Smoother Sailing

An English officer is conducting an exam interview with a candidate for the Royal Navy.

Examiner: “Suppose you’re the captain of a tall ship and the wind is blowing you towards the rocks. What would you do?” Sailor: “I’d tack to starboard and ask for more sails.” Examiner: “All right, but what if there’s more wind blowing your ship towards the rocks?” Sailor: “I’d continue to tack to starboard and add another sail.” This went on for a while until the examiner asked impatiently, “Where are you getting all these sails from, son?” Sailor: “The same place you’re getting all that wind from, sir.”

My father was a former enthusiast of balmy weather, marine tranquility, and unruffled yachting. Ironically, he was less than steady-going when it came to operating automotive vehicles. During family trips to the beach in a 1972 Ford station wagon, he would employ his annoying habit of accelerating and slowing down unnecessarily—subsequently “driving” my mother crazy. To be fair, cruise control wasn’t a standard feature in cars until a global oil crisis eventually popularized auto-pilot locomotion, but it fascinated me how psychomotor agitation can manifest itself in unusual ways.

A familiar phrase in recovery-based therapy is “trust the process.” Without asking the obvious question about what exact process we are supposed to be trusting, I would circumvent this platitude and point out that we’re always in process. From circadian rhythms to the planet’s gravitational trajectory that generates oceanic tides, processes are both necessary and unavoidable—regardless of whether you trust them or not. Furthermore, stability is dependent on the consistency of patterns and maintaining temperate velocities within a dynamic range. However, abrupt changes in the weather are sometimes less troublesome than abrupt changes in our emotional barometer. Discovering our optimum range of functioning, both internally and interpersonally, keeps us from treading water in the self-imposed slavery of our insatiable appetites or drowning in conflict.

Pathology is generally determined by the amount of friction you create for yourself or others over time. It’s better to know in advance what you can realistically manage before heading for the tempestuous waves of overcommitment. Mental hygiene is just as important as your dental hygiene, and taking time to concede the limitations of resilience will allow you to prioritize solutions before capsizing in the wake of oncoming stressors. For example, you could blame Poseidon for inundating you with unmanageable tsunamis, but it might be worth acknowledging the physics of plate tectonics, the reality of unpredictable circumstances, and how to prepare for navigating the inlets of future trauma.

If Cthulhu devours your sails while the wind continues to blow you towards the rocks, you may need to man the oars at a steadier pace to keep your vessel away from unceasing winds.