Tuesday, September 16, 2014

One paddler's secret to slowing down the passage of time...do something difficult, every day.

Joan, on the beach, at Qualicum.

There's been significant time on the water recently...always so refreshing for body, mind, and spirit. It's an outdoor pursuit that also offers lots of "thinking" time. The rhythm of countless paddle strokes over many hours offers a contemplative experience. Such times are necessary, for they offer balance and provide renewed strength for what life calls us all to "do". 

It was good to be back on the Salish Sea again. Launching near the town of Qualicum Beach, Texada Island and the distant coastal range of the mainland of Canada formed a gentle horizon through the soft and shimmering air. It's truly an endless summer, here on Canada's "Pacific Island".

In these precious moments on the water, I thought about time, life's most precious commodity...and how we sometimes allow it to "vanish" in the passage and industry of each day. Sometimes, in fact, we even wish it away. It has been my experience, over the years, that "lost time" is the greatest regret most people have as they near the end of their lives. That difficult circumstance, however, is abundantly avoidable.

Most of us over the age of forty, which I am (but only slightly, well, OK, maybe by quite a bit) are familiar with the experience of time just "flying". Every year, it seems to pass by faster and faster and it is almost as if we are on a spinning carousel, the back drop of life's "scenery" flashing by. When that happens, of course, we miss out on so much.

"Pausing" time.
It seems like only yesterday, we were in Scotland, packing up for the almost five weeks here back in Canada. Now, at almost the half-way point, I am thinking about the challenges, projects and activities to come and even the extra "bits and bobs" to take back - mainly small items of kayaking kit. The time can surely "fly", if we're not careful. Nothing accelerates the passage of time more than living in the past...or the future. Neither one honours the present moment, the only moment that exists at all.

It seems like just a short time ago that Joan and I were getting married in a beautiful church next to the university that we were attending in Hamilton, Ontario. She wore a simple wedding dress that she had made herself. I wore a rented morning suit, with ascot, winged collar and white boutonnière - absolutely dashing! Haha! Almost forty-two years ago now, it does seem rather "sixties". Of course, it was. :)

But strangely, those days seem like just "yesterday".

Memories still so fresh!
Where has the time gone? Well, of course we know where it's gone and there have been many great adventures...and the memories of that special day are as clear and sharp as if no time at all has passed. (And yes, your reporter still has hair and it's still mostly brown!)

Time, however, didn't always pass this quickly. As little children, the hours and days and weeks were so long and delicious. Every day, in fact, could have been described as a "never-ending story". An afternoon adventure in the playground lasted a lifetime. Summer holidays lasted even longer.

A "sea monster", as long as Joan's kayak, looms darkly below.
When we slow time down, our imaginations are freed. :)
Most of us can remember, as high school students, the "interminable" Monday to Friday week in the classrooms. It seemed like the weekend would never (ever!) arrive. Sitting in classroom on a Monday morning, the "freedom" of 3:30 pm on Friday afternoon felt like a million years away!

Time lingered...and we didn't always appreciate it.

The older we get, however, the more rapidly time seems to fly by. Some would explain that this is because when we are young, our lives are ahead of us, stretching out into a distant future. But when we get older, the larger percentage of our lives are behind us, with the "sands" of time simply running out.

I'm not so sure about that. I think there's more to it. And it's rather exciting.

When we were young, we were constantly learning. We were literally growing up. And we were, for the most part, eager about the process of learning. Our eyes were as wide as saucers and our minds vacuumed up every bit of new knowledge. We ate it up, drank it in, relished it...and celebrated our successes and accomplishments, large and small. Even our frequent failures contributed to our growth, for every new experience tested us, and strengthened us. We didn't look so much for short cuts - sadly, that's an adult "thing".

Time does seem to pause when we are struggling to master a new skill. Whether it's learning to walk, or run, or ride a bicycle, master social skills, or grasp the elements of algebra and geometry, our minds are occupied and struggling...and growing.

