Progress

As seems to happen frequently in my life, I relearned a lesson today as I paddled, without progress, against the wind, for what seemed like hours. I’m a big fan of stand-up paddle boarding, or SUP’ing for you newbies and, when at home, take every advantage of the opportunity to SUP. So this morning, about an hour after dawn with the remnant of a sunrise mug of coffee, my youngest daughter jumped into place at the front of the board and away from the dock we pushed. The lake was a mirror; perfect reflection of homes looking back at us as we made our way along the shore. To see contrails from jets, flocks of geese, and beautiful northwest cedars you only had to look into the water. The paddle moved effortlessly, ours the only disturbance around. We made our way further and further from our dock, as our jaunts usually last about thirty minutes, three or four times a day. What had started as stillness and quiet within the channel turned into wind, lots of wind, as we crossed the boundary layer into the open water. What had been a gentle journey turned quickly. Much like life at times, the absence of adversity, strife, angst, stress – or even a little wind across the lake – can give you the misperception of calm and control. Like the wind, just a little bit of stress, it seems, can give order. Clarity. Stress can be the chaos theory of our life: that boundary layer between the serene and calm and calamity.

I relearned that this morning, paddling into the wind. Straight off the nose it blew, at a pretty good clip, enough to keep us – well, me – working hard and getting nowhere. Working hard, and getting nowhere. After a few minutes I just stood there and laughed, waves breaking over the nose, pushing us around. I don’t know about you but that is a testament to my life at times. Working hard, getting nowhere. Pushed around. Things breaking over my nose. Life. I just laughed. I looked into the wind and laughed.

In contrast, I looked down at my daughter and she was the picture of relaxation, cross legged on the front of the board, dipping fingers and hands to the left and right, pointing out families of deer, herons, geese, and the occasional sea plane overhead, enjoying the push. And here I was, like the man in the Bob Seger song, just running against the wind. Like most at times like these I just felt there was nothing I could do. The winds pushed and pushed, and paddling meant nothing. And then that little sliver of clarity revealed itself: I was mistaking work for progress, and it’s not. At least not always. Work isn’t progress any more than noise is music. Work CAN be progress. And progress can be the result of work. But there I was, out in the middle of it with my daughter at my feet, and I had fallen into the trap: I thought my work would result in progress. Like my life, at times, I thought my effort would get us where we needed to go. I mistakenly, again, thought I was in control of my circumstances and my environment.

I thought because things had been calm – smooth sailing – that I had been making progress, that things were going my way. It wasn’t until I re-realized that without a little adversity – without some things breaking across my nose – it becomes easy to mistake work for progress. Progress is progress.

Well those drifter days are past me now,
I’ve got so much more to think about
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out
Against the wind
I’m still running against the wind.

As I sit here now, writing, looking at the lake that has returned to its mirrored-state for sunset, it gives me a smile and a chuckle. She’s tugging at my arm, asking me to be done. And, just minutes from now, when I drop the board onto the lake and she takes her place at my feet and we strike out again for another adventure I’ll know: though at times things will be breaking over my nose, and I may not have control, I can still have a really good run.

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