Rough Waters Make Good Sailors: 2 Years Later

Two years ago this week, we started going into the first lockdowns of the COVID 19 pandemic. In the ensuing two years, we’ve had plenty of rough waters. I’m reposting the blog I wrote then, because it seems like a good time to reflect. Where are you stronger today than you were because of the “rough seas you have sailed”? I would love to hear from you.

Originally Posted March 15 2020

In what feels like a single moment, the world has completely changed. The slow fires of a virus started spreading months ago. By now, we’ve all been impacted in some way. My world also changed in February 28 when my Dad, surrounded by his four children and wife Jane, left the plane of this Earth.

It’s time to learn to sail this rough ocean. I’m not ready. Neither are you. And that’s okay.

When the pressure is high, we can crumble or we can grow.

In the last few weeks, I’ve learned the value of my regular practices by throwing them out the window. After all, who needs this s@$t when my world is shaken? What better justification to get off the wagon than losing a parent?

For three nights – THREE – I tried eating chocolate cake to cope with my grief and fear. All it got me was 30 seconds of a happy mouth and a headache in the middle of the night. And the yucky feeling of having let myself down. On the third night, I knew better. Yet I watched myself choose the cake. (It did have cream cheese icing after all.) When I put the cake on my plate, I also decided to take an aspirin before bed. Take that, you pesky headache!

Outside of crappy eating, I did choose to stick to my regular morning routine of meditation, prayer and stretching – mostly. I continued to practice patience and listening and kindness – not perfectly but enough to feed my soul – mostly. I allowed people to support me and help me – mostly.

It’s in the midst of the pressure that we become stronger and learn to choose our response to THIS situation based on what’s called for in THIS time – mostly. And mostly is enough. We just keep calibrating and testing and living another day.

As I’ve come to recognize the world as we know it has forever changed, I sat down and made a list of some things I’m going to be working on to make myself a better sailor in these rough seas.

  • Clear thinking – So much data and information is coming our way. I’m deliberately noticing my filters and biases and consciously trying to take the other side of any conclusion I’ve reached.

Example: I want to believe that in my little town of Lake Lure, there’s no one here with the COVID-19 virus because we are way out of the mainstream. This is my save haven. The opposite argument: We have several college rowing teams here for Spring Break. Austin Abel, the ski pro at Mystic Waters just returned from Australia. Local families are traveling the world, including cruises all the time. Thousands of people pass through our grocery store weekly. Most importantly, the COVID-19 arrives long before it announces it presence. Chances are very high the virus here.

  • Reacting just right – ie not over or under reacting. This is something I’m deeply learning in my horse-back riding lessons. My instructor Lynn Brown calls it Suggest Ask Tell Promise. When I ask the horse to take me somewhere, I start with the smallest movement and raise it through those four levels based on the horse’s response. If I start with a big kick (ie Promise), that’s over reacting. If he doesn’t turn when I ask to go right and I keep apply the same pressure (ie Suggest, Suggest, Suggest), that’s underreacting. That’s also known as nagging. Every situation can tell me how to react if I’m present to it and truly paying attention with Clear Thinking.

Example: Back to the grocery store yesterday, as I was chatting in line with the store manager, the woman behind rolled her eyes and said “We’ve lost our damn minds.” I get that reaction. It was mine until I dove in deeper and got behind the media and let my common sense be informed by the facts in front of me. I found this article very helpful to provide a perspective on that I could relate to and act upon.

  • Caring for others When our world gets turned upside down, it’s super easy and understandable to start looking out for ourselves. But just like my chocolate cake, the good it does lasts for about 30 seconds. We can strengthen ourselves by supporting others.

Example: In my last podcast, David Benzel described in this way: “…you know, serotonin is the one that you feel. It’s called the feel good drug in a way, meaning If you perform a random act of kindness, you will experience serotonin. The person who received your random act of kindness receives serotonin. And if a third person observes this whole interaction, even they can experience serotonin.”

  • Getting perspective The Survival Mode in our brains can send us into disaster thinking very quickly. Our mind wants to protect us and it will see danger in every corner. When we pause and lift up to see things from a better vantage point, things are almost never as bad as they appear at first. Just in the last few days, I’ve had several experiences that looked unsolvable at first; with perspective, it becomes more like an inconvenience.

Example: We have had a snow ski trip planned for months. Of course, it’s been cancelled. I’ve decided to see my free week as a gift and will get back to writing my book, which I thought would have to wait much longer.

  • Distinguishing between what I can control and what I cannot Never has this practice been more important. When faced with lots of changes and uncertainty, the first thing I want to do is control the uncontrollable. However, that natural tendency wastes my energy, causes me to ruminate and prevents me from taking effective actions. The most important thing I can control is my reactions to events.

Example: There is no better reminder than the Serenity Prayer.

God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

  • Allowing Grief is part of my new reality. Emotions are running rampant. Stuffing them only makes the pressure worse. Emotions are one of those things you can’t control – but you can allow. What I’ve learned about emotions is that they are like the waves in the ocean. They pass through if you allow them. Just like the waves in the ocean, they will keep coming. But if I allow them, my mind and body is like the beach where they wash up and dissipate. If my mind is like the sea wall, they crash, roil, bounce back and erode my strength.

Example: I’m allowing myself to cry. I’m allowing myself to feel. When I go there, the waves pass. If I’m with you and my eyes well up with tears, it’s okay to allow it. It’s part of being human.

  • My pressure threshold Pressure may be the best teacher we can ask for. We all have a pressure threshold, which is the point at which we can no longer exercise our skills. Any athlete who has ever choked at the big moment or anyone who has blown the interview or the sales presentation or the speech knows exactly what I’m talking about. Under the pressure of the moment, I’m going to deeply work on my mental tools, which are invisible, in order to deliberately raise my ability to be at my best in difficult times.

Example: For this one, I’m switching metaphors from sailing to walking. Imagine that I asked you to walk across a parking lot and stay on a 12 inch straight path without falling. Almost everyone can do that easily. Now let’s move into the balance beam. It’s four inches wide and four feet off the ground. Can you walk it without falling? Probably – but maybe not easily. Now let’s move our 12 inch path to a tall building under construction. Whether it’s several stories or dozens of stories, I’m telling you, I can’t do the exact same thing I can do on the ground that high up in the air. It’s beyond my pressure threshold right now. But it’s not an impossible task – as these guys show us. They have a different pressure threshold.

  • Breathing This is the granddaddy practice of all. Yes, I know you are breathing if you are alive. We all are. But chances are we are taking shallow breaths. We are taking mindless breaths. I catch myself shallow breathing all the time. Yet deep, mindful breaths can cleanse us and feel so good! In times of anxiety and stress and pressure, breathing is free and it works. There are several ways to breathe that can make an immediate difference in how you feel. Click this link to watch my short series on breathing.

Example: In addition to the breathing series, here’s a practice that take one minute to completely change how you feel. Take a deep breath and hold it as you simultaneously clench all your muscles. Make a fist, curl your toes, squeeze your thighs and buttocks and stomach and arms as tightly as you can. Count to 10 and release your muscles and exhale and let go as you count to 10. Repeat for a total of three times.

We have no idea what’s coming – much like our ancestors through all the many times of turmoil in history, we will do our best to make it through. The greatest generation came out of the Great Depression.

Do I wish we were sailing in smooth waters right now? Yes! But we’re not. I’m not. Now is the time to grow and learn and become a stronger, better sailor. So I’m going to show up the best that I can. I learned the most from my Dad by watching him. This is how he would do it.

Tell me in the comments what practices you are using that really work for you. And if you know someone who would love this article, please share it with them!