It is in such moments that time slows down and permits the process of learning. In these "times", life reveals a beauty and an intricacy that can only be appreciated when our hearts and minds are open to the deliberate and sometimes painstaking process of exploration and discovery.

When we get older, however, our hunger for learning seems satiated, by our desire to be "comfortable". We think that we've learned all we need to know and sometimes we even avoid the tasks and responsibilities that we know will test our patience, strength, and will. We look for the short cuts...we stop growing and learning. The result: the passage of time accelerates, almost out of control...and we wonder what we have to show for it.

I've discovered at least one secret to slowing down the passage of time: it's doing something difficult, something you really may not even want to do, every single day.

When we were with kayaking coach Gordon Brown last month, on the Isle of Skye, he taught us to take the time to develop balance and confidence in the kayak...by getting out of the kayak. The exercises looked difficult. Surely, it would be a lot more fun just to paddle! We took his advice, however, and have practised faithfully since that time. It has been during these practice sessions, frequently falling in and having to get back in the cockpit, that we have discovered a most surprising gift. In the midst of the "struggle", we became as little children. And time...slowed down.

Amidst the frustration, the failures, the successes, and the determination...time slowed down. And when these skills are mastered, it will be time to move on to other challenges. There are, of course, unlimited challenges in the world of sea kayaking!

Time out of the cockpit, the process...
...of slowing down the passage of time.
I am sure that it is the very process of learning that deepens, enriches, and lengthens the passage of time.

And almost in obedience to that process, the precious moments dutifully slow their otherwise (seemingly) frantic pace so that each can be truly tasted and savoured.

Becoming as a child is doing something difficult every day...and seeing time's each and every moment sparkle with fresh satisfaction and renewed meaning. Will there be frustration? Of course, but there is no better way to experience the length and breadth of time. It's very survivable. :)

The relatively brief four hours on the water made for a very long day...just the way it should always be.


  1. Hi Duncan. What a summer you guys are having out there, and we've had snow already in S Alberta! :>) The toughest days can be the ones where time almost stops but, somehow, those are the days when lessons are learned. We just have to choose the lessons, if we can! Best wishes, Gen.

    1. Hi Gen, thanks so much for you comment. Yes, although we've only been here a couple of weeks or so, it feels like we're having a full on Canadian summer. With a bit of luck, there will still be some summer when we return to Scotland. Always good to hear from you. With warm wishes. Duncan.

  2. Hi D & J, very wise words - the most difficult thing for me to do sometimes is to avoid wishing away days until I'm home. Great images here - especially the wedding photo; neither of you has changed at all - remarkable! :o)

    Best wishes

    1. Hi Ian, I appreciate that thought. I know very well how hard it is not to wish time away when we just want to be somewhere else...like home. It becomes a matter of managing those circumstances, and it's not always easily managed. It's a very good subject to ponder. As I know you do, "connections", in any form, help a great deal. With warm wishes from us and talk to you soon. Duncan.

  3. Your thoughts in the blog are very inspiring, I almost forgot looking at the nice images...Hope your autumn will continue to be gentle to you and your kayaking over there and in Scotland!
    Best wishes, Leif

    1. Hi Leif, thank you so very much for your kind thoughts. We were privileged to paddle with two wonderful folks from Sweden a month ago. You also have a very special part of the world in which to enjoy the waters. One day we hope to have the opportunity to visit - and paddle. :) Again, thank you and warmest wishes from both of us. Duncan.

  4. Excellent blog, and one that made me think about my involvement with time (horology) and where has it gone in my daily life now.
    I can see that you are having problems working out where home is now, Canada or Scotland or both.
    Remember "If you want to Walk on Water youv'e got to get out of the Boat", a book for you I think.

    "Tempus Fugit"
    MG Mike

    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Mike. We have lived in so many places, it is sometimes difficult to determine where "home" truly is. I do think, however, it has a lot to do where you feel love and a sense of "family". Happily that can mean more than one "place". But Scotland's eternally blue skies and sunshine certainly do tempt! Haha. Warmest wishes from us both. Duncan.