I’ve been writing this story for eight weeks. You see, I didn’t understand what put me over the edge.
Perhaps, it was that all of my excuses weren’t working. Perhaps, it was the time I’d spent watching others doing what I wanted to do. Perhaps, it was the prospect that I could go beyond my worries that keep me from doing all kinds of things, even less risky things, like making a phone call or speaking to my neighbour. Perhaps, if I knew what held me back, well, I’d probably think of another reason I couldn’t…
I live on the tip of Vancouver Island, surrounded by water. I’ve surrounded myself with images of paddle boarders on note cards, in magazines, and just blocks from my front door there are real-life ones launching their boards at the inlets by the marina. For more than a year, I’ve waded in the seawater most months and, on a few occasions, even dipped my whole body in the colder-than-comfortable chill.
I wasn’t necessarily looking for insight into my experience. I’d wondered plenty about why I held back from doing what I imagined I could do. In an episode of “On Being” podcast, Father James Martin’s words caught my attention. The way of Ignatius was about finding freedom. The episode titled “Finding God in all things,” explored the practices of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I kept listening.
Fr. Martin said that Ignatius wanted us to be free of anything that keeps us from following God. He mentioned those things as “disordered attachments.” I’m not sure what that means or if my longing for the water sport that has consumed imaginative energy over the years, counts as an attachment or as following God.
I have vivid visions of myself on a stand-up paddleboard, my bare feet skimming the water as I consume the spaciousness and wonder that would surely envelop me. That particular dream doesn’t seem like an attachment that would hinder my relationship with the divine. What holds me back? Maybe, there is more to uncover.
Father Martin explained freedom in a way that kept me wondering. He said that I might need to let go of some things—things that prevent me from doing my ministry. I suppose I don’t think I have a clear “ministry,” since that was defined by my job and now I am let loose from that identity. However, there are things—inside and outside me—that keep me from connecting in my world, that keep me from being open, trusting, and unselfconscious about measuring up and being myself.
One way to let go of something is to experience it, he said.
My desire to stand up on a paddleboard in the Salish Sea may not qualify as “my ministry,” however, I did feel like those words, experience it, were directed my way. But hang with me for a few more minutes; I still had more to learn about why I did not just try it, years before.
I believed it was fear that was disguised in all my excuses. And it wasn’t really fear of the deep, unknown, cold water. When I consider my excuses, “I don’t have anyone to paddle (or learn) with” was one I often used. But the truth is that I didn’t ask. I didn’t know anyone who paddle-boarded and that was technically true. However, I live a few blocks from the marina with a paddle shack. I regularly walk by vehicles adorned with a rack of paddleboards on top and a logo on the door advertising their business to satisfy longing people like me.
It is not fear of cold water or those bobbing seals, but another thing that is open to exposure– my self-consciousness to risk my imagined competent self, to show my vulnerable unsure-ness—that is paralyzing and makes no sense. Maybe, I’m reluctant to show up for something just for the joy of it.
I experienced the same thing when I walked by the “Know Yoga, Know Peace” studio in the town where I lived many years ago. The door was open when I walked by on Saturday mornings on my way to the Farmer’s Market. I confidently read the menu board of the day’s classes wishing I knew what those titles meant.
I’d imagine myself in that serene place instead of standing in front of the yoga instructional video in my living room. I wanted to unlock the secrets of practicing in that candle-lit studio where no chit-chatting was allowed. I only imagined the accomplished version of me, not the one who would learn and grow in that community.
Yet, it was only a few months until I walked through the door with my ten-dollar yoga mat ready to risk my illusion. I showed up in February, committed to something I was reluctant to begin as a Lenten discipline. I went for 30 days and was rewarded with an extra free week for my faithfulness. In that deep-hued room with a picture of Jesus and all the other representatives of major faith traditions on the wall, I made the journey to meet God and myself in new ways.
You’d think I would have remembered that experience and made the connection between my yoga story and my paddling story. I am wrangling these words to sort out why I still hesitate to go against that instinct to protect or even limit myself. That is where the next part of Ignatius’ wisdom cracked my armour.
One way to let go of something is to experience it.
Agere Contra, to act against, is necessary. Sometimes we have to act against our instincts to do what we actually really want to do. Ignatian Spirituality explains that we can deliberately choose to go against what our tendency might be, tenancies like my self-consciousness that protects the illusion of my perfect self, that hold me back.
So, I signed up: Friday, 12:00 pm, on the north end of Willow Beach.
I’d window-shopped the South Island SUP website many times. I’d seen the black vehicle with the logo on the side and paddleboards near the water when I walked the beach or the dog. In mid-February, I stood on the shore of Roberts Bay in my winter coat and followed six dots across the water as they grew to full-sized paddle boarders landing right in front of me. Well, I stood back a little to not seem like a voyeur.
With expert guidance, I did stand up with my bare feet inches from the surface of water that didn’t seem so cold. We headed out to an island of seals that seemed farther than I could imagine—I, too, would have been a dot seen from the shore. But, I didn’t get there. My paddling skill and the strength of the tide returning cancelled my steady progress forward.
I did learn to turn around and paddle back to shore with the tide. I kept my eye on a crab trap buoy to mark my forward progress. We paused to sit down on our boards, look around, and rest in the spaciousness. I slipped off the board to practice getting back on. It didn’t count, though, since I could easily touch the bottom to give myself a lift. It didn’t matter; there would be another time.
My paddling dream is a prayer, opening me to a new way of being in divine relationship with all things and particularly the part of the world I inhabit right now. I see the exact shoreline I walk daily from another view. I experience that newness by letting go, if even for a few hours, of my hold on myself.
Wonder is a divine gift we share—if I allow it. Richard Wagamese wrote in One Drum that when we allow a sense of wonder, something magical happens within us. We believe we can transcend our difficulties and old pain. For me, the gaze is beyond the traditional ways of seeing my longing and belonging in Christ.
God is in all things—even my banged-up toes that skim the surface of the salty water that circles the entire earth.
Mitch took this picture from shore when he waited for me. I AM one of those five dots paddling back after watching the sunset from the water.