Sail Away With Me Honey

In the last post I spoke about falling in love. Well, the story goes, we fell in love and then we sailed off into the sunset, quite literally.

The American is passionate about water and floating on it. He went to sailing camp as a child and now owns a sailboat of his own and dreams about traversing the world in it one day, emulating couples like Alex and Taru, the ex sound engineer and yoga-model-hottie, whose blog he follows. This video gives you a taste of their adventures (warning, the first 30 seconds are total gratuitous boat yoga porn):

Naturally, with roles models like these, the American’s first choice for our first ever couples holiday, was to do a bareboat charter. Note: bareboating is a disceptively sexy word. While it does mean you will be alooooone, it also means you will have no crew whatsoever and have to do all the hard work.

Despite having grown up at the beach, my own boating experience is tainted with apprehension. The first time I went proper sailing for a work regatta I almost chickened out twice, first when I heard I would be sharing a boat with four middle aged men from our Technology division and then during the safety briefing, when one of said middle aged men concluded by telling us how many people die every year by ‘silly’ things like being hit by the boom. When I expressed concern, he told me I’d be ‘just fine honey’ and assigned me to winching duty for the next 48hrs, during which I abstained from a single toilet visit but was briefly released to cook the boys rice and beans over an open flame at high sea. I winched and boiled like a trooper but cried when I got home.

Subsequently, friends have tried to convince me that the the right kind of sailing is more cocktails and sunsets, less rope burn and I’ve had enough pleasant outings on the American’s boat to realize that I got off to a wrong start. And as the American hadn’t had a proper holiday in four years, I thought it was only fair that he get to go on the holiday of his dreams. So we booked seven nights onboard a 37 foot Moorings Monohull boat in the pristine BVI (British Virgin Islands) and the countdown began.

GB_Virgin_IslandsBefore we left, we talked playfully about what it would be like working together on the boat. I suggested that shouting at me under hurricane or other unforeseen nautical conditions would be unacceptable. He seemed in total agreement and assured me I wouldn’t have to do a thing. I could provision (Boat for shop and cook), keep an eye out for pirates and do boat yoga like the hottie in the blog. It sounded idyllic. I would read, tan/freckle and impress him with my galley (Boat for kitchen) and not getting seasick skills. While I had mentally psyched myself up for the trip I was a little surprised by peoples reaction to our choice of first couples holiday together. The thought of seven nights ALONE together, AT SEA, seemed to freak people out. Wasn’t it a lot of PRESSURE? What would we SAY to each other for all that time? What if I needed to POOP? What if we needed SPACE? All good questions and I had no idea what the answers were but I figured as long as I wasn’t yelled at or left to starve I’d be fine. And I wasn’t (yelled at or starved) and I was (fine).

Some time has passed now since that trip and I fondly refer to it as TOAL (Trip of a Lifetime). It was in many ways the trip to end all romantic trips:

Sunrises and treasure hunt surprises,

IMG_0539followed by on-board breakfasts to fuel sunny days at sea in the Caribbean trade winds,

IMG_0691swimming with techni-colour fish in turquoise blue water (sad side bar: the coral is going brown and disappearing),

bluefishPina Coladas on secluded sun loungers,

IMG_0606and bareboat exploration…

DCIM100GOPROWhile it was amazing, it could have been stressful. People are people, whether we’re in paradise or going about the daily grind. We get moody and tired. Sometimes on vacation, when all the noise dies down, we can be even more reflective and plagued by more existential thoughts than usual. I sometimes find that the more sublime the location and experience, the more my petulant mind will wonder, to the past and to the future, suddenly wanting to confront things like meaning and failure and hope.

Our boat, Escape Yourself, was aptly named:DCIM100GOPRODespite the serene refuge of Escape Yourself and the extreme proximity to the American, I felt needier than usual. I wanted him to stop fiddling with the boat instruments, hold me tight and gaze into my eyes for seven days straight. I also missed missing him like I do in the city when I don’t see him for a day and hoped we’d still miss each other when we returned and not be saturated from our sail time together.

Luckily, I know how my mind works on holidays and decided to shut it down for the duration of the trip. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, meditation helps with this.

GOPR0299As I also mention in that post, I haven’t yet mastered the art of meditation. I’m still on 5 minutes, which is apparently not enough to totally silence the mind on a TOAL vacation in paradise with the LOML.

