Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Post SAS Reflection II: Just Being

Learning to be...
When the MV World Odyssey is at sea there is no cell phone access, and the internet is limited to the few sites needed for class research and seamail, the somewhat unpredictable email service Semester at Sea provides.  Instead of television there is the six channel streaming service that includes the ship channel with map and current weather; a streaming webcam of the view from the bow; three channels of ever rotating movies and documentaries meant to supplement class material; and one ship sanitation channel that runs a continual loop of what to not flush down the ship toilets.  Students pretty much do not have access to alcohol while on board (there is this thing called 'beverage service' which occurs with some sort of regular frequency that I was certainly never able to figure out and which most folks, myself included, didn't seem particularly interested in it anyway).  In other words, many of our modern day distractions are simply not available on board. 

Not that there isn't plenty to do.  Every student is enrolled in four classes which take up several hours of each day and each class of course has a couple of hours of homework to do.  There are research papers to write, reading to be done and tests to study for.  There are also a lot of community activities such as exercise classes, seminars about upcoming ports, game nights, post port reflections and talent shows type events but there is still a lot of down time, or at least more down time than I was used to.

What there isn't a lot of are those sorts of distractions that allow you to numb out or escape yourself.  If you are having a bad day or are in a funk or facing a bout of loneliness, there is no Facebook to scroll through, no Google rabbit holes to get lost in, no bar to drown your sorrows in.  And while the streaming shows did cause me to develop a situational obsession with the Dalai Lama (another story for another time) a quick peruse of the generally depressing deforestation/child exploitation/women's suffering/etc. would bring the realization that there was no escape to be had there. 

While I definitely went through periods of obsessive email checking or Wikipedia (one of the few sites that we had access to the actually connected with any sort of predictability) meandering, in the end when I was feeling sad, lonely or just out of sorts there really was only one option, to learn to live with whatever frame of mind I was in.  Which is why you see a photo of the 10 of Cups above.  In the Tarot of Transformation this card is titled Joyous Flow and is about "feeling at home in the emotional world."  Despite its title the card is not about being happy all of the time but instead cultivating an acceptance of where ever you are and whatever you are feeling in the moment.  I've been using the card as a focus to remind myself to work on keeping connected to this state. 

Being busy has always been my distraction of choice.  Just keep doing and doing, keep busy, keep moving, keep going...if you are always on the go the bad feelings can't catch up to you, so get a move on!!  I didn't have this option available to me though on the ship.  It was difficult.  I was often annoyed with myself first for feeling whatever I was feeling and then doubly annoyed for not being able to distract myself from it.  In fact there were times I had no option other than to just sit and be still.

And because of this, slowly, as the days passed I learned to live with whatever I was feeling.  I'm not sure I could point to a specific moment but at some point in the journey I found that some of the loneliness I'd been battling was no longer overwhelming.  It wasn't gone, instead it had moved from being something that seemed ready to occupy my entire being, to just being just a piece of who I was at the moment.  I also found myself experiencing moments of joy that existed alongside my homesickness or loneliness.  This often occurred with I'd experienced something beautiful, whether a sunset or music or dance, that I found personally moving but which also made me long to share the experience with certain friends at home. 

By the time we docked in San Diego I was beginning to truly cherish the still moments.  The times when I could just sit and exist in whatever state of emotion I was in.  I have never been one who bought into the idea of finding a state of perpetual happiness and bliss, and I still don't, yet while I did believe in the transience of all things and have often written about how accepting the temporariness of one's current state can make the so-called negative states easier to live with, I don't think I fully grasped the concept of allowing oneself to exist within those states of being. 

I have learned that it is entirely possible to feel shitty and great at the same time.  That I can wake up in the worst mood but I don't need to run from it and in fact, I can actually get up and go on with my day.  And probably the most important lesson, to not judge what I am feeling; that there is nothing wrong with whatever it is I am feeling in the moment. 

Now that I am back in the world of easy distraction I hope I am able to maintain this new ability to be present with what I am feeling, particularly since I'm still only just learning to do so.  Of all the things I learned about myself on the voyage this is the one that I have the greatest desire to hang on to.

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