"You Really Look Like You Know What You're Doing"

“You really look like you know what you’re doing,” she said, as her kayak glided by my paddleboard mid-lake. My reaction to this compliment was telling. Rather than smiling or thanking her, I replied in a self-deprecating tone: “Except I almost just fell off.”

We continued on in opposite directions. I kept my knees ever so slightly bent and my weight the tiniest bit forward as I alternated paddling on the left and right, steadily propelling my body and the board across the calm surface. The clouds shifted to reveal the late-summer sun, which felt warm and delicious on my bare shoulders.

I felt great for a moment, and wondered why I can’t just feel great all the time. Why couldn’t this be enough? Why did I automatically dismiss my competence like that? And further, why did I equate nearly losing my balance with incompetence? What if playing with balance was the very thing that made me good at this thing? Geez. Even in the knowing better, I knew better.

And sure enough, as I continued to paddle around, my thoughts drifted to work, and transitions, and how it’s like this every time. Every time there is a change, I have to readjust my weight. Every time I decide to go this way and not that, I must recalibrate my positioning on the board, ever so subtly.

To the naked eye, it may look like I really know what I’m doing, while my actual experience often feels wobbly, shaky, insecure, and uncertain. Maybe both can be true, and the possibility of this allows me to relax more fully into the moment. For the bazillionth time, I note the tendency, i.e. habit, of questioning myself rather than remembering that this is all part of it, and by “it,” I am referring to living itself, with all of its responsibilities. Sometimes I feel less like I’m gliding over the water and more like the current is pulling me under.

But the lake has no current, and I begin to like this idea of imagining my mind as a lake— still, calm, perhaps even kind. When I make this mental shift, it’s easier to focus on my feet in a literal sense. Where am I standing? How am I standing? What is the actual ground beneath me and how am I supporting this structure of bones and muscles and glorious, miraculous systems that compose the person who happens to be me?

From there, more openings follow. I can survey the landscape with open eyes. Green trees ring the small body of water; some cabin-sized houses dot the surrounding forest. A few large rocks jut out near the edges and the lilypads rest like small green saucers, their roots dangling below. It’s the last weekend of August; summer has passed as quickly as any coveted season does. We are still here, still alive, still making love and choosing where to place our attention — namely on each other, our kids, our wellbeing, mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. We aren’t getting any younger and I find myself marveling at and embracing the way the grey in my hair seems to proliferate daily. I remind myself how none of it is a given, and that worrying is a waste of energy and time.

That doesn’t mean I don’t worry, if just means I know better and so I practice. God, do I practice. I turn to the breath, I turn to movement, I turn to writing, I turn to the lake and the clouds and the ground, always the ground. I am a Capricorn, after all, and without that sense of being on my path, I still lose myself to the false belief that I might, in fact, have lost my way.

And that, my friends, is bad news bears for this mama. If I’ve lost my way — this is how this line of thinking goes — we are headed for sure disaster. Everything is on the verge of collapse and ruin. It’s a zero to sixty proposition and it is not pretty, not at all. It’s stunning, in fact, how quickly fear can overtake me.

“You really look like you know what you’re doing.”

The woman’s voice interrupts my reverie and brings me back to what led me to writing this in the first place. “Thanks!” I reply, in this alternate scenario. “It’s so fun!” And I mean it, because it’s true. It’s so fun, being on this paddleboard, feeling my way in new elements and doing new things, taking risks, and trusting that even when — not if, but when — I do fall, I will be ok, and maybe even a little stronger for it.

I walk up to the bathhouse and take a luxuriously long, hot shower in the cedar-smelling stall. As the soapy water caresses my skin, I close my eyes and take in the sensations. I think about changes — the ones I initiate and the ones beyond my control — and I remind myself that I can do this life thing. I am more competent than I often give myself credit for. And that it’s ok to actually enjoy this perspective. It’s ok to relax, to make room for things to unfold, to loosen my death grip on the paddle and trust the momentum to carry me along.

Then I dry off and get dressed, stopping to hang my wet suit and towel on the rope line strung between trees. I climb into my sleeping bag to write a little, then slip further down into its warmth for an afternoon nap. A gentle breeze moves through the trees outside my screened-in cabin.

“Take rest, mama,” I tell myself. “Everything is going to be ok.”

And I choose to believe it.