And having thought long and hard about why this is, I leave you with a great sea faring quote:


All the thoughts of a turtle are turtle
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Special thanks to Maureen Muller for providing us with provisioning recipes fit for sea gods

And to Simon and Cate of Surfsong BVI for being such wonderful ambassadors for the island and almost hosting us on on our return from sea.

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Five Minutes of Mindlessness

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I can’t remember the first time I officially came across the concept of meditation. I think I originally thought of it as my favourite part of Bikram yoga. The part at the end where you lie down on the mat and do nothing:

savasana sketchThere are lots of official schools of meditation but for me the simplest way to describe it is the act of emptying your mind to create space for thoughts that are bubbling beneath the surface. Another description I like is one by the great meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, who says meditation is ‘training our attention so that we can be more aware’. This kind of mediation is often referred to as ‘mindfulness’ (making you more mindful and aware of yourself and others).

I actually prefer to think of it mindlessness. I like the idea of actively trying to think about nothing. It sounds hard but I think it could bring a lot of calm to a modern way of life that has us rushing from the moment we jump out of bed in the morning clasping our iPhones, to the moment we collapse back into bed at night

When I started asking yoga teachers for advice on how to meditate, the response was varied. Some people advised practicing on a noisy train and others suggested taking a class. I knew I would need a group to keep me disciplined so I asked the teacher at my local yoga studio if she would volunteer her time to teach yoga and meditation in our Community Garden. It turns out there was more demand for yoga so we started offering that on a Friday, but that’s how I was able to trick myself into doing five minutes of meditation on my own in the garden every morning before work. I must confess that I didn’t stick to it for very long but long enough to get a first hand sense of how it should feel and what some of the benefits are.

Here’s how I did it:

  1. I set a timer for 5 minutes on my iPhone. I recommend calming frog chirping sounds to ease you back into the world at the end.
  2. I crossed my legs in a Buddha pose and tried not to think about the passers-by staring at me through the fence. The experts say you don’t have to be in a Lotus pose but your posture should strike a balance between alert and relaxed.
  3. I closed my eyes and focused on breathing in and out of my nose. Other techniques to help you focus include counting or concentrating on an object.
  4. As banal thoughts like doing the laundry crossed my mind, I recognized them and then dismissed them. As deeper thoughts and emotions crossed my mind, I again recognized and then dismissed them. The experts say we shouldn’t be frustrated with ourselves when we get distracted by silly thoughts or emotions. We should take note of the experience and then return to focus on our breath.
  5. I sometimes ended my session by telling myself things like ‘You are Beautiful’ and ‘You are Powerful’. While I’m not sure this is officially recommended by the experts I don’t think it can hurt.

What I experienced:

  1. Observing my thoughts go by from a distance gave me a sense of perspective
  2. I’d sometimes have a good idea pop into my head like a lightening bolt, probably because I’d freed up some space for it
  3. If something had been bothering me, I’d suddenly become aware of what it was
  4. If unforeseen drama erupted later that day I was less likely to be swayed by it
  5. I emerged feeling much more focused and in tune with what was on my mind

Other people might have different epiphanies from meditation but all practitioners agree that it brings a keener sense of focus and calm. On days that I hadn’t meditated and disaster struck I found myself wondering if my reaction to the situation would’ve been different if I had spent five minutes in the garden that morning preparing myself for the world. I’m convinced I would’ve responded with less frustration and been less personally affected. I think that while we can’t dictate what the world throws at us, we can control our reaction to it. That way we can preserve our energy for the things that are important to us.

Now that I’ve convinced myself (and hopefully you) of the benefits of regular meditation sessions, all that remains is the actual doing part. I’m not sure why I slipped out of my morning ritual but probably because, like most rewarding things, it requires a bit of effort and discipline. But as Spring is here and it’s time to de-clutter, I commit to starting my day in half lotus pose again:

lotus sketch

I highly encourage you to give it a try. None of us can say we can’t spare five minutes a day…

Further reading:

An Antidote for Mindlessness – the New Yorker

Meditation transforms roughest San Francisco schools – SFGate

In Silicon Valley, Meditation Is No Fad. It Could Make Your Career – Wired

Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: A 28-Day Program – Susan Salzberg