Sailboats, Yoga and Risk Taking: Lessons in Learning to Live

Life is for living. Truly. Life is for living. Not hiding. Not wasting my time wishing. Not curled up in the safety corner. Life is for living.

And yet, I forget this so often. I live as though my life is not a gift. Not precious. Not to be enjoyed thoroughly. I live as though life is just enduring, just one foot in front of the other. One paycheck and another. One task and then another. In my flawed brain, life is about avoiding pain and seeking comfort.

There’s this poem “George Gray” by Edgar Lee Masters in Spoon River Anthology that has haunted me since high school. The anthology is a collection of epitaphs carved on gravestones in a fictional graveyard. The George Gray poem has stuck with me, largely because I’m afraid that it has been often true of me and I want to choose a different path.

I have studied many times
The marble which was chiseled for me–
A boat with a furled sail at rest in a harbor.
In truth it pictures not my destination
But my life.
For love was offered me and I shrank from its disillusionment;
Sorrow knocked at my door, but I was afraid;
Ambition called to me, but I dreaded the chances.
Yet all the while I hungered for meaning in my life.
And now I know that we must lift the sail
And catch the winds of destiny
Wherever they drive the boat.
To put meaning in one’s life may end in madness,
But life without meaning is the torture
Of restlessness and vague desire–
It is a boat longing for the sea and yet afraid.

I’ve had a tendency to live like the sailboat at rest in the harbor – “longing for the sea and yet afraid.” And so I stay there comfortable, existing, but not really living.

This year I’ve been trying to do something different. To take some risks. Not crazy or stupid things. Not destructive things. But things that help me appreciate that I am alive, and that this life that I live is a gift. A precious, thrilling gift.

In January, I took a risk. I started trying out HolyYoga at a local church. To some of you this may not sound like a risk (or just sounds dumb). But, here’s the deal. I’m not flexible. I’m not particularly athletic. My skills go more towards academics than athletics. And I hate, hate, hate looking ridiculous in front of other people. Also, I generally avoid doing anything that I don’t think I can do well (which is totally childish of me, but totally true at the same time).

I had a goal of actually getting more in shape this year and finding some skills to better help me manage anxiety. HolyYoga has been phenomenally helpful in that. Additionally, I think some of my most intimate and profound moments of connecting with God this spring have been in the humbling practice of attempting yoga. The interweaving of prayer, Bible and movement does something for me. It places me in a posture to hear and experience God. HolyYoga is my favorite part of the week.

The other fun part of yoga is learning to take small risks. The first time my instructor was talking about “flipping your dog”  (google it if you need to) — I was just like, “Oh HECK no!  That’s not happening! Who is he kidding?”

But, over time (and with a couple of awkward wipe outs), I’ve been able to do it. Not every week.  Sometimes I have it. Sometimes I don’t. But, I still get to see growth and progress. Take a little risk here. A little risk there. And they’re not big things, but they make me feel alive. They make me feel strong. A little braver. A little more ready to take on the world and the things I fear.

Yoga led to increasing my activity level. I’ve started taking long hikes regularly, and enjoying the adventure of being outdoors. I’ve started walking the Three Mile Drive at the Arboretum and finding myself drawn to trails off the main path that I’ve never taken before.

These little adventures introduce me to beautiful places that I would have never seen if I hadn’t gotten out of the harbor and into the world. I find myself getting to take pictures and notice things that I would have ignored before.

Who knew oak leaves in spring were so incredible with the way they glow in the sun? Or the unique way their yellow-green budding leaves contrast with gray sky and golden dried grasses? The world holds so much beauty within it.

Not every adventure is fun. J and I took a wooded trail last weekend at the Arboretum that I only made it about 10 feet into. After seeing about five snakes in as many steps, I decided retreat was the better part of valor. I was just proud of myself for not screaming. I hate snakes. I know garter snakes are harmless. I still loathe them. They creep me out. Five snakes in five steps is way too many snakes!

But the adventure still felt like living. I gained a story from the experience. I did something. I took a risk — even if I didn’t like the outcome. I chose life.

Choosing life leads to choosing gratitude. As I notice with wonder the abundance of beauty and kindness in my life, I can’t help but be thankful. For the people who will join me on adventures and make them even more fun. For the beauty that I’d never been willing to notice before. For the stories I get to add to my toolbox.  For God, who is the source of all this good.

Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion, 
 who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Psalm 103:1-5

Life is for living. Who or what helps you choose life? What gets in your way?

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