Last week Craig and I took off for a canoe-camping trip in the North Cascades wilderness. It was probably the best vacation I can remember having in a long, long time. We whittled our needs and activities down to a basic few: pack up the gear, unpack the gear. Make meals, clean up meals. Paddle from one campsite to another. Enjoy Mama Gaia, enjoy each other. We were completely unplugged and out of cell phone range. We encountered only a handful of people on the remote north end of the lake. The weather couldn’t have been finer. And so we sweetly paddled our way into that mythical land called Slow Time.
In the Gaian Tarot Circle, one of the threads in the discussion forum is about the Gaian Tarot’s penchant for being literal in readings. (For example, someone who pulls the 4 of Water with its imagery of Chalice Well might “coincidentally” be planning a trip to Glastonbury, where the Well is located.) As I paddled for several hours each day at the lake last week, I would think about the Canoe (Chariot) card, and the meaning I assigned to it. I wrote this in the Gaian Tarot companion book:
When you get this card in a reading . . .
This is a time to stay focused on your path, and to exercise self-discipline as you work towards your goal. Set aside anything extraneous that would dis- tract you or keep you from completing your task. What is your goal? What do you want to accomplish? This may apply to your life in the everyday world — pursuing a course of study, a career goal, a fitness plan, a creative project. It may also apply to your inner life; perhaps you are in a recovery program or are healing from a trauma. Whatever it is, set your intention, take your first steps, and your guides and allies will be at your side to help you on your way. Be of great courage! No matter how hard it seems, you have what it takes to succeed.
However . . . what I discovered is that paddling a canoe is not always about being focused and self-disciplined and distraction-free. In fact, it can be a fine way to meander and flow and enjoy the journey rather than the destination. I found myself constantly distracted by colors, shapes and sounds as we paddled along: the intense underwater shades of jade and emerald; undulating, sinuous roots and branches; a raven’s croak and chickaree’s chatter. I was invariably distracted by Beauty.
Even though we had a destination in mind each day, it was up to us how long it took us to get there. (We paddled 2-4 hours each day.) I think that’s true of any goal we might have. We don’t have to kill ourselves with overwork in order to meet a business or personal goal; we can take a slower pace if we choose.
And yet . . . that daily practice of paddling made a huge difference by the fourth day. Each day my technique improved, and each day I found I had more upper body strength. On our last day on the lake, the wind suddenly came up, the clouds rolled in and raindrops started to fall. This change came abruptly. One moment we were admiring an osprey flying overhead and the next moment we were fighting to stay upright in the canoe. As we paddled northward, my focus narrowed: don’t stop paddling, put your muscle into it, keep the spine straight and the hips loose, get around that point to calmer waters, don’t capsize, stay alive! I discovered that fear is a great motivator for staying focused (although I can’t say I recommend it).
When we made it back to landfall and unloaded our gear from the canoe, I felt as though I had passed a test with flying colors. I was frightened during that squall, but I didn’t panic. “Be of great courage!” I wrote for the Canoe card. “No matter how hard it seems, you have what it takes to succeed.”
And (we all know this, right?) it’s that daily practice that helps us meet our goals. Just a little bit, every day. A little bit of exercise, a little bit of meditation, a little bit of creativity, a little bit of uninterrupted focused time will get us where we want to go.
Since returning, I find myself recalling the vast expanses of calm, blue lake water and the sense of serenity I felt while I was there. It makes me think of the last stanza of Willie Yeats’ poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”:
I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
I realize that my task is to bring that deep reservoir of peace into my daily life. As I make my to-do lists and plan my creative projects, as I answer emails and package decks to ship out, as I work on SEO for my sites, as I run my errands and chop my veggies for dinner . . . I want to be that peaceful.
I want to be both peaceful and productive. (Perhaps that’s the new meaning for the twin orcas in the Canoe card, for me.)
So I have a couple of new affirmations for this card:
Tranquility and productivity go hand in hand.
My daily practice of strengthening heart, mind and body keeps me serenely productive.
I am serenely, calmly, incredibly productive!