The repetitive nature of paddle strokes
I love paddling my skin-on-frame qajaq (kayak), I feel physically and mentally connected to the water when paddling it. I feel the skin move as the pressure of waves pass by. I feel the intimate connection of heel, thigh, and butt to the wooden skeleton. With each paddle stroke I feel the water gently moving the paddle, aligning the blade’s angle so as to ease the the waters disturbance, and leave it at peaceful rest. The water constantly imparting its knowledge, gently informing me of what is right, until I find that perfect rhythmic stroke angle, where no sound is made, no swirling vortices are created, and I am smoothly, efficiently, sliding through the water, at one, water, paddle, qajaq, body.
I remember many years ago posting on a forum asking how to keep my hands dry when using a Greenland paddle, the response, which at first seemed flippant was “paddle harder”. So I did, and it worked. There are many type of strokes one can use to propel a qajaq forward. My comfortable, natural feeling, long distance stroke is just powerful enough to keep my hands dry, but by the same token it is not a dry, silent, stroke. Water is carried upwards by the raised paddle blade end with each stroke, then droplets gently fall from the blade onto the deck below. The water drops hitting the tight fabric, stretched taught between the gunwales on the fore-deck, resonate. Beating a soft tattoo. A mesmerizing sound, hypnotic in nature. When paddling I seek to keep the rhythm constant, beating like the heart of a living creature, my qajaq, alive, I imagine, as it slides quietly through the water.
There is great personal power in that sound, that rhythm, of paddle strokes, of drum beating, water falling. Its repetitive meditation, of sound and motion, bring peace to me. I often find myself am alone inside my head when I paddle. Yet unlike that time on land when my thought invariably turn dark, the sound of paddle strokes calms me. Bringing clarity, peace and a nothingness that, after the hubub of my daily life’s patterns, is a welcome respite. A time to relax, to dream and to focus on self improvement.
Unfortunately I don’t live afloat, I am not an aquatic mammalian. Instead my mind walks on shore, affected and afflicted by the mental self torture that befalls many over thinkers. Of late, when my thoughts turn dark and I curl up fetal like, it becomes an impossible challenge for me alone to break the swirling mental cycle of negativity. My lady knows how. In her calm voice she repeats to me the story of paddle strokes, the catch, the power, the withdraw, and most importantly, the gentle drum beat of water droplets hitting the fore-deck. Through her oral recreation of the aural patterns, my mind gently unwinds. It returns to the inner peace, the connection to the water restored, the warmth of the fire of self compassion reignited, the anguish departed.
The paddle stroke is my mantra. Its memory, both mental and physical, meditative and sedative, a calming wonderful influence on my mental health.