Freaking Out in a Sea Kayak

by Nancy Soares on May 27, 2013

Editor’s note: This article is one Eric had sketched out for 2012.

“Over the years, I have learned that the biggest hidden threat is mental confusion caused by a combination of the ocean’s cosmic chaos and the mind’s inability to process it all. Symptoms include inability to communicate (listening and expressing) and perception distortion, coupled with either a numbing, debilitating fear that results in non-action when action is required and/or a bravado that results in foolhardy actions.”  Eric Soares, Confessions of a Wave Warrior

Having lost his boat, the kayaker, now a swimmer, freaks out.

Having lost his boat, the kayaker, now a swimmer, freaks out.

In this post Eric wanted to discuss a couple of stories that exemplify freaking out. Freaking out can really screw you up whether you or someone else with you is freaking. These stories offer concrete examples of freaking out and what can be done about it.

The first incident Eric had slated for this article took place in 2000 when he and Jim were teaching a class on the Sonoma coast (see Confessions of a Wave Warrior, “Worst Class Ever”). A student drifted into the danger zone. Eric yelled at him but he didn’t respond. A big wave came in. Even though Eric, Jim, and all the other students were yelling at this guy to paddle out of the wave’s way he froze. And he got creamed. Amazingly, he ended up unharmed on top of a rock in the middle of the reef without boat or paddle. Shell-shocked, he wouldn’t budge even when Eric tried to coax him off the rock. Eric finally had to threaten to climb up and throw him off before the guy would leave his perch and swim in.

In this example, we see several symptoms of freaking out. First, the student allowed himself to drift into the danger zone. That itself indicates his senses were getting overloaded and consequently he was distracted, couldn’t listen or hold his position. Second, he wouldn’t exit the kill zone while he still had a chance even when everyone was urging him to move, an example of non-action when action is required. Third, having suffered the consequences of his failure to act he still refused to obey instructions designed to help him and actually had to be threatened before he acted. There was a clear inability to communicate. Fortunately he responded to threats, but that’s what it took to get him to move.

Another example is the time when my friend Denise and I were paddling the X-3 and got destroyed in the surf at Miramar. We lost the boat and during the swim to shore Denise kept telling me she didn’t think she could make it. She even did the classic cling-on routine by grabbing my arm with both hands. I came close to threatening her in order to make her let go. I talked her in to shore, but she was so shaken when we tried to go out again she couldn’t stay in the boat. She just kept falling out helplessly and we were done paddling for that day. Incidentally, inability to stay in the boat is a sign of freaking out.

Eric and I discussed this incident a lot. He and I were both surprised that Denise, a strong swimmer familiar with the ocean, freaked out. After the wipeout, Denise was physically fine. But she was shell-shocked and began going into freakout mode. After we lost the boat, she started swimming against the long shore current toward me, a very bad judgment call. It would have made more sense for her to swim straight in to shore – it was closer, and she would have crossed the current instead of having to swim against it. Because of her mental confusion she ended up swimming twice as far. Luckily she’s a strong swimmer.

Then there was Bad Day at Black Rock (see Extreme Sea Kayaking, Chapter 10). Briefly, Eric took Tim, his hotshot rock-climbing friend, out to Black Rock in a double. Tim, a novice paddler, went out with Eric because he wanted to “overcome his fear of the ocean”. Unfortunately Eric didn’t realize that Tim actually had a paralyzing phobia of the ocean. The surf at Black Rock was too much for him. He fell out of the boat repeatedly, quickly exhausted himself, and ended up having to be rescued and assisted back to the beach. Tim was in shock and hypothermic. He vomited, and after going home ended up in the hospital with kidney failure. All this after less than an hour on the water. Phobias should be taken seriously, and Eric said again and again this experience was a huge lesson for him.

So what do you do when someone you’re kayaking with freaks out? The way you handle the situation can make all the difference between a successful outcome and potential death. Here’s what Eric had to say: My way is to calmly take over. Be sure others are safe. If the guy bolts and you can’t follow him, well, he’s gone. C’est la vie.

When someone freaks out, one person has to take over. If that person isn’t you stand by and wait for instructions. Remain calm. Calm like panic is communicative, and before you deal with the freaker, you need to be sure everyone in the group not involved in the rescue is accounted for. Be sure others are safe and don’t jeopardize your own safety. Especially if you’re the leader you need to be sure everyone gets home in one piece.

