I’ve been living “on the hook” anchored in various locations in Panama, aboard a sailboat for close to 2 months now. My life has slowed to a pace that moves with the rhythms of the rolling sea and the changing tides of the spots we anchor in. I stay aware of when the sun rises and when the moon will appear over the watery horizon; I get to know the underwater terrain, sea life, reefs, sunken ships, and changing currents around every new place I live. The dance of light and water – my favorite thing on this planet – is my constant companion in every hour of my existence here on Milagro.
The bulk of my days are spent in contemplation and deep self-care, moving with the changing heat of the sun or passing rainclouds, prioritizing the occasional pressing need to clean a fish that’s just been caught, purchase veggies and fruit off the veggie boat, or process a fruit or vegetable that will go bad soon in the humid air.
It’s radical, yet so normal to slip into being with the natural rhythms of the day and night and to have the time to deeply listen to my body, full of the aches and pains of living. After a few years of unraveling the trappings of the demanding life I created, it has become simpler to drop into living this way.
My daily movement practice has become an unusual mash up of pilates, body rolling, stretching, physical therapy exercises, floating or swimming in the sea, meditation, yin, and hatha yoga. Instead of going to a class where I am guided through one practice, I roll my mat out on the bow of this hardtop catamaran and find stillness in my being while being lulled by the constant movement below me. From that place of calm, influenced by the sounds of lapping water, breaking waves, sailboat rigging, wind, and sea birds, I tap into a deep inner body wisdom that knows which combination of practices is needed during my daily sessions.
In my first few weeks of this, I struggled with routine, as the sudden and often heavy rains abruptly interrupted my practice, or the wind would become still, the clouds would dissipate, and the pounding heat of the sun would make a practice brutal. I was doing regular hour-long pilates workouts before I left home, and set out with an intention of keeping that up. Sometimes I’d struggle to navigate around the part of myself that was disappointed by my slow-paced stretching instead of long sets of crunches and leg lifts. So I took up another practice: witnessing this self-talk and letting go of these self-inflicted expectations. I have no intention of pushing my body to extremes anymore; my culture has taught me how to master that form of living.
As a single-income parent of two boys, property owner, teacher, and proprietor of various side-business ventures, I maintained my status as an over-achiever and very hard worker. From sun-up to way after sundown I was on the move. It took me years to learn how to sit on a couch or watch a movie without the weight of the demanding thoughts gnawing at me to be productive with all of my waking moments.
The busyness became a way to stay out of the painful emotions, to make a decent life for my boys and me, and a ticket to being celebrated and admired for my so-called successes in life. I was financially thriving as a single mom; I carried two mortgages, managed my rentals, did a lot of my own property maintenance, worked over full time and was always able to keep up with the costs of feeding and clothing two growing boys and their hungry friends. I attended most of the variety of my kids’ year-round sports games and meets and managed the monetary demands for the various sporting equipment required by my super sports mom duties.
As my culture celebrated my accomplishments, my ego thrived; my mind lost much of its ability to be present and my body degraded. The stress of never being able to get it all done and the constant feeling of overwhelm at the sight of my to-do lists had me feeling like I was always bailing water on a sinking ship. Wrecked at the end of each day from the pains in my feet, legs, neck, and back, I collapsed into bed with the alarm set and the morning’s coffee ready to go, so I’d be ready to pop up and do it all again.
My days as a hard-core competitive swimmer had taught me how to push my body beyond what it needed and desired and how to negate my body’s animal instincts; it was deeply ingrained in my psyche how to push beyond pain and find the outer limits of physical and mental strength to overcome my body’s resistance. This skill served me well as the sole provider for my kids, yet has left me suffering through the physical reality of living in a body that didn’t know how to listen to the deep inner wisdom that comes with stillness, mindfulness, and knowing when to stop. Often my body would be screaming at me with various degrees of pain that I learned how to work or play harder to get through.
I had to book massage and acupuncture sessions to get myself to stop for an hour or two every other week. I didn’t know how slow down enough to consistently self-care without a bodywork session written into my planner. I didn’t have time for a regular exercise, meditation, or yoga practice; I’d just fit in a little bit here and there or go out dancing where I could get lost in the music and energy of the crowd and further ignore the pains in my feet. I figured I was on the move enough everyday for my daily activity to count as exercising.
There were periods of time in my past where the screaming pain in my body got so loud I was forced to listen. After waking up one morning with what felt like a crick in my neck from sleeping in a strange position, I suffered greatly on and off for a period of two years with various degrees of not being able to turn my head or lift my arms above the height of my shoulders when I woke up. I built a life that would collapse without my insane workhorse effort driving it, so I took ibuprofen, muscle relaxers, used sports balms, herbal supplements, and used cannabis to attempt to manage the pain. All the while, I poured money into the hands of chiropractors, massage therapists, and my acupuncturist, yet still suffered from this mysterious ailment – the ailment of a lifetime of too much, a mind full of stress, and a body pushed too hard.
This past summer one of my shoulders got so inflamed from my lifetime of too much “big man work” as I would call it, that I could barely even put my own shirt on. I’d wake up with it throbbing and spend much of my day silently trying to manage existing with this degree of pain. After months of dedication to physical therapy, massage, body rolling, laser and sonogram treatments, strength building, and listening to my body’s guidance I am swimming and sailing free again. If I had been going at the same pace I have lived for most of my adult life, I don’t believe I would have been able to heal this as quickly; some things take a great deal of time and energy and can’t just be pushed to the back burner all the time.
One of the many gifts of this last eight weeks has been having the time to witness the ways my self-care choices and the sea are gently transforming my body. Similar to the slow process of a river carving a canyon, I feel the wind, waves, sun, and water shaping me into a new form.
The sea and her constant movement have entered every cell of my being. I am learning to dance to the rhythms of nature and my body’s intuitive, instinctual knowing in a very interconnected way. My life on this watery planet, in this body weathered by the scars of living, will never be the same after this deep communion between myself and the sea.