. Finally a temperature: 92.3, blood pressure 160/110 and pulse rate 110. They put me into sweats and throw a black hat on my head.

I’m not going into the hospital. I am not going to the hospital. I focus on my breathing. Turns out my friend is better adapted to the cold. He beats me by a full degree and a point two. He’s at 93.5 and his BP is elevated, but not by much.

Good grief I think. I would go down first.  Shelf that thought.

We hang out with the guys. They do their job attentively. I do my best to get the hell out of there. When we reach 95 degrees we are set free, almost.

We have no ride to pick us up. They offer to slog us back to my truck. I try to talk them into a drop off near the truck. No use alerting an entire parking lot of our predilection to drama and frigid waters.

No deal. They drop us off. We make some more jokes. I can’t resist a photo op. They snap the picture and we head back home to get warm clothes on.

About an hour later, there we are, boat safely home. Us safely home. The sun is, of course, out by now. We open a few beers have some honey mustard pretzels and my girls soak up every detail.

I am not really feeling anything special. No fear. No remorse. No irritation that they came and bailed us out. Just happy to be here in the sun, above the lake, which no longer has white caps.

_____________

In part 3 we will discuss the aftermath of this kind of event. The psyche reacts in ways that may not be readily apparent.

Your Field Guide To Near Death Experiences, Part 1

 

Rain had been falling for hours through the night and into the morning. The sky was barely a few shades brighter than when I left it the night before. Morning came with coffee and silence.

My morning meditation went like it sometimes does. I closed my eyes and didn’t find myself for the better part of an hour. When I opened my eyes I rubbed them with my palms. I gave thanks for the day and my family. Slowly I stood up, my mind turning to smoke and time.

My kids were upstairs asleep, for now. I lounged about the house fretting over my latest obsession: Franklin Barbecue: A Meat Manifesto. I spend days circling ideas. Sometimes those days stretch into years. It had been this way with Brisket since going to Austin, Texas for my first trip. This book has blown my mind. The brisket recipe is 14 pages long. There are several hundred pages and only 13-15 recipes. Most of the book is dedicated to the why of barbecue.

This morning’s obsession: short ribs, Texas style. You know those cute little short ribs they charge too much at fancy restaurants for? Well this is their big, bad brother. The monsters are almost a foot long and weigh several pounds. All they need is salt, pepper, smoke and time. I rubbed each rib and put them out on the smoker, breaking tradition I opt for apple wood, instead of post oak.

Kids were still asleep. I drank some more coffee.

My kids woke up. We shared a nice breakfast. My daughter’s latest love: gluten free dutch babies. My other can’t get enough of them stackers. Little pancakes layered in yogurt and berries. The stack is done when it falls over.

Another cup of coffee. My friend showed up and we packed up the canoe. It’s a beautiful thing. Full kevlar racing boat. We were training for the Ski To Sea Race. It’s the longest running multi-sport race in the United States. It starts with a cross country ski, then an uphill run/downhill ski, then a bicycle ride, then a canoe, then a mountain bike, then a kayak race. Bill is our runner, but like the snow (we are at less than 10% snow pack this year) had to sit this year out.

We put our canoe in the water. The rain had, for once, stopped. The sun was peeking out. Several boats were on the water. The Lummi tribe was racing their long boat. It’s a ten-person dugout. A gorgeous handmade wooden beauty. It’s fast and powerful on the water.

As we set off into the lake I started fixating on my stroke. I had been reading about the perfect stroke and after observing mine, admitted I had a long way to go. Oh well, in a race canoe, there are ample opportunities to get that perfect stroke down. One of the things I love about canoeing is the ability to make each stroke perfect. Just like Jiro and all of his dreams of Sushi.

A couple of things looking back. For some reason we didn’t head to our normal course. We always hug the far shore and stay close enough to shore that we can use markers on the shoreline for interval training (this is a terrible idea, maximum intensity paddling followed by a short rest and then maximum effort again).

We ended up in the middle of the lake. I wasn’t paying much attention to anything but my paddle. I was trying to time it so my power stroke would kick in only after the blade was well within the water.

My buddy and I chatter a lot when we paddle. We talk about everything. Most of the reason I am on the boat is to spend time together. We were talking when we noticed the water kick up.

Lake Whatcom is a ten mile long, one mile wide beautiful body of water nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. My wife and I spent our first two weeks in Bellingham lakeside, in a mother-in-law apartment that our friends were kind enough to let us stay in while we got situated. We love this lake, and canoeing puts me on it more often.

As the wind kicked up the sky darkened. Within minutes the wind started grabbing my paddle as I brought it forward in my stroke. I started grinning. This was turning into something more fun than torture training for the big race. Up ahead I saw a shelf of white caps coming.

Party time!

Splash. Water all over my lap.

Hmm. That’s not how our other canoe acts in rough water. Another wave, this time I focused on what was happening. I am in the bow. From this vantage point I can see the bow rise up in a swell and then submerge as the whitecaps break over us. We are taking in water from both the front and sides. I know why they call it green water now, because it looks green coming over the bow.

No worries. We have a self bailer.

Guess what? The self bailer doesn’t bail unless you are going faster than the water. So here we were fighting against wind and waves. Definitely not going faster than the water. Most likely we are taking in water from the bailer as well.

Ahhh. So now we are struggling to even go straight into the waves. No worries. By default, we angle towards the far shore. It’s a very long way off. We are taking in water. There is no way we will get there.

The next best decision. Try to turn around and then head straight for the nearest shore. We knew it would be risky, but it was really the only chance we had.

OK buddy you ready. Yeah. Let’s do it. Let’s do it all night long (who doesn’t give the movie Waterboy a nod when you are up a creek without a paddle?).

We initiate the turn. It’s going well for about 30 degrees. I see them coming. There should have been Jaws music out there. More white caps. The first one took us just behind me, on the side. We shifted to the right.

I looked back, my buddy was off balance (he took the wave) and we looked at each other for a brief moment before the next set of waves took us in one great seismic shift, up over and under.

I am not a big fan of swimming.

I am even less a big fan of swimming in 51 degree water.

I like even less than swimming and 51 degrees, not being able to catch my breath.

There we were, boat upturned, far from shore. I can’t catch my breath. My buddy checks in. I laugh, say, I’m good I just need to catch my breath.

Waves are crashing over our head. The wind is whipping. The sky is dark.

End of Part 1. Part 2 will cover not only how we get out of the water, but how the body deals with thermal shock. Part 3 will talk about how the psyche reacts to coming close to the big, deep six holiday.

 

Photo Credit: getwhatcomplanning.blogspot.com