Sunday, March 4, 2012

Breathing lessons

Sailing has been an undeniable family adventure for more than thirty-five years. Angling through waves, surfing swells with dolphin, hearing the voluminous gush before spotting the spouting behemoth, diving into the warm sun-streaked waters, lulling into slumber at anchor….STOP! Who really believes that stuff?

When the ocean churns turbulent green, so do I. Traditionally, I have invoked seasickness as the perfect excuse to avoid the nautical threats outside my comfort zone, the discomforts of weather and sea conditions, the expanse of the open ocean, and well, just going green while being trapped aboard until terra firma is reached. For me, sailing, not unlike confronting fears, is about breathing deeply…inhaling fresh wind and freedom and exhaling overwhelming motion and e-motion.

One time the fog engulfed us as we were heading back to the marina. We couldn’t see more than five feet around us. While opagueness engulfed us, different-sized foghorns blasted from vessels about us. Our modest chartered sailboat was not equipped with radar, only a broken foghorn. We were a silent and indefensible target out in the open. Kids and I as crew spaced ourselves around the boat on lookout while sailor husband navigated and worked to repair our foghorn. “Whale!” shouted voices from a very close boat. We saw its fluke and felt its wake as we steered past the splash and the other boat. Through the fog, beyond the green, the wide open yielded the wonder of a whale sighting. Breathe in family, exhale resistance.

Sailing, the ocean, and venturing out into the open—from behind walls, from underneath guilt, from within captivity and through fears—challenges my excuses, and my pattern of self-protection. The words of a fellow struggler, an author, push back: “here-time asks me to do the hardest of all: just open wide and receive.” I lingered long in the motionless, soothing safety of a soak tub. Warmth and peace blanketed me like the foamy bubbles. Receive…the word drifts from mind to open fingertips as I lay suspended, arms floating still, palms up. What was I open to receive? Inhale...exhale…inhale…exhale.

Pondering an invitation to reconnect with a friend from the past, I walked the beach looking out over the horizon of endless ocean. The ebb and flow of swells undulated through the depths forming the waves that tumbled into shore at me. What was she wanting of me? I pulled back from the surf’s intrusion like I retreated from my friend’s invitation to meet. Later, lunch with my friend from the past was simply an open heart-connection between two women having traveled similar paths. Breathe in acceptance, exhale judgment.

Not too long ago, my husband-captain and I set sail to Santa Cruz Island off the coast of Southern California. The winds were pleasantly brisk. By the time we were more than halfway to the island, the wind and waves were beating against us. And everything went green. I lay down in the cockpit staving off the greenness and contempt for sailing, the weather, the ocean, the captain, and myself for choosing to be out in the open. The howling wind and tumultuous swells continued into the night while at anchor…as did my nausea. Choose to inhale peace; choose to exhale helplessness.

The next morning was crisp, clear and breath-less. My husband-captain brought me hot tea in bed and we stayed under the covers reading until the sun warmed the air. On our return, I stretched out on the cockpit cushion in the warmth of sunshine avoiding the wafting smell of diesel (which also makes me green). My husband set our course, adjusted the mainsail, tweaked the autopilot…while I purred like a cat in her favorite sun-lit spot. I awoke to a caring captain asking me what I’d like to drink with my lunch. Breathe in love, exhale captivity.