It’s school holidays. My husband is also on a break from work. Yesterday we returned home after spending 3 days at sea in our yacht! This is the realisation of a dream for Richard. Ever since he came to Perth and we got married, nearly 20 years ago, he has wanted to buy a cruising yacht and sail the seas. Last September he bought the boat and nearly one year on we finally made it out to the ocean. We have all had to learn to feel comfortable on the boat and that takes time. I had said to Richard in the early days of boat ownership that he will have to be patient with us as we find our feet on deck. He is passionate about sailing and so he is very comfortable in boats and in windy, wild weather. The kids and I are not. So, after months of sailing on the sheltered waters of the river we made it to the sea. To get to the sea we had to travel along the length of the Swan River, go under 3 bridges (with the mast lowered which is no mean feat) and then navigate through the Fremantle harbour, dwarfed by massive cargo ships.
While at sea I spent time thinking about the whole notion of stepping out of my comfort zone. It’s a big deal. And everyone has a different definition of their comfort zone. My take on life in the West is that we spend our lives trying to avoid the uncomfortable: airconditioning in the house and car for when it is hot, heating for the cