Lessons from Sea: Living in the Present
One evening, I queried Chris, “What is your biggest complaint about me after ten years together?” Ever so diplomatic, he initially replied, “Nothing, you are perfect!” Upon further interrogation, he finally admitted he thought I was too focused on the future and he wanted me to live more in the moment. Upon careful self-reflection, I realized he was right and needed to work on this.
In the past few months, Chris and I completed 747 training, sailed from Maldives to the Seychelles and have been commuting 48 hours round-trip across the world in pursuit of a stable future. While trying to have it all, Chris and I are essentially living a double life. One life spent on the sea and the other in the sky. Every month we trade bikinis and swim trunks for trousers and ties, the tropics for the city, and waves for clouds. We are constantly alternating between two lives, and I’m rarely living one life without planning for the other.
I compared my mindset to an ocean passage, and realized how much our futures are determined by our choices in the present. We can make plans, and are left to adapt to the reality of each situation anyways. With less detailed planning, more time can be spent in the moment enjoying life and improving ourselves.
On Skylark, we spend a lot of time planning passages based on forecasted enroute conditions, which is prudent since we don’t want to be at sea during a cyclone or have a week of no wind. However, once we sail off into the sunset, the actual conditions are often different from the forecast. Even if we were expecting a beautiful 20kt wind off the beam, there could be an afternoon thunderstorm producing gusty winds requiring us to reef our sails or moments of calm requiring our engine. Theres also the possibility of a fish trap or giant log floating front of us that we must maneuver around. We can’t always control the weather, but we can control how we set our sails to bring us to our destination. Sometimes we end up finding new adventures along the way and realize we want to change our destination and change course.
If we spend our entire life journey staring through binoculars at where we just came from or too far ahead, we won’t be able to see what is directly in front of us. This is not always an easy task in this modern world where we always seem to have binoculars hanging on a lanyard around our necks allowing us to easily deviate from the moment.
While on Skylark, when we stow our bino’s(as the Aussies would say) and practice mindful activities such as disconnecting from the internet, focus on gratitude, practice meditation and yoga, maintain outside watch, talk to strangers and eat mindfully, we are fully present and truly experience life as it comes. It is also possible to use these lessons from Skylark during land life to bring yourself into the present moment and have meaningful experiences that positively affect your future.
Disconnecting from the internet will make you a more connected person in the future.
On Skylark: Disconnecting from the internet can help you reduce information overload
causing too much reflection on the past and worry for the future. While offshore, we are forcibly removed from the noise of the Internet and unable to be sucked in by the sirens of Facebook, or read opinionated news articles. I can’t research future events, and days are spent with limited activities resulting in less opportunity cost. While there is no outside connection, the only people I can communicate with are those on board and I am not splitting my attention between multiple emails, messages and chats and thus neglecting the moment. When we get back into cellular service, there is rarely any ground breaking news that’s we needed to know while at sea.
Takeaway for land life: Limit connection time. Turn off notifications when working on important tasks or go in airplane mode. Leave your phone at home when going for a walk or visiting friends. There is still time to connect with those who you desire to talk to, but it does not need to be constant in lieu of present activities. Even though there are high speed connections available most of the time, it does not mean it needs to be utilized. Sometimes this can be difficult to execute, however, the less you use your device the less you want to use it.
Be grateful in the present and you will become more positive in the future.
On Skylark: Be grateful for what you have and you will have everything you want because you want everything you have. Read that again, and it will make more sense. It’s easy to become complacent with how much we have on a daily basis and think about things we might want to buy or do. On Skylark, when we arrived in Chagos in the British Indian Ocean Territory, we instantly declared it one of the most beautiful places we have been. We were experiencing the dopamine rush of something new and exciting, but after a couple of days we simply became familiar with the crystal clear water and lush jungle. There were suddenly decadent complaints in paradise about some obnoxious swell, pesky bugs on the beach and losing yet another fish lure. I began to use a gratitude list, and it allowed me to focus on everything I was thankful for to keep everything in perspective. Even if events seem impossibly frustrating, there is always something to be thankful for. ALWAYS!!! Crummy sleep from a rolly anchorage? Grateful for clean sheets, soft pillow and a Nespresso machine for a caffeine hit. Rainy weather? Grateful for the deck being cleaned and the temperature cooling down. Focus on all of the positives and there won’t be room for the negatives.
Takeaway for Land Life: Keep a gratitude journal to maintain a positive outlook on life. Start by listing whatever comes to mind such as a comfortable bed, coffee, or chatting to friends. You will discover how gratitude is the antidote for negativity. Begin your day with a list of 20 items you are grateful for and try to change the items up each day. Each day has something special to offer, you sometimes just need to find it...and sometimes it takes A LOT of searching.
Meditating in the present will give you a calmer future.
On Skylark: Meditation keeps you in the moment while delivering present and future benefits. Studies prove that meditation calms your brain reducing stress and anxiety, while improving self-awareness and self-confidence. As part of a wellness challenge with a friend I meditated for ten minutes a day during the entire month of August, and noticed a big difference in my mindset. While on Skylark, each day began with a guided meditation (thanks to the internet which is good in this case). I sat comfortably cross-legged on the aft deck with a gentle breeze and sun kissing my face. After listening to a positive narrative and performing a series of breathing exercises I was left feeling calm and grounded while Skylark gently rocked.
Takeaway for Land Life: Meditating for even ten minutes a day helps and is not hard to implement at some point during your day instead of scrolling social media. It doesn’t matter whether you are sitting on the back of a yacht or on the floor in a hotel room at 2am before a 3am pickup. Close your eyes and let your mind melt into calmness through a guided meditation. Focusing on your breath and freeing the mind of thoughts gets you ready for the day ahead much more effectively than spending time reading negative news articles.
Yoga in the present will give you a flexible and pain free future.
On Skylark: Yoga can be practiced anywhere and everywhere and allows you to inhale the present and exhale the past. It can be relaxing or intense and connects the mind and body to experience the present. Also as part of the August Wellness challenge, I practiced yoga every morning at sunrise. It was crucial to wake up on time before the sun rose too high in
the sky and it became scorching hot. Black yoga pants in the tropics are not practical in direct sunlight, and a bikini must be worn once the sun made its way over the mountains. Thankfully we visited calm anchorages, or else the balancing postures would have been very challenging. They would still be possible but require a hand on the mizzen boom for stability. I used the internet to download some videos on youtube that had yoga specific for which objective I was looking for. Some mornings I was energetic and looked for something quite active like “great abs yoga” or “Morning sunrise yoga!” or was feeling a bit tired and googled “relaxing yoga for seniors”. There are even “hangover yoga” video’s out there. Be careful if you have an actual hangover, since balancing postures and downward dog could leave you feeling sick as a dog. Maybe 30 minutes of shavasana is more appropriate in such situations.
Takeaway for Land Life: If you spend a lot of time sitting, it’s important to work on flexibly and get some movement in. For my pilot friends, tight hamstrings from endless seated hours result in tightness in the lower back causing pain. Find time to practice yoga and figure out what positions work for you. While on the road, I use a hotel towel instead of a yoga mat to save room in my carry-on bag and still complete a session.
5. MAINTAIN OUTSIDE WATCH
Maintaining outside watch in the present will give you memories for the future.
On Skylark: Outside watch is the act of scanning outside for traffic (or at sea any amazing sights!) Whether in a beautiful anchorage or in the middle of the ocean, there is always something to look at. The times I am actively gazing out, I’ve sighted pods of dolphins, a monkey on the beach or squid nearby to catch for calamari. Even staring at the crystal clear
water is a feast for the eyes. Don’t miss out on witnessing amazing wonders such as turtles by looking down at your device. Chris is very good at outside watch and will be content to gaze out at the waves for hours on end. Thats how he is always spotting flying fish and other marine life.
Takeaway for Land life: Bring this mindset to the city as well. Eyes out, phone away. Gaze out window, go for a walk in the park or stroll through a grocery store in search of something new and delicious. Whether you sight a moose in the forest, or an interesting snack at the store, taking in all of the environment around you will keep you in the moment while gaining new experiences.
6. TALKING TO STRANGERS
Talking to strangers in the presents helps you gain new perspectives for the future.
On Skylark: Speaking to people from different backgrounds while traveling helps keep you in the moment by learning new perspectives and stumbling upon experiences you may not otherwise have had. Recently, Chris and I were having a beach picnic on Anse Lazio, and I spotted a Seychellois male about the age of 25, holding a couple of tasty looking octopus by their heads. He was wearing a bathing suit, and looked like he had just caught them. He was sitting on a nearby rock sipping on a coconut. I wanted to make octopus curry, and
deliberated for a few moments if I should approach him because I was worried about disturbing him. Ultimately, I walked over and queried if he knew where I could buy a fresh octopus, secretly hoping he would sell me one of his. He immediately offered to sell us an octopus, and charged us a reasonable price. We chatted for a few minutes about ingredients in an octopus curry and what ingredients are best. He walked us over to a nearby cinnamon tree and plucked a few leaves off for us. It is impossible to ‘plan’ these sort of interactions, and you never know who you are going to meet. Many of our good sailing friends we met by chance, and now can’t imagine not having them in our lives.
Takeaway for Land Life: Take the time to talk to strangers and do not be afraid to ask questions. You will likely learn something new by listening and can even create some meaningful connections. It may even network you to new job opportunities and possibilities you could never have imagined or planned for. If you make extensive plans for the future based on life only consisting of the people you already know, it could end up being completely irrelevant because you never know who is going to change your life. When you sit next to a stranger on a flight, spark up a conversation and be ready to gain new perspectives. Obviously be mindful for signals they do not wish to be chatty such as headphones deep in their ears or busy at work.
7. MINDFUL EATING
Through mindful eating in the present you will have a thinner and healthier future.
On Skylark: Food is one of the greatest pleasures in life and something our boat life tends to revolve around. It is important for health and mindful eating helps you enjoy your food more. When we make special meals and take time to savor the flavor in a nice setting, it’s far more magical. On Skylark, Chris often makes some of the best omelettes for breakfast, and we always set the table up to fully enjoy eating them together. Playing appropriate music for meals also adds to the ambiance. We have theme nights where we enjoy sushi feeling like we are in a Japanese zen garden, or feast on souvlaki in a simulated Greek taverna. This turns the meal into an experience and allows you to fully be in the moment with your fellow dining companions. On passage we try to avoid snacking and if we must snack we try to make something like a tapas platter and sit down to enjoy it.
Takaway for Land life: Eat mindfully and continue to seek out healthy and delicious meals even when there are so many options to be unhealthy. Arrange meals on a plate nicely and take time to eat while thinking about the flavors and how the nutrients are helping your body and you will naturally gravitate towards healthier options. Imagine eating a bag of Cheetos and thinking about the ingredients, and you probably won’t want to eat them anymore.
Start improving your future by living in the present one mindful moment at a time and don't be afraid to take things slowly, like this elderly Coconut Crab pictured above in Chagos. If you find yourself, as I often do, slipping back to old habits, just recognize it and try to move on and practice good habits and flow through life like a boat through the ocean. There may have been a squall in the past or a lull ahead, but if you focus on the conditions of the present and adapt accordingly you will travel further and enjoy your journey more. You will truly live.