In the Wee Hours: Anxiety and the Nature of Comfort

At some point in the dark and wee hours last night, I got up, grabbed a flashlight, and lifted a floorboard to peer down into the bilge, bottom of our boat. I'd like to tell you why, because it's a huge part of why this endeavor is about so much more than "going sailing" for James and I.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://gettingfr.ee/2018/07/20/in-the-wee-hours-anxiety-and-the-nature-of-comfort/

Embrace the suck! Thank you for that. My favorite part of this post is: “There are apps where other people will park your car for you, pack your suitcase for you. Freeing you to… just work more and more, it seems! Everything is supposedly moving toward ease and comfort but honestly, no one seems more comfortable.”

I learned how to cook for myself more in the past year than I ever have before and I realize that I ENJOY the process and the outcome more when I do it myself. It’s been a big shift in my life for me.

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Jessica, I’m so glad this feels useful for you and resonates with your experience. Feeding ourselves is truly one of the most primal of pleasures, isn’t it?

To give proper credit, “Embrace the suck” is not an expression we have coined; it comes from military culture. For me, it echoes with the yogic practice of pratipaksha bhavana, which means “cultivation of the opposite.” So, where our instinct is to turn away from that which is hard, painful, frustrating in search of ease and comfort, in embracing the suck, one deliberately cultivates relishing the awfulness, the suck, in service of the goal one is aiming for. One sets down the expectation of comfort or ease and roars like a lion at the pain, the frustration, whatever is sucking, and uses that as fuel to carry onward.

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I have the US Marine Corps to thank for “embrace the suck”. Soldiers have to do it a lot more often than sailors, but it’s an idea the resonated hard for me, having seen it on a Goruck beer koozie the same day I was overhauling the head. You’re elbow deep in shit and you’re the only person who can get you out. You can be upset about that, or you can embrace the suck and get it done. Actor and author Anthony Meindl talks about it as Buddhist concept:

When we deny what reality is giving us, we create suffering. So life is a dance between minimizing expectations and surrendering to what our lives actually reveal to us.
By embracing our lives totally (even the stuff that “sucks”), we get through it. The Armed Forces have no other choice. If they’re out in the Iraqi desert or in the mountains of Afghanistan, the only way they’re going to get through those challenging experiences is by embracing it.
But for us with our modern conveniences and propensity for denial, we can distract ourselves, numb ourselves, fool ourselves over and over to avoid, disconnect, ignore, postpone, procrastinate, and put our heads in the sand when we don’t want to look at what is.
And that’s ironic since the denial of something simply extends its presence.

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Ah, I love this! James and were in separate cabins typing the same thing.

I am now going to use this as fuel to embrace the fear: I need to cut the foam for out cockpit cushions, and I am nervous of the precision required to cut and sew them to fit precisely. Waiting doesn’t make it better, though, it just wastes energy on dread. I’m going to embrace my emotional suck and dive into the task. Thanks for the fire, Jessica!

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HOT DAMN! I got out my materials, which include two prior drafts of the pattern. I felt cranky about the state of my drafts and decided to begin a fresh one. I felt cranky about the level of wind afoot for heading into the cockpit with rolls of paper, checked the weather, and decided to wait to tackle this in the morning. Then some other part of me said, having spoken to you the intention to embrace the suck: well, let’s just lay it out and see how it looks to follow through on that intention, hm?

A couple hours later I’ve got most of what I’m sure is going to be the final pattern. Now it’s definitely too windy, so I’ve rolled things up and I’ll get back at it tomorrow, but I feel quite peaceful and euphoric for having pushed through my resistance.

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Self-sufficiency in risky situations is an awakening. Many years ago, before mobile phones, I took part in a rafting trip down the Colorado. If something bad happened, an injured person would have to be hauled down through major rapids, then someone would have to climb out of the canyon at the first suitable place, which might be days downstream, and walk out for help. On a similar trip, a friend broke his ankle badly and they didn’t get him out of there for days. No radio, no phone, no helicopters. It meant that when you went out on a day hike by yourself you paid very special attention all the time. It’s not so much a special kind of consciousness as the loss of the fog we walk around in when we know that if there is trouble, there will be an ambulance.

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I love “the loss of fog we walk around in” as a description for the transition, as it’s usually both as gradual and complete as that implies — we’ve been so careful to shelter ourselves from danger that it really takes some immersion to be able to perceive it again. I say usually because I inadvertently found a way to burn the fog off instantly, which is to take direct responsibility for some people you love in a life-threatening situation that you asked them to join you in. When I brought Resolute, our first boat, up from Moss Landing to Berkeley, I chose to do a night passage because sea conditions are milder then. It was my first time captaining an ocean passage, my first night passage, and the first time three dear friends had entrusted their lives to me. The weight of all that hit me like freight train, especially when things started going wrong. I had done some reasonable preparation but we also got lucky, and that was the last time I could conceive of leaving so much to luck. Ever since that night, reaching the point of really feeling prepared to take responsibility for my crew is an almost physical sensation in its intensity, and it extends out into the rest of my daily interactions. I think it would have taken me a lot longer to see things this way without a trial by fire, and I remain tremendously grateful to David, Brian, and Dan (who went on to buy Resolute from us) for risking their lives to give me that opportunity.

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Yes, Howard, there is nothing quite like the sharp awareness of death, of our impermanence, to make us cherish life. Death is one of the things that has pressed us sea-ward. We bought our home in San Francisco with two other couples. Both of the other couples split up and one person from each couple died during the 13 years we shared that home. So much beauty, so much grief. (Steve, we feel your support of our dreams echoing through the years.)

We had originally planned to rent our home in San Francisco while we tried a cruising life, but the death of our friend Dan would have meant owning our home with strangers, so we let it go and just leapt. (Dan, we love you and carry you in our hearts.)

We carry the ashes of yet another friend, one of the great loves of my youth, who became a brother to James and I. Ludwig wished for his ashes to be spread in the Pacific, “far enough out that they cannot wash back to land.” And while everything will reach the land eventually, we do have his ashes to spread when we get a good ways offshore. (Ludwig, last night we got weirdly lost trying to walk to the recycling at the far end of the marina by a scenic route. I do believe I’ll write about that in just a moment. I love you forever.)

One of the students in my class for people with cancer said to me that he had spent his whole life working incredibly hard to save for a retirement that he was now not going to have in the way he had dreamed. He put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said, “Don’t wait.” (Thank you, Mike. May you be well and cherish many more days.)

So here we are, pressed by our awareness of the fleeting nature of life to live to the fullest, to take exquisite care with that endeavor, and to tell everyone we love that we love them, all the time, over and over.

Howard, I love you so. Your friendship and mentorship is such a gift. I am so happy to see you writing here. Thank you for your presence and thoughtful contribution.

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