What happiness looks like: myself standing, knees bent, butt pointed out, feet balanced far apart on a paddle board, in the Pacific Ocean off of Vancouver, BC, Canada. Today was my first try at paddle boarding and, though I toppled over a few times, I also managed to get up and stand tall for a goodly portion of the morning, to my own surprise.
I was initially skeptical that I would have any luck at all with this activity, based on my assessment of my balancing abilities and my lack of skill in the swimming department. But it turned out that I was quite enjoying paddling my way up toward False Creek. The sun felt warm on my skin. My legs shook as they shifted to balance with each wave. With me was my partner M and her best friend C.
C had done this once before and instructed us on the proper technique, encouraging us to approach rising to our feet the way a yoga student would approach Downward Dog pose. Not being a yoga practitioner myself, this analogy did little to clarify the right form; much more useful was me watching her carefully as she demonstrated the placement of the feet, the slow rise, the straightening of the back while keeping the butt pointed outward.
It took all my concentration, and once I was standing, my legs trembled as the muscles tried desperately to find some sort of balance. The water was choppy, especially when motor boats charged by and the ensuing waves knocked into my board.
But it felt good to be out in the sun, gliding across the surface of the ocean. I felt a little like Jesus, walking on water. I felt happy. I don’t say that often enough on this site. So much of my mental real estate seems taken up with analyzing the many difficulties my partner and I have faced to get to where we are in our lives. My default, as M likes to say, is dark. Well, today my mood felt light like a buoy on the ocean’s surface; it was doing pirouettes atop of a paddle board.
It was good to set aside some of the worrying and anxiety – and just be.
M says that I am socially odd. She says that part of my awkwardness may be the result of my upbringing as a girl, part of it may be growing up in a country so violent that people exist in a chronic state of subconscious panic. I suspect my years of struggle with finding a gender expression that feels comfortable probably has something to do with it as well. Whatever the origins, M says that my default setting when I interact with other people (especially for the first time), is to assume that they will not like me, that they have no reason to. Consequently, I make little effort to engage, already convinced that it is futile to try. That, in fact, has been an overarching approach to life and to learning new tasks. Why bother, a voice in my head whispers? Usually I have no answer for it.
I have, it’s true, carried with me a deep-seated belief that trying new things, meeting new people, and interacting with others are doomed activities – even as I crave these things desperately. I have existed with the belief that I have nothing of value to offer and therefore am taking up space. My words, actions so often feeling meaningless that I simply assume that others interpret them that way also.
But I’m starting to see that maybe that’s not the case. Maybe letting myself feel complete in this moment, can help me to overcome the subconscious belief that I am irretrievably, unforgivably broken.
I am not broken; I am constantly evolving. And that, is what I learned today as I paddled my way back to the docks. I can’t wait to get out and do it all over again.