Figuratively speaking, I didn’t even know how to spell ‘sailing,’ much less, spinnaker. Until a few weeks ago, I had never even BEEN on a sailboat. So when I went sailing with my dearest friend and “crewed” a RACE for the FIRST time in my life a few weeks ago, I was nervous. Crewing for a lifelong sailor and a person used to winning regattas all over the planet, I recognized that I had ample cause for concern.
The sailing terminology, alone - which one could easily argue is a contender for fluency in a foreign language - like Mandarin - (not Spanish) – had all of my brain neurons operating on full cylinders. Learning a new language in the midst of an intense competition was a bit – no, really – frightening; and the very real possibility of my completely screwing up for my partner had both my body (think: hiking), and my mind, on edge. While I love water and have a jubilant regard for it, the fear of poor performance on my part, at first, capsized my spirit.
I was guided to look for, and get a feel for, many things: other boats that I spot through the viewfinder in the jib. (Prior to a few weeks ago, a “jib” was a crumb or morsel left on the floor for my dog to discover.) I was taught to scan the elements with my eyes, ears, and body: to see and feel the wind, as it grazes a nebulous kiss over the water, and then, quickly, notice the ever-so-slight altering of the color value of the water. I kept an ever-watchful eye on the tell-tales (2 little steamers that indicate air flow over the sail) to be certain that they were flying in sync. I began to grasp the at-the-right-moment-intuitive sense of when to tack, when to hike, and this - without verbal cues or directives - warmed my heart. These were but a couple of the dozens of cues that a veteran inherently knows, and to which I had just been exposed.
Other than using time to begin the race, time became timeless. We were one with our experience: mindful, focused, and aware. My partner/skipper was gracious not to overwhelm me with the experience; we did not sail the spinnaker during the race. We did, however, take a leisurely, and still educational sail, with spinnaker, after the race was finished. During the race, I was taught to sail “wing and wing” with the jib; essentially, the next-best thing to what the “all-and-powerful-Oz–spinnaker” would have done on our downwind run.
At one point, my partner coached me by saying: “Hard-a-lee,” to which I merely smiled since I was already heartily engaged in the experience. I quickly realized an explanation was offered - a directive that actually DID something: put the tiller down toward the leeward side of boat. (Even the unphonetic pronunciation of “lee ward” - not like a man’s first and last name, but rather like the Louvre – “lourhhd,” adds to the complexity of the language.)
In spite of all my self-doubt in performance; in spite of all of the angst in my gut, this first time sailing a race, was one of the most meaningful and present experiences of my life. I loved it. To the point of joyous tears. The time-stands-still-full sail evoked a powerful heart-tug for me: I had to gulp back the emotional beauty of the experience. Aside from the obvious - that I had a brilliant, compassionate, and exceptionally patient, Skipper, the sailboat – a Flying Scot – had a rich and tender legacy that served to completely immerse my experience into a seamless mind, body, heart, and spirit, synchronicity.
To be that focused with a heartfelt intensity in my soul, got me to thinking about the Coach Poppy newsletter. What if we totally immersed ourselves into all of our interpersonal relations with the mindful posture of a sailor? My initial doubt and anxious fear served as an intense catalyst for not only focusing my mind, yet also for the desire to be a strong performer. Consider, rethinking our anxiousness – like weather helm - (a sailboat’s tendency to steer into the wind) – that we all sometimes feel. Let’s trim our sails of “angst” to lead the race to the weather mark, come about when need be, and ultimately win the race.
The extreme attentiveness I gave to this completely foreign arena is what I am implying: if we give our complete mindfulness to our work, our colleagues, our families, rituals and routines, imagine the Full Sail vibrancy of our lives.