Six years ago, when we moved to San Diego, I took my first stand up paddle board lesson. Wandering through the nearby marina, I remember feeling like I was literally flying through the water. I smiled through the entire lesson, felt my heart soar, my spirit free, and my mind lighten (and surprisingly to me, managed to stay upright the entire time). Right then, I knew that this, right here was my yoga on water. Since that first official lesson, I’ve rented a few times locally and even got to paddle in The Maldives. Each time, I felt exactly the same – free, full of life, and quite literally at peace.
I don’t know about you, but the past 20 or so months have certainly been a bit of a gut punch. While some of the world is raring to get back to life as it was prior to March 2020, others are still at a standstill – and for most people in many corners of the globe, the pandemic is still a large part of our conversation. While we’ve begun to step a bit further outside of our downtown apartment and venture to spaces open, far, wide, and still devoid of crowds – it’s as if each time we make those steps, we find a little bit more of ourselves.
Last year, for the holidays, Mom gifted me an inflatable stand up paddle board. Compressed into a handy, yet giant, backpack, it’s sat all squished up for nearly 365 days. It’s lived in storage, on our terrace, and even in the apartment taking up a considerable footprint of precious space. A few weekends ago, she finally spread her wings for a maiden voyage in Coronado. Now, needless to say, I’ve never owned a paddle board before. Each other time, I’ve showed up, paid some money, someone else has popped the board by the water for me, and taken it in at the ride’s end. This time, I had to do it. And, even with a trusty automatic pump, it takes a bit of work.
Hefting her out of her zipped bag, it’s as if she breathed easier when she unfurled. She jostled a bit when her fins popped and locked into place, but then settled. With each ounce of air she inhaled, she grew bigger, stronger, firmer – more full of life. Her turquoise outside sparkled in the sun as her inflatable lungs gulped in the new air that replaced the stale funkiness of her folded bag life. With the paddle locked in place set for my tiny frame, life jacket on, and sunscreen applied, together, my paddle board and I gingerly made our way down to the water’s edge. She glided in and took a few beats to find her feet amidst the wind and waves – I did the same. I felt a bit of hesitation in each of us. Those questions, that doubt surfacing quickly – how would an inflatable feel beneath my feet, would I stay upright or splash in the water, did I lock the valve tight enough or will we both find ourselves deflating? Seriously, even my paddle board felt a bit anxious.
Together, we left the shore and headed out. This time we hung closer to bits of land for awhile trying to find our groove – it’s was really our first time together. It was different than before. It felt different. I had to adjust more often, modify a bit more, and remind myself that although I’ve done this many times before, this time out would be different and that’s okay. I found myself nervous to head towards the open waves – that was new for me. I have a healthy respect for the water yet I don’t fear her. Like Moana (whether ocean or other open water), ‘the ocean is a friend of mine’. It took nearly 40 minutes before my courage rose enough to quiet the fear (or at least, hang out beside it) and head out into the center of the now windy and more crowded marina. Deep breaths, same steps, new ride – same joy. After letting go of all that I was apparently holding onto – that feeling returned, the good one filled with all the good stuff. My soul lifted, my breathing eased, my smile broadened, and it was there on that water that this inflatable paddle board taught me lessons I realized I needed to learn and remember.
It’s been a heck of a long time since I felt like me. Yes, I’m a million percent grateful for so many things and yes, I’m 100% aware that there are heaps of humans who have had far worse go arounds in these 20 months than me. All of it, including having a home to sit in amidst this entire time – is privilege and without question, acknowledged. And, I have a feeling, no matter who you are and where you roam, each of us has felt some moments of funkiness in this weird time of life. It’s been a very long time since we’ve breathed the same close air with other humans we know. It’s been forever since I’ve been in a yoga studio or traveled beyond these shores. It’s been nearly two years since these travelers have stayed in a hotel, wandered a strange city, taken in a live show of any sort, or eaten inside anywhere, and it’s now been nearly 3 years since we’ve been to the city that is our second home on the other side of the globe. While, thankfully, we’ve gotten to the beach to wiggle our toes and hug the ocean and have now been able to hit some trails, so far, (I don’t know about you, but) I’ve yet to find that whimsical, wandering, blissful, fully relaxed state – I mean, it’s still a global pandemic for goodness sake – I don’t know why I even expect that state might be a thing. Somehow, even within the 50 feet distance of others, my spidey senses are still always on alert, even if they haven’t gone full New York on me in awhile. In some way or another, for two weeks or twenty months, we’ve all been a bit cooped up and yearning to stretch our wings again.
So, what was I reminded of amidst this magical ride? That regardless of how long that cooped up and deflated feeling exists – there’s always a way to shift it. That you may need a bit of help, a bit of a boost, and a dose of courage, but we can all shake out those cobwebs and re-inflate ourselves (even if it feels like the very first time). We have to put in the work and it takes work to keep up the maintenance. We’ve got to remember which hose goes in which valve, find trust and have a bit of faith in yourself that you’ve affixed the locks and leash correctly; that no matter how many times you have to try, and how much work is necessary, and how much you want to throw in the towel and forget about it – keep going, you can do it. That it’ll be different than before and that you’re different than before and that’s okay, in fact, it’s more than okay – it’s growth. And, that when you’re willing to put in the work, take a page out of Disney’s Luca to silence the noise (‘Silencio Bruno’) and do it amidst the fear, somehow, the freeing feeling of the ride feels that much sweeter. It’s not supposed to be the same; it’s what you decide to do with the now that matters.
Heading back to shore, we both stood a bit taller, a bit firmer – a bit more sure of ourselves. Amidst a nervous start, we made it. And, while it may not be tomorrow that we head out there again, and it’s altogether possible that we’ll still start out a bit shaky and unsure of ourselves, I know we’ll be back. And each time I fill up my little mermaid friend, I realize that I’m doing the same thing for myself. I’m taking the time to protect that mental health, reassert the important stuff, and pay attention to what my soul needs. Whether in the midst of a global pandemic, or on a random Tuesday when Covid is far in our rear view – do more things that fill you up. Take a lesson from my inflatable paddle board – no matter how long you are kept squished in a bag stuck in one same spot, with a little airing out, love, care, a helping hand to fill you up, and a bit of time to steady your feet while doing your thing – all of us can find a bit of ourselves again. See you out there.