Monday, January 2, 2012

Take up your oars

As we settle into the first week of 2012 I’m thinking about rowboats.

Tidying up some old stuff I came across notes I made at a ‘Business and Consciousness’ conference in Mexico. It was a long time ago – 1999, I think, the year in which we were all worried about how Y2K might shred our lives, just as now there’s a heap of fretting about the arrival of the fabled 2012.

Not that we should worry overmuch – I can still remember people being nervous of 1984 because of George Orwell’s bleak novel of that name. It's interesting how we've always stayed afloat despite all the angst.

I heard lots of high-impact speakers in my 1999 week in Acapulco, and one guy (whose name I can’t remember) did a whole session on that folk song we all know so well and probably sang in rounds at school or around campfires: Row, row your boat, gently down the stream…

He made me think of it in a whole new way, pointing out that every line is worth considering in terms of being good advice for living life well.

Here’s the guts of what he said:

Row, row, row your boat – Do what you’re good at. And keep doing it until you reach your desired destinations, whatever they may be.

Gently down the stream – Go with the flow. Do not flail, panic or mess about. Seek out smooth water. Avoid getting sidetracked by exploring minor side streams. Don’t get caught up in overhanging trees or submerged obstacles. Be wary of whirlpools and scary rapids. All can impede your progress.

Merrily, merrily, merrily – keep a sense of humour at all times. Laughter makes everything better and eases all your dealings with other people.

Life is but a dream – don’t take everything so seriously. Much of the stuff we think is important, such as ambition and success, is just an illusion.

It’s hard to argue with any of that. Basic rowboat philosophy works.

I looked into a rowboat often in 2011. Twin grandsons arrived and for a few weeks, while they were still small enough, they slept together in a beautiful cradle boat hand-made by my husband. Sailing ship carpenters used to make little boats like this for times when an infant arrived during long sea voyages. The boat would be slung from ceiling rafters to rock the baby with the movement of the ship.

Our grandbabies are pictured here at two weeks old, frowning and sleepy. Nine months later, they have of course graduated to individual cots. The cradle boat is empty again, waiting for a next small body to be soothed to sleep inside it.

Then, as the year turned over, I was nudged by yet another rowboat reminder. Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes (author of a long-ago much admired book, Women Who Run With the Wolves) is a prolific Facebook updater who has 25,000 followers, including me.

She wrote a lovely New Year’s Eve piece about what she calls ‘the little red rowboat of the heart’ and of how important it is to choose what to row toward, and to do so diligently and daily.

She went on: “I love that the word 'diligently' has the word 'gently' in it. For though sometimes the rowing must be fierce to pierce the riptides or to row up the downside of the escarpment of a huge green wave, even then, often the gentle insistence of the heart 'to keep going' is what allows us to continue in any weathers.”

Dr Estes writes so well. Let’s hope all our rowboats carry us serenely and strongly through whatever 2012 will bring. Propelled, of course, by our own strong arms and a keener than ever sense of direction.

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