Having spent a bit of time with my family in Canada, we escaped the city for a few days to the deep woods of my parent’s cottage.
Set on a black-glassy lake, edged by birch and pine, it is an ideal place to unplug and reflect. And a wonderful place to get out in the canoe and explore nature from a water perspective.
The final morning I was there, I decided to go out on one last paddle. The wind was strong but at my back as I headed out onto the lake. What followed were a series of emotions (including panic) and lessons that were so powerful that I contemplated them even as I was experiencing them (a wonderful merging of subconscious and conscious processing). While these lessons may not make you a better canoeist, there may be a message or two that might resonate with you which travels from backwoods to city streets and beyond.
Sometimes we need to go a different direction to get where we want to go (for now)
After quickly finding my way out in the middle of the lake, I began to swing the bow around 180 degrees to go directly back. However, with the now howling wind, I couldn’t paddle fast enough to edge myself back in the opposite direction. I tried a number of times and started to tire.
Because the subconscious mind is the highly protective mind (and sometimes seen as a bit of a downer especially when we are tired) I immediately prepared for the worst. I was NEVER going to get back. As you can see, the mind can jump to conclusions very quickly.
The subconscious is also where our direct and indirect experiences are stored. So memories of days-long canoe trips, my Aunt’s guiding voice on stern lessons (the back of the canoe, not the seriousness of them), as well as other, non-lake challenges and expertise popped to mind. The conscious mind did the calculations on angles and wind direction, the subconscious provided the know-how stored deep within.
While I’ve heard jokes that go like – “the shortest distance between two points is often under construction” – it seems to happen in our lives more often than our optimism and short-term memory allows.
Humans are amazing beings that can adapt, change directions, find new paths… even as we really want to go by the simplest or most direct path. Events that go flawlessly may give you a rare, giddy feeling of ease; however, with all the variables that life has to offer, being able to adapt and change directions is a skill that is invaluable.
Had I refused to angle differently to the wind towards a cove that was far from my destination, but a more protected place to regroup, I’d have worn myself out trying for that one ‘perfect’ return. In this situation, in the canoe it was physical and obvious, but are there other times in life where I (or you) continue to want to ‘turn around into the wind’? I know there may be some places in my life that need a bit more of an indirect approach to experience a deeper, longer-term feeling of success.
Worst Case Repositioning
After the wave of “I’m NEVER getting back” washed over me, I took a moment to revisit my ‘expect the best but prepare for the worst’ (the preparing I was a bit short on, see below) to actually think about the outcome of a ‘real’ worst-case scenario (excluding lightening, aliens and unknown, under-lake volcano explosions).
It ended up that I would just be blown to the island in the middle of the lake and would have to take a long route around the circumference of the lake – quite a way, but not impossible. That reduced the fear of something really, really bad happening within my mind, and gave me something even more…
Energy and clarity tend to be two positive side effects of reviewing and releasing unhelpful emotions. I say unhelpful in this instance because worrying about all the things that might happen (real or imagined) without limit was using up mind power, attention and focus on the goal of getting out of the situation. While fear, for example, is very useful to keep us safe, it can end up being an over-protective tyrant, or as if we’ve got too many layers of clothes on which makes it harder to see or breathe.
Sometimes we forget to take a step back and articulate the worst that may befall us. Long paddle around the lake? Can do. Even falling out of the boat and having to swim back. Also can do. [My editor noted I should have stayed with the boat – another thing I could have done quite competently]
With that clear, I could focus my energy not on my panic, but on my resolution to move towards my goal.
Are there any times or situations where fear or another emotion tends to fog the clarity of your abilities and strengths? Sometimes a quick review of the worst, no matter how bad it might be, can give you the impetus to coordinate your facilities and talents in the direction you need.
Preparation can be useful
Before I started I noticed that the rain the night before had left a fair ‘puddle’ in the canoe, but I thought, ‘not a problem, I’ll just sit on the seat’. As I was paddling against the wind, this position didn’t work for leveraging my body, so I kneeled down and ended up completely soaked. Would it have been better later on to take a few minutes to dump the water? Probably.
The subconscious mind often struggles with its desire for economy (laziness?) – actually, the subconscious is quite happy with economy, it is we who struggle sometimes. For example – habits that no longer work. We don’t have to put in the time or energy to change something, so we keep doing (or not doing) what we’ve been doing (or not doing). Doing something differently requires the energy of a shift, so often, if the consequences are small enough (damp but dry clothes at the destination) or the energy it may appear to take to change seems too big (lifestyle shifts, uncertain outcomes from changes in emotional patterns), we’ll avoid the prep time and keep with the familiar or easiest way.
Hypnosis can certainly reduce the energy and conscious-mind conflict of making a big change in life, yet for some, even that choice can be a challenge. While spending an hour in dripping clothes wasn’t the worst thing on earth, I did manage to make a deal with myself for next time that I’d dump before I started. The continued discomfort was more than the energy I’d need to bail the water from the hull (if it had been safe to do so). Is there something that continues to annoy or inhibit at even a low level? Give me a call and I’d be happy to support you to make the change you want or need.
At times, the forces ‘against’ us actually push us forward
Another thing that I noticed is that once I was heading back(ish) I started to use the challenges to move me forward. I positioned myself in a way that the wind served to right my one-sided stroke. It was, as if, there was someone in the bow who was slowing me down a bit, but keeping me on track.
Have you ever had a memory of a time when the challenges you faced revealed some of the greatest strengths within you? Or unlocked a desire that you might not have discovered if not ‘pushed’? We’re not talking about unnecessary bullying (by self or others), but often our reaches to the extraordinary can later become ‘ordinary’ at yet a higher level.
While a constant struggle against an opposing force doesn’t seem like a fun or particularly fulfilling way of existing, sometimes looking at ‘contests’ in a different way can speed our learning curve and support our movement in the direction of our goals. For example, a sports team that is matched by an equal or slightly more experienced contender can boost skill levels. A reachable deadline can force focus and completion on a task that could have taken longer. Even the threat of a job-loss might force honing up skills or other valuable expertise for landing more comfortably in the future.
Instead of shaking my fist at the wind, I found a way to use that challenge to my advantage. What’s your wind right now?
Sometimes you don’t look great doing what you need to do (or What’s the bigger picture here?)
As has often been the case in the past, my ego was actually my biggest challenger. I was taught to stick to a side and paddle different strokes from that same side. However, as I was spinning in the wind, that didn’t work. As the gusts changed from time to time, it also didn’t work so well (not having the practice and recent muscle memory). So I swapped from side to side, and silently reprimanded myself for looking ‘stupid’ (as if the cottagers were looking out their windows and critiquing my strokes).
Fortunately, I kept myself on track by looking at the bigger picture. The goal was to get back to shore safely, not take home the prize for the prettiest sculling.
Have you ever stopped yourself from doing something because you might look foolish? I’ve been challenged by looking like a beginner when I’m a beginner (go figure), and know I’m not alone. I’m writing this right now, so I succeeded at my bigger goal of getting home. The smaller ‘loss’ of a little face was put into perspective by the physical challenge I faced (I could die, rather than ‘die’ of embarrassment), but the emotionally protective part of the subconscious mind may not really notice a big difference. The threat is the same.
What part of your life might benefit from getting support in (or reminding you of) the bigger picture, the more important goal, the actual prize? How could your life and energy shift when you let go of unnecessary distractions about looking silly or uncool? How ‘cool’ would it be to have actually fulfilled the larger and more important image and made it your life?
As I pulled into the bay and docked, I felt a wave of gratitude – for all that I learned to get me there and all that I continue to learn with each ‘paddle stroke’ I take in my life…