Sunday, May 17, 2009

On the cultivation of "focus"...

Nothin' like a good view - now here's a "view" that inspires, thrills, refreshes, invigorates, exhilerates, revitalizes, restores (the list goes on!) - the front deck of my 15-year-old Current Designs Solstice sea kayak. I might add that it is also a view that comforts; perhaps because the view is from the perspective of the low centre of gravity seating position, tucked into a secure spray cover with knees firmly braced that makes one feel as one with the sleek craft.

Although I can never remember an occasion when I required the deck-mounted marine compass, it has occasionally been a focus of my attention, even if just for brief moments to establish direction, simply for the sake of curiosity. Paddling off Vancouver Island brings surprising results from the the compass. Just when you think you are paddling north, you discover you are paddling with a significant "westward" track. When your "Spidey-sense" is pretty sure you are paddling east, the compass provides a "reality check", in fact, you're heading more towards the north! It's that "tilted to the west" orientation of our Island - never did seem right that the sun would seem to rise in the south!

Anyway, this whole matter of "focus" intrigues me. Not unlike "mindfulness" - to focus is to situate ourselves in the present and, therefore to, amongst other things, free ourselves from the distracting anxiousness that often seems to come as "baggage" from the past and the presumed future.

A recent example comes to mind of how focus can enable us to free our minds to deal with the task at hand. A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I enjoyed a most pleasurable and exhilarating paddle. We launched at historic Cattle Point (north of Oak Bay Marina). Winds were brisk and forecast to increase into the afternoon but we judged that conditions were acceptable for our planned day trip over to Discovery and Chatham Islands. It's an awesome paddle with lots of rocks, reefs, and wildlife including seals, sea lions, and eagles. It is also a paddle where one must always anticipate the potential for conditions to deteriorate with wind and strong currents and the exposure to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Haro Strait.

Enjoying the bumps and lumps of the "energetic" seas on the crossing, and passing by the Discovery Island Marine Park and Sea Bird Point, where the historic lighthouse (manned for 110 years before automation in 1996) is located, we eventually entered the protected and shallow waters between Discovery and Chatham Island. With the winds beginning to increase, we determined we needed to head back to our launch spot without delay. Entering Plumper Passage, we were met by confused seas and significant waves - the increasing wind however, was thankfully, straight on our bows. A little humility (OK, more than a little!) is a good thing and as paddlers know, some conditions require a little more focus than others. Concentrating on little else but paddle stroke, keeping the bow into the waves, and the destination, made the 3 kilometre crossing uneventful, albeit a good workout! It was important, however, to stay focussed - a "wet exit" wouldn't have been much fun!

A "distracted" mind is a vulnerable mind. Whatever challenges come to us in our personal lives and in our vocations, we're always stronger, more prepared, and more able to deal with life's "white caps" when we cultivate the ability to focus, unencumbered by the anxieties of the past and the imagined circumstances of the future. I must confess, it's not always easy; but it's a lesson my beloved Solstice teaches time and time again.

'Till the next time.


  1. Ah yes something I need to do in my life "focus" Seven courses of mindfulness and I still can't seem to stop my mind from wandering. Maybe I need to take up kayaking instead of meditation!

  2. There is a soothing rhythm in the paddle strokes - especially when the "power" comes from the "core" rather than the arms and shoulders. I think this is the most efficient paddling form. You know you are doing this when you discover that you are no longer conscious of the mechanics of the action. In the act of "forgetting", the mind clears and experiences the "awareness" of what may well be a "moving meditation". That's how I experience it.