The Spirit of Adventure and its Treasures

I write this at the close of my most recent voyage of discovery, crewing Soteria, a classic, wooden two-master, from Fowey in Cornwall to La Gomera in the Canaries, via the Bay of Biscay in storm season, with stops in mainland Spain, Portugal and Madeira.

The trip contained everything my adventurous pirate heart could wish for, except for copious quantities of rum – I guess that’s what you get for signing up to crew a dry boat. I knew there was a flaw in the plan. There’s always a flaw in the plan. Why do I keep trying to make a plan? Never have I felt more connected to my alter ego Captain Jack Sparrow in his mournful observation “Why is the rum always gone?” In this case, it’s particularly always gone when it never even existed in the first place. But, stepping away from the non-existent rum bottle, back to adventure.

It started with a storm in the Bay of Biscay. Any sailor knows about Biscay and what it can offer and I became particularly aware of this on discovering that you have to have special insurance to sail after September. A small detail that became increasingly more significant as our departure date slipped well into October. Biscay didn’t disappoint, with winds gusting at force 10, towering black waves, a helm with a mind of its own, a galley (muggins here was one of the two main cooks for 12 starving sailors) which seemed intent on bucking me off my feet or pitching me directly into the oven. The saloon had definite overtones of Hades in the wet season in it’s chaos as night watches changed over; wet weather gear hanging everywhere, damp sailors sleeping anywhere they could due to water-logged bunks, water running in rivulets through various cracks and crannies. You’re getting the generally soggy theme of it?

In fact, I loved sailing the storm, with some serious reservations about the wisdom of my two attempts to sever my connection with the boat and enter the watery and fairly terminal embrace of the Atlantic. My first effort left me hanging doggedly from a rope along the boom as my feet, which had been firmly planted on deck, suddenly dangled over nothing but churning, terrifying water as the boat heeled over. Shortly afterwards I found myself clinging onto something, quite possibly the beard of one of my crewmates, to resist the efforts of a wave that had broken over our bows to re-unite itself, and me with it, with the awfully big, drowny body of water it calls home. These events left me with very wobbly knees, a fine appreciation of my pirate-like, tenacious grip on life and a mental note to self to not be such a complete numpty in the future, and clip on.

Further adventures followed as they do at sea, interesting encounters in foreign ports, new foods, including some particularly grim combinations of cold cans when we ran out of gas and finally being becalmed and swimming above thousands of feet of water in the Atlantic. The swim was utterly magical, until someone idly wondered just how many miles of water there were under my careless toes, at which point, being back on deck suddenly seemed like the attractive option.

Not all of the adventurous possibilities of sailing come from physical action. One of sailing’s greatest gifts comes from its ability to bring you slap, bang up against yourself, and the opportunity to fully experience being cell-tinglingly alive in every moment. This aspect of sailing isn’t as good for toning as the physicality of hoisting, and pulling things, such as the aforementioned crewmates’ beards, but it is certainly food for my soul.

There is a quality to life at sea that makes it so easy to succumb to full appreciation and receptivity. From stunning sunsets and sunrises to the stately, wheeling progression of a ridiculously impossible array of stars at night, reflected by the magic of a phosphorescent universe below. Other beings that we meet inspire awe and gratitude, from muscular, racing dolphins to ponderously huffing pilot whales, even once a little sea bird that seemed to be very happy keeping it’s new, very big mate company, swimming companionably alongside us as we ambled along at 0.0 knots.

Being on the sea does something to the soul. You can’t help but be present in the moment, fully appreciative and alive to the beauty of what’s around you, and the reality of what might need attention. Maybe that’s why sailors are on the whole such a great bunch of people. There is a mixed quality of presence, of practicality and of romanticism in many sailors. Add a sense of humour and even just a dash of sexiness in a man, mix it together in a boat and I’m salivating and ready for dinner. You can see why my own dashing pirate remains somewhat elusive – a lolling tongue and drooling mouth isn’t a good look anywhere, even out of sight of land and civilisation.

When you decide to, it’s easy to take yourself on an adventure. You find something a tiny part of you would love to do, which the more vociferous aspect of your nature absolutely refuses to do on account of the fact that it’s clearly insane, and you go and do it. I re-found my own sense of adventure in my 40s. I think I might have dropped it down the back of the sofa that I spent too much time on in my 30s, and it took a bit of a full on spring clean to unearth it, along with a load of copper coins and a dusty ear plug. With a little practice, here I am now, 46 and living a life on the seas of the world, and on a voyage of infinite possibility discovering the unchartered realms of my heart and that.

As a regular adventurer, I am aware that it is also possible to disconnect from what is most important in life by taking yourself on journeys. The constant seeking of the new can become a way of avoiding the intimacy, depth of experience and connection that is such an important part of a life well lived. Sailing as an activity can take me very aloof from the world, yet by it’s very nature, receiving what is moment by moment, it also brings me into close connection with what I most value about life.

In this last voyage, my greatest treasure was in moments on night watch when I felt, in my missing of family and friends, a deep connection with them, and a dizzy sense of gratitude that I have this rich and bright thing at the centre of my crazily swinging compass. I want more of the vivid experience of physical adventures, the immediacy of a life lived with spirit. I choose this as part of a greater whole that is about being awake to the possibility for greater intimacy, openness and love in the moment. After all, we just don’t know where, or with whom, our greatest adventures start and it would be a shame to miss something beautiful that presents in the moment, because I have my telescope too firmly fixed on a distant horizon.

Swimming in water 4 miles deep while becalmed

Jumping in to 4 miles of water while becalmed in the Atlantic

Storms can be fun, but they play havoc with your hair - as do violent crewmates

Biscay Hair – Storms can be fun, but they play havoc with your hair – as do violent crewmates

Sunset and sea inspired happiness

Sunset and sea-inspired happiness

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Trippling the Light Fantastic on Women’s Day

I am so inspired by the women of the world, by the women of my life, and by myself as a woman.  Today I got a beautiful moment of learning about one of the most powerful aspects of being a woman that is maybe less familiar, and certainly less generally celebrated, but which forms a core of the myth I’m living.

As I mentioned in my last article, I have recently embarked on a rather wonderful exploration of tantra and it is starting to open up an incredibly rich and intense relationship with the sexual energy that is available to me as a woman.  All my life I’ve admired women for their work, for their love, for their courage and sheer bloody-minded determination and inventiveness.  I now add to that a jaw-dropping appreciation of what miracles we are in energetic terms and in our natural ability to receive pleasure when we make the choice to be fully present to ourselves in the moment.

Whatever that means.

Maybe it will help if I give you an example.

I am on the whole a pretty brusque bather, my showers are generally speedy affairs that have earned me the reputation of being a tomboy as I emerge scrubbed, shaved (that’s legs, not chin) and ready for the next bit of the day minutes after starting my ablutions.  Today followed that pattern, in the shower, hair done, armpits and legs shaved, body soaped and clean.  And then I made the best decision of the day, which was to linger a moment and read my choices to myself.

My choices are a part of my intuitive practice; eight aspects of my Land Of Plenty that I would love to create in my life, established through a simple and powerful imaginative exercise.  They give the myth I am creating a structure and I read them aloud every day, and regularly ‘tune in’ intuitively to each choice to connect with the vision I’d love to create, the reality of where I am in relationship to that, and actions that will bring the vision into my life.  My choices this year have an interesting flavour to them not a million miles away from the tantric work, including the one that had a rather dramatic effect on my morning bathing experience: I love being supported by the vibration of my sexuality.

To be honest, my head doesn’t have a clue what this actually means, but I learnt today that my body is pretty sure what it’s all about.  As soon as I connected with the words, and the images that are part of the vision of this choice, my whole being opened up to the moment, to myself and to what my senses were experiencing in the shower that my hurry to get into the day had shut off from me.

Talk about a revelation.

Suddenly my whole being was suffused with the pleasure of the water on my skin, and aware of the energy that was flowing from that pleasure.  There was so much to explore and play with, so much to enjoy.  Simple, easy to access, innocent even.  My birthright as a woman, and all it took to experience it was to open up to myself, to be in myself, to shift out of my busy head and and check in with what was actually going on for me, what my body was telling me about that moment, right there and then.  If you know the film Pleasantville, think trees bursting into flame.

The myths we get caught in so often take us out of the moment and into our worries, our schedule, the future and the past.  This Women’s Day it was such a delight to really choose to be present to the most important woman in my life – me; to give myself time to appreciate the woman I am, the miracle of my body, and the pleasure so simply available to me.

It was a lovely lesson that I took into the rest of my day, really aware of being in my body and enjoying the many moments of pleasure that were there for me: the company of my friend Kat, the delight of seeing the ducks all suddenly partnered up and tootling happily around the park lake in comfy couples,  the deliciousness of a piece of toast with Nutella, the beauty of a man engrossed in drawing by the river.

Women are creatures of incredible resourcefulness and courage, and we are also creatures of pleasure.  We have huge resources to enjoy life through our senses.  Any moment can open up a world of delight, of taste, touch, sight, sound, smell to make your day special.  Indulge yourself and celebrate.