Thursday, March 04, 2010

Sittin' on a rock by the bay...

I find it difficult to sit still. That's probably why I find that self-propelled activities such as sea kayaking and running work - you're always on the move and the scenery changes with every footstep or paddle stroke. There's always something new to observe and ponder and appreciate.

The fact is, movement is stimulating and most of us would agree that life without stimulation would indeed be very drab. There is, however, a down side to not being able to sit still. I've often envied those in my vocation who can go into their office or their study and later emerge with written evidence of wonderfully creative thought. I can't do that, at least not very easily - even though my "chair" is an exercise ball! Engaging in some outdoor activity, however, always seems to work. That's when the creative juices flow best. My mind achieves greater clarity and thoughts and perspectives emerge as if a fresh breeze has opened and enlivened at least some cerebral nooks and crannies. Alas, heading off to the beach in a wet suit, with the kayak strapped on top of the vehicle and a big grin on my face probably doesn't convince everyone that "I'm going off to do some creative work". Besides, it's tough to take written notes when you're paddling, especially in cooler weather when you're wearing pogies! Thankfully, the folks to whom I'm responsible always seem pleased when I can report that our sea kayaks have been on the water.

Actually, it isn't hard to find evidence that we humans may do some our best thinking when we are physically active. The late George Sheehan, cardiologist, athlete, and author of the classic Running and Being goes so far to suggest that we should "trust no thought arrived at sitting down.". It was Thoreau that said, "The moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow". When I'm sedentary, I'm lucky if I can achieve any creative thought. Moving under our own "steam" though, our bodies are doing what they were created to do. With regular exercise, the heart is strengthened, the muscles are given meaningful "work" which improves their abilities, increased oxygen is served to every cell, calories are burned - and the body responds by simply feeling better. The mind responds by feeling better too. Clearly, exercise leads to improved mental health and that's a pretty good deal. In fact, it's a bit like having your cake and eating it too!

Having said all that, there is one place I can sit still for prolonged periods of time and that is by any body of water - whether it be tidal, lake, or river. Near where we live, the shores are rocky and they afford many places to spend a little time in thought, contemplation, even meditation. It may well be that even though the rocks are firmly "grounded", there is always some movement in the water and some ambient sound. This auditory and visual stimulation seems to, in turn, stimulate the mind and give birth to the process of creative thought. Harbours are also great places. Boats of all shapes and sizes are in constant movement. Masts and rigging on the sailboats fill the air with their strangely comforting, albeit metallic, "clinking" sounds as harbour waves nudge their hulls.

The ability (and willingness) to discover pensive moments leads to a special richness in life. I'm often conscious of the sea birds that perch on rocky shores. When paddling or hiking the shorelines, we make every effort not to disturb their "thoughts". Who knows? Perhaps they are nature's great "contemplatives". Perhaps they have, in the silence of their lonely vigils, plumbed the depths of life's mysteries. Who really knows.

May you too find, both in movement, and in the sounds of nature, stillness and peace...and a context for exhilerating and creative thought.



  1. Awesome! Not sure I do my best thinking while moving but certainly by sitting near water, especially the ocean, life seems so much clearer.

  2. Thanks Anon. I probably generalized a bit. It's clear that many find the stillness of contemplation, for example, a time that is calming but also deeply refreshing.

  3. You are not the only one who finds it difficult to sit still. I'm just about ready to climb the walls, not doing much these past months, when I'm so used to be in the kitchen cooking up a storm or running around town, to figure out what I'll be cooking next.
    I take it that Joan was reading a book or just meditating sitting out there on the rocks.

  4. She was enjoying some pita and homemade hummus - "on the rocks", so to speak!