Knowing When to Tighten the Lines and When to Hold Them Loosely
My husband took me sailing when we were dating. He was a newish sailor and enjoyed being a member of a sailing club (which sounds so posh!) and was certified and getting more certifications when we met. That first day on the boat when we took a picnic lunch and spent a beautiful afternoon on the Puget Sound in June is one of my favorite memories. We sure enjoyed ourselves. There’s something about being out on the water. We all know it if we’ve gotten to do it: it’s magical.
From those days I saw firsthand something I’d only read about: working with the lines and the wind to sail easily and make it on to your destination with all crew on board and the boat in good shape. It wasn’t easy – even on pretty days in June! There are some great analogies that come from sailing: a “slack hand” comes to mind. And that idea of loosening my grip on the sail lines was so important that gorgeous day, just as at other times it took all my strength to hold on to that line and not give an inch.
For my life today and for all of humanity, this seems so just, so balanced a way to picture life. It takes experience and wisdom and foresight and preparation and humility to get to where you want to go…and even that will be with detours and through harsh winds and terrible shoals. I love the conversation between Rhett Buttler and Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind near the very end of the book. They and all the country but especially the southern, defeated states have been utterly devastated through war. It is with some surprise that Scarlett and Rhett look around and see that they have both survived. Scarlett is filled with remorse over some selfish, horribly selfish actions. She says:
“I’ve been too afraid my boat would be swamped so I’ve dumped overboard the things that seemed least important.”
“Pride and honor and truth and virtue and kindliness…but look around you, [your friends] are bringing their boats ashore safely with cargoes intact or they are content to go down with flags flying.”
Pride and honor and truth and virtue and kindliness - the things that make us honorable in good and bad times – are easy to let go of and easy to think superfluous. And learning to live with an eye on the weather (circumstances outside our control) and on our boat (our physical bodies, our emotional intelligence and health, our relationships) takes such care and such wisdom. There’s just a lot of things that can change very quickly on the water, and in life.
Margin is the most important thing we can do for ourselves as we scan the horizon and as we make the most of the opportunities we are given. Here are some ways to build in margin:
- Time and space to reflect (a weekly Sabbath is essential)
- Daily walks outside to clear the mind (no earbuds piping your favorite podcast)
- Menial work to help your brain lumber through its machinations (especially if your work is mentally taxing…mowing the lawn, making bread, etc. is a powerful tool to let the brain rest.)
- Turn off the TV, the background music and let the clock tick quietly away as your children play, the neighbor puts up Christmas lights, the traffic passes your house…these are the sounds of calm. Relish them.
- Journal or take time to write habitually.
Do you have some ways you check in with yourself and your surroundings? I’d like to hear about them, I’m a firm believer in loosening and tightening those sails – but it takes more wisdom than I have to know when to do either. Let’s go!