Eric told me when I first started kayaking with him: “You’re on your own.” He made it clear that it was my job to look out for myself and self-rescue if necessary. It was a great lesson, and it made me cautious. Ultimately we alone bear the responsibility for our choices and the attendant consequences both on and off the water. C’est la vie.

Hmmm, I think it's time to start that self-rescue...

Hmmm, I think it’s time to start that self-rescue…

It’s important to emphasize that sometimes you have to be forceful with someone who’s freaking out. In movies you sometimes see one character slapping another who is freaking. This does work. In the one example cited above, Eric had to threaten to throw his student off the rock and actually make moves toward that end before the student would finally act. Had he not acted, believe me Eric would have climbed up there and done the deed.

Of course, the best thing to do is to avoid freaking out in the first place. One of the easiest and best ways to practice being calm is to practice pranayama (see “Deep Breathing” on this website). Studies have shown that agitated breathing triggers agitation in the mind; conversely calm breathing calms the mind. I try to be mindful of my breathing on and off the water. Also, exposing yourself to bigger and bigger challenges gradually over time can really help. Familiarity breeds confidence. Just don’t let it breed contempt. We know that on the ocean conditions can change in an instant. Avoid complacency. Keep a weather eye out for danger at all times.

What experiences have you had with freaking out? What other ways are there to avoid freaking out, or to cope with it once it begins?

Please share your knowledge and experience with pranic or panic breathing in kayaking or any aspect of your life.  Feel free to ask questions or add your thoughts by pressing the “comments” button below.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Barbara Kossy May 27, 2013 at 7:56 am

Fear and Sea Kayaking
by Barbara Kossy, 1997

When I first started sea kayaking I was scared a lot. I signed up for a BASK trip to Angel Island. I had never paddled there before, and had never paddled the open bay. For a week before the trip I constantly worried about my skills, my strength, my health, capsizing, and weather. Would I be so slow that I’d be left behind in the middle of the bay? Would I have fun or would it be horrible? The night before I had trouble sleeping and I felt nauseous that morning. The trip was a success. I made it through the bumpy water at Yellow Bluff and made new friends.

Eight years later I still get scared. But it’s unusual now, and kayaking is a lot more fun. It’s just short of amazing that I continued to kayak because I was scared a lot. Obviously, everyone is different and has their own demons. What scares you may not move me, and what scares me, you might ignore.

There are three types of fear: phobia, anxiety, and true fear.

A phobia is an irrational fear focused on something specific. Some common phobias are fears of high places, social situations, and the dark. When you have a phobia you avoid a phobic situation. It sometimes takes a lot of work to avoid a phobia. For example, someone with a phobia of bridges would drive miles out of their way to avoid the Bay Bridge. But avoidance keeps the phobia active. How can you learn a bridge is safe if you’re never on one to find out?

By dealing with a phobia directly you can overcome it and actually gain competence in other areas of your life. Insight does not help reduce phobia. To overcome a phobia you must:

Be willing to experience your fear in the presence others and to talk about it with others.
Use systematic relaxation when you begin to get anxious. Try creative visualization and deep breathing.

Phobias can lead to counter phobias. People who are counter phobics do things that are more dangerous than reasonable. They deny realistic fear and can be dare devils (like Evil Knevil). They can be sadistic and do unto others what was done to them. You may know one. Typically it’s the person who encourages a novice to try a black diamond ski run or to surf the South Tower waves before the paddler has a good forward stroke. If you know you’re not ready for big surf but your pal says you are, and tries to push you out there, be cautious. Assess your own skill level and act on your best judgment.

Anxiety or unrealistic fear is characterized by a feeling of vague, unspecified harm. Like fear, it can cause a state of physical disturbance; unlike fear, it is characterized by the absence of an apparent cause–the circumstance that precipitates anxiety is hidden and unknown. Anxiety has many symptoms, including pounding heartbeat, breathlessness, shaking, sweating, dry mouth, dizziness, weakness, nausea, insomnia, fatigue, headache, and loss of appetite, tunnel vision, dry mouth, sweaty palms, nonstop talking, and staying with an irrational thought.

You’re anxious if you know your ability, but fear incapacitates you. For example, you and your friends go out to play in the waves at Yellow Bluff, but even though you know nothing bad could happen (you have a wet suit on, you know your re-entries, you could eddy out any time) you’re still scared, so scared that you just sit in the eddy and watch everyone else play, or you’re in the middle of something gnarly and you get stiff and weak and scared and just can’t paddle effectively.

I’ve seen anxious paddlers who paddle fast out in front of the group, never looking back, possibly unaware that they’re scared, and afraid to even turn around. For some people it’s hard to admit that they’re scared. If you see a scared looking paddler, (and can catch up) you may just ask them how things are going. If you’re relaxed, just that simple question can help an anxious paddler relax. Or maybe that paddler just needs a little tip on how to deal with a following sea, or whatever. In many cases a bit of information can help a lot (e.g. It’s easier to turn on top of a wave than in the trough.)

You can overcome anxiety by relaxing, and examining the cause of the anxiety. To reduce anxiety build your skill level gradually. Learn more about weather, waves, and local conditions. Build your kayaking skills. Start with your comfort level, and push it bit by bit.

Everyone does this at a different level. It took me seven years to let myself flop over in my kayak to practice bracing, and I’m still working on it. If you want to work on a particular skill that scares you, bracing in choppy water, for example, find a skilled teacher, either commercially or through BASK, and tell that person exactly what’s going on. Set up your ideal learning situation. Maybe you need two teachers in gentle chop, maybe you need to set a specific goal for a session, like just poking your nose around the point to flirt with the chop for 5 minutes before you head back to the protected cove. Take the time to set up what’s right for you.

Fear is the appropriate response to what it truly threatening. When you are in a threatening situation, realistically appraise your skills vs. the demands of the environment. Maybe you don’t need to go there. By paddling in environments that gradually challenge your skills, you give yourself the training you need to assess your ability to take care of yourself and others.

To function while afraid you can use these techniques:

Remember when you successfully did something like this before.
Imagine doing it successfully.
Enact it before hand.
Train in advance.
Pay attention to doing it well.
Develop a ritual to remind yourself of doing it well. (I say to my kayak, “You were built to do this stuff. Go for it.”)
Are you still afraid? Is what you want to do realistic? Can you make the fear go away? It’s OK to admit something is scary. Do you have the capacity to go on? Can you stop and talk about it? (Shelter behind a point etc.). Can you get out of the water? Can you just go back? Remember you don’t have to do everything that scares you.

Acknowledge when you get scared, and figure out what it is that’s scaring you. As sea kayakers we need to examine and manage our fear because fear can incapacitate us and it gets in the way of having fun. Being thrilled is fun, but being actually scared, is not. Fear is physical and can impede skills and judgment. Learn to help others and yourself deal with fear and your paddling trips will be more fun. The awareness of fear will help you experience the pleasure of sea kayaking and of just being alive.

Fear is in fact the fear of death, and when we become aware of our eventual death we take an important step towards being a whole person. The more conscious of it we are, the fewer anxieties we will have. (I ask myself, “Can I die here? Not likely, pretty likely, etc.”) Death is a very hard concept for us humans to grasp. Because of the power of our minds, we feel immortal. When we become aware of our bodies, we become aware of our mortality. Kayaking is a great way to come to terms with our mortality and engage in that terrific human activity, play. How lucky we are to be able to play on the bay, the estuary, and ocean. To play in the heart of the mystery of life. This mystery is more than we can understand, yet it adds greatly to the pleasure of life.

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Barbara Kossy May 27, 2013 at 7:58 am

by Barbara Kossy
bkossy@coastside.net
I wrote an article about fear and sea kayaking in the late nineteen nineties, when I was one of the leaders of the BASK novice clinic. I felt fear was a then unacknowledged element of sea kayaking. Some people seemed brave, some seemed foolish and I felt like a coward. Over my years of kayaking my feelings about fear have changed. At first I was embarrassed and humiliated by it. I still am. But now I know more about myself, and I know that fear is a part of being human.
When I’m in a narrow kayak, say, 22 inches wide or less, and I look at the open horizon line, the boundary between the sky and sea, I feel like I’m looking down from the ledge of a 40-story building. I freeze up. While paddling, depending on what I see around me, I can get a vague, uneasy feeling. So, I paddle a wide, comfy kayak, and enjoy the open water. I can still feel uneasy in certain conditions that include glassy water and haze. Some call it vertigo, but it’s being redefined as an aspect of a fear of heights.
Emotion can affect fear as well. Long ago, right after my divorce, I went out paddling in the bay in choppy conditions. I broke out into tears. The grief plus the challenging conditions were too much. With the help of my friends I was able to paddle through the chop, relax, and enjoy the day.
As a child I was told there was a lot to be afraid of. Bums in the park, cars, Nazis, anti-Semites, rapists, muggers, bureaucrats, vendors, be careful of this, don’t do that, etc. I’m sure it sounds familiar. Humans evolved to be afraid. It’s served us well as a species. However it’s also used by politicians and demagogues and the media to manipulate public opinion.
So what’s the scientific basis and function of fear? Why do some people get scared and others don’t? Research (and life experience) shows that some people are more fearful, and others more intrepid. Why? “This comparison turned up a region in the front of the brain called the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, or sgACC, that was active when courage was on display, but quiet when fear took over. “ Science News
The last page of this site links to articles that shed light on the workings of fear. Fearful or brave, it may be your personal chemistry. Even extreme athletes feel fear. It just takes a bit more stimulation to get them there.

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Barbara Kossy May 27, 2013 at 8:04 am

Here are some links to articles on fear.

Goose Bumps: The Science of Fear
developed by the California Science Center
http://www.fearexhibit.org/
Science of Fear by Daniel Gardner
Why We Fear the Things We Shouldn’t — and Put Ourselves in Greater Danger, presented here by Google books.
http://books.google.com/books?id=bmyboRubog4C&printsec=frontcover&dq=fear+science&source=bl&ots=gCDWbCyAoQ&sig=zI9xOC_hipeT5ZrIG4kFnEG29F4&hl=en&ei=OSlPTMevL47ksQP1hIDZBw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=9&ved=0CEQQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q&f=false
Factoring Fear: What Scares Us and Why
Scientists scan the brain in an attempt to explain the hows and whys of being afraid–very afraid 
by Lou Dzierzak
http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=factoring-fear-what-scares

At Home in the Discomfort Zone
by Kevin Foley for Outside Magazine
http://www.outsideonline.com/fitness/At-Home-in-the-Discomfort-Zone.html

Snakes on the brain
 Researchers delve into the neural roots of courage
by Laura Sanders for Science News
http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/60519/description/Snakes_on_the_brain_

The Personal Face of Evolution
by Rusty Rockets
Why a species needs the risk averse, and the risk prone.
http://www.scienceagogo.com/news/personality.shtml

Brain Has Backup Circuit for Fear
http://www.foxnews.com/story/2010/08/10/brain-has-backup-circuit-for-fear/

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Nancy Soares May 27, 2013 at 8:26 am

Thanks, Barbara, for your comments and all the info on fear. The ocean can be a scary place even for those who’ve been out there for years. It cracks me up that you fly to Europe without batting an eye while I’m freaking out at the thought of navigating flights and airports. Fear is different things to different people and the more we can learn about it the better. Knowledge is power and can often help us overcome our fears.

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Fat Paddler May 28, 2013 at 6:04 am

In Team Fat Paddler we joke from time to time about how the exhilaration we seek is really a combination of fear and relief… and usually in that order!! We push ourselves to the point of terror and then rejoice when we get through it… and then do it all again the following week!

But in all seriousness, I did have an episode of ocean downwind paddling where I became exhausted a few miles out to sea and kept falling off my ski as the ocean conditions steadily got worse (i.e. got BIGGER). There were moments out there where I really started to wonder if my time was up, and yet in those moments I was quite calm and actually a little annoyed at myself for getting into the situation in the first place.

Unlike most people, I’ve had some quite serious near-death experiences – the type where you readily accept that imminent death is actually coming – and I’ve found myself growing calmer in those situations. I often wonder if that has changed my panic reflexes or not, because whilst I still harbour many fears, my reactions now are far less likely to include panic.

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Nancy Soares May 28, 2013 at 7:34 am

Hey FP, thanks as always for your comment. I read a book once called “From Panic to Power”. In it, the author describes a method of dealing with anxiety by telling yourself you’re not anxious; you’re excited! And it’s true that you can acclimate yourself to extreme conditions by exposing yourself over and over till it’s not such a big deal. You can even get addicted to the rush!

Your downwind episode above sounds more like fatigue than freakout to me, although the two can go together. You get tired, you get worried, you get more tired, you get more worried, and so on until full freakout is achieved. Freaking out uses a lot of energy, and people who are freaking quickly tire even if they were relatively fresh to begin with. Rerouting your energy from the panic track to the problem-solving track is a choice we can make, but only if we haven’t gone over the edge mentally.

Regarding near-death experiences, I think that although it probably varies from person to person, these events do help us manage extreme situations better than those who have not been so (un?) fortunate as to have had them. Again, it’s a form of acclimatization. In my martial arts practice I was introduced over time to more and more extreme techniques. Also, and probably more importantly, I got practice in getting my spirit up to confront challenges such as fighting multiple opponents. When I first went to Knife in the Woods, a pretty extreme kill or be killed training scenario, I discovered the benefits of my training. I’d heard tales of people crying, vomiting, and other forms of freaking out during this 2-day event. I think the guys were trying to scare me. Actually, when the time came I just got tired, and the more tired I got the more annoyed I got. I spent the whole weekend being, well, irritated (I’m gonna kill you, you POS, cuz I wanna go sit down and rest till the next drill. Get outta my way!) So I can really relate when you mention being annoyed. I think that’s actually a healthy response that doesn’t get in the way of your ability to problem solve and self rescue. The worst thing about freaking out is that bit about non-action when action is required. When you’ve lost your instinct for survival, you’re toast.

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Fat Paddler May 31, 2013 at 5:28 pm

Remind me never to annoy you Nancy. 😉

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Nancy Soares May 31, 2013 at 6:54 pm

I’m not easily annoyed, FP. I’m one of those people who just takes it and takes it and takes it. And then, to paraphrase Bob Dylan “The walls come down (boom boom) all the way to hell…” For some reason it always takes people by surprise.

KITW was a special kind of hell – they kept us running (literally) from place to place and then they made us run a gauntlet of about 30 opponents in the woods whom you had to seek and destroy. And then they put pepper spray in our eyes and made us fight. And made a mud pit and made us fight. And made us fight a double elimination trial until all but the top 6 had been eliminated. It was really annoying. For some inexplicable reason I’m doing it again in August. I may do a post on it if I can get permission (they’re really cagey about it) and I can work it into the theme.

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Tony Moore May 28, 2013 at 4:31 pm

Once in the late 1990’s I did a short morning paddle (before my P.M. shift) out to Patience Island from Greenwich Cove, Warwick R.I. This paddle included a 0.7 mile crossing which was uneventful while going out to Patience Island. But on the return trip, it was a nightmare. There was a small current, but , the nightmare was the boat traffic. It seemed that every boat in the state was passing through this body of water on my return trip. Some were large cabin cruisers, and they were producing very confused 2 and3-foot wakes. The worst part was that I was in my Heritage Shearwater, (an SOT with a reputation for being tippy), and I had just recently bought it, so I still wasn’t quite comfortable in it. I thought for sure I was going to be swimming. I really wanted to just concentrate on bracing, but then I thought, only bracing will just leave me out here not making any progress. So, knowing that forward momentum itself will give you some stability, I paddled, bracing only when I really thought it was critical. All the while, I knew that if I had to swim and tow the boat, even though I would be capable of doing that, the danger from the boat traffic would be greatly increased, since I would be much lower in the water not sitting in the kayak, and probably be lost in the chop, with all those many boats unable to see me. I tried not to think about all this, but to concentrate on the task at hand, and stay loose and upright. I would have bet everything that I own that I was going to go over, with every moment being an “OH NO!” moment. But by some miracle, I made it. It only took a few minutes to make that crossing, but it seemed like hours!

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Nancy Soares May 28, 2013 at 5:01 pm

Tony, this takes us back to John Lull’s 3 principles of sea kayaking mentioned in the previous post’s thread: balance, good stroke technique, and relaxation. In your story, you needed all 3. You may have been scared but you didn’t freak out. You made a rational decision to make forward progress to help you balance and stay in the boat. This was a really good decision because if you had concentrated on bracing it’s possible you might have gotten fatigued and ended up in trouble out in the middle of the crossing. You have a strong stroke technique which pulled you through. You stayed loose – there’s that relaxation thing, another very important point as the less relaxed you are, the higher your center of gravity gets and that makes it harder to stay upright. And you steered your thoughts away from what might happen and concentrated on things within your power. Even when you thought about swimming (how many times have we had that conversation on this website???) you knew you could do it so long as no one ran over you and that gave you a sense of control over your situation. This brings to mind the flag people hold up in a power boat to indicate a skier in the water until that skier gets up. When making a crossing in an area likely to have boat traffic it might be a good idea to have a flag like that to attach to your kayak so you’ll be more readily visible. Do they make such things for kayakers? Glad you made it and lived to tell your tale! Thanks for your story.

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Tony Moore May 29, 2013 at 8:00 am

So far, this has been my scariest kayak incident. If I had gone over, I would have attempted to re-enter, but it could have been difficult with confused waves coming at me from every direction. I would have tried three times to re-enter (like baseball, 3 strikes, you’re out!), and then resorted to swimming…it wouldn’t make any sense to waste a lot of time trying to do something that just wasn’t working. If that had been the case, I would have loved to have a flag that passing vessels could see! I remember, however, from another kayaking blog that a lot of kayakiers are opposed to the flag idea, believing it would make rolling more difficult. But I was in an SOT with no seatbelt, so rolling was not an option anyway.
The whole incident is very different from a rock gardening “OH NO!” moment, where the incident is usually of much shorter duration, and often involves an error in timing. But in either case, paralysing fear is a bad thing. You must evaluate the situation, and then, using the resources at hand, (whether knowledge, skill, equipment, or breathing / calming / mind centering techniques), make a plan and go for it 100%. In the rock gardens especially, I’ve found that being decisive is one of the most important things…make a plan, and execute it 100%, never second-guessing yourself half-way through.

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Nancy Soares May 29, 2013 at 9:05 am

I like the 3 times and you’re out concept. It’s true that if something isn’t working it doesn’t make sense to keep trying. 3 times, sure, but then it’s time for Plan B. In your case, trying to re-enter over and over would have just made you tired and possibly drained you of the energy you would have needed to swim in had it come to that. On the other hand, in FP’s case above he was far from land and needed to be in his boat.

The thing about the flag…it’s interesting how people’s minds work in small spaces because of preconceived beliefs. A flag may or may not make rolling difficult. That’s not the point. Water skiers use the flag when the skier goes down. When the skier is up the flag goes down. My idea is that the flag could be attached to the deck (perhaps something that could fold down and up on some kind of hinge?) secured by ties or carried inside a hatch. Or maybe something like a folding yardstick that could be carried in a PFD pocket. It would be used only in an emergency, like a beacon. I guess there’s a product idea for someone to develop.

I’m also glad you brought up the “go for it” concept. Being decisive is huge and is absolutely one of the most important things in rock gardening. Freaking out robs one of the ability to make good decisions, or any decision at all. Even if your plan isn’t the best for the situation, if you are decisive it could still come off. If you’re not decisive even a good plan won’t work. I also think that having a plan and committing to it give you a focus that helps prevent freaking out. We’ll have more on that later…

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Rainer Lang May 30, 2013 at 9:13 pm

A lot of great discussion.

Earworm Warning! http://youtu.be/EVZh4WcdC3s

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Nancy Soares May 30, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Hahahahah! My sentiments exactly!

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Rainer Lang May 30, 2013 at 10:18 pm

Seriously though, I’ve noticed that fear can seen to spread through a group. Sometimes acknowledging the fear can help to ground it.

I was paddling with a group in kind of big water; people were becoming quiet, not the peaceful relaxed kind of quiet, but the nervous kind.

One woman in particular, had her gaze fixed on the horizon and was paddling mechanically, she looked uncomfortable. So I asked, who was it that lives in a pineapple under the sea? Sponge Bob Square Pants! She replied, so we started to sing the theme from the children’s cartoon. Anyone with young nieces and nephews probably knows this all to well. Anyhow, by changing the focus, others started to join in and things were cool again. Sometimes it’s Pranayama, or repeating a mantra that can focus the mind, othertimes it’s a TV show’s theme. Whatever works!

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Nancy Soares May 31, 2013 at 7:21 am

What a great story, Rainer! And how kind and generous-hearted and aware of you to help out. And singing! I remember reading Paul Caffyn’s book “Dreamtime Voyage” and how he kept his spirits up many times by singing. Humor, too, is a great way to diffuse tension, although sometimes people who take themselves very seriously can get offended.

For some reason this brings to mind “The Lord of the Rings” and how many times when the hobbits were out in the wild they kept their spirit from flagging with songs and poetry. There’s a lot of power in that stuff. On the TR retreat last year I wasn’t exactly freaking out but I was overwhelmed with grief. It was the final scattering of Eric’s ashes. It seemed so wrong to be there without him, carrying his ashes in a little can in my hatch. The seas weren’t particularly big, but every now and then some 15 to 18 footers would roll through with a little crackling on top and I would lose sight of everyone. Plus I was paddling a fully laden boat. I had zero energy and felt like crap. So I sang a song: “Step to the edge, face your fears/Let the blessed wind of change dry your tears/Step into the sun, your love’s undying/You’ll overcome your fear of flying”. Over and over and over. (Thanks to Phoenix and After Buffalo.) And I also remember Don paddling over to me and saying softly, “They’re just swells.” It really meant a lot.

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