Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Humility and the art of sea kayaking...

"Humility is attentive patience."
Simone Weil.
Paddling up to a place of wisdom...and perspective.
I have a habit of collecting small rocks from various travels. All bring back fond memories of adventures in some wonderful places. I think one of my favourite "full size" rocks, however, is right nearby. "Paddy's Milestone" is one nautical mile from where we launch, about a three minute drive from home. It would be a tough one to bring back in a suitcase or a backpack! Happily, it stores well inside the camera and can be brought out, displayed on a screen, and enjoyed with ease anytime at all.

This particular large rock may have tumbled from a higher elevation, perhaps up on Mount Tzouhalem, when our part of Vancouver Island was shaken by a significant earthquake some centuries ago. It may also have been deposited here by receding ice sheets, thousands of years ago. How marvellous it would be if it could tell its story. That would definitely "rock".

Sitting in a tiny self-propelled craft, next to Paddy's Milestone, is humbling. It's easy to feel "small". Certainly, the delicately chiseled geometry of my narrow, British-style kayak, must surely appear fragile to larger vessels on the shared waters...and yet, she is so strong, so brave, so capable. Its human propulsive "engine" (me) must appear equally fragile. I am, and admittedly, I am not as strong or as brave or as capable as I would like to be. Thus, in all humility, I am a work in progress...happy to be so and open to the possibility of growing and developing and learning. Humility, as Simone Weil describes as "attentive patience", opens doors to personal development - and, in a kayak, an expanded skill set. On the other hand, bravado and hubris in a sea kayak can result in desperate situations. Doors close - and in the unforgiving marine environment, sometimes they close forever.

The other day, on a narrow, busy and twisting highway, filled with wide-eyed tourists enjoying the Island scenery, we "inherited" two large and powerful motorcycles that took up their position just a few metres off the rear bumper. Beneath the barely-there (and barely-useful?) peanut shell helmets and dark glasses, a "grim" demeanor that was clearly visible in the rear view mirror, communicated impatience and disdain for the long line of traffic. (Interestingly, we were all travelling at the posted speed limit.) The high performance engines revved regularly with the predictable high decibel "angry" sound. Ahh, I thought, these two individuals are working very hard to reflect "attitude" - no "attentive patience" present here.

I thought of my son, who with his comrades, spent interminable months working out of a Forward Operating Base in the remote mountains of Afghanistan in the difficult rotation of 2006. Sadly, a significant number did not return home. Did these guys, straddling their expensive rides, and working hard to project "image" have any idea how transparent it all was? Could they possibly understand what I was thinking? I don't think they would have coped in the "heat" of the Panjwaii for very long. But I tried to be understanding. I wouldn't wish that experience on anyone. Eventually they passed us, on a double line, striking a look of consternation on the driver of the oncoming vehicle who was forced to swerve into the shoulder. It was a situation where bravado and hubris could have changed lives forever.

Yearning to hear "Paddy's" stories.
Sitting and reflecting by the "rock" was humbling...and appropriately so. I understand gentleness as "strength under control", humility as openness and respect and a willingness to learn. Surely that's what this world needs - strength under control, and a genuine openness to others. What a magnificent planet this is...and yet how fragile it is. "Attentive patience" to the environment is to be willing to learn from our mistakes and then to be prepared to change our course. Attentive patience towards others is to value and respect different perspectives and opinions...and to be willing to learn.

Attentive patience in a sea kayak makes for skills improved, the experience fully appreciated, and all in all, a very good day on the water.


Simone Weil, 1909 - 1943, was a French philosopher and social activist.


  1. Very interesting post Duncan, and I know what you mean about those motorcycle guys. They do give one the impression that they own the road and you had better get out of their way when you see them coming. On the matter of the rock. It seems to me that there is also a reef. Good job it is exposed for one to see so you don't go paddeling over it and get yourself all caught up.

  2. Hi Duncan, your words speak to activities here in the "high country" as well. Humility usually ensures minds are open and able to take in the drama of the natural environment. Hubris kind of misses the point - and gets people into difficulties. Might as well stay downtown. :-) Gen.

  3. Awesome post Duncan. It gives me plenty to think about and reflect on. We are all "a work in progress" on this journey of life and being open to all that is,is so very important.

  4. Hi J, yes, when the tide is low, you can pretty much walk to "Paddy's". Tonight, the tide was high and we paddled around it for a couple of photo ops. Sometimes, I hide behind it if I manage to get in front of Joan. Haha. Thanks J. D.

    I understand what you're saying, Gen. Your environment in the mountains and here on the Island should leave us "wide-eyed", there's a lot to take in. Great to hear from you. D.

    Appreciate your words, L. Being a "work in progress" gives us all something to look forward to - on the days we feel we may be falling a little short. :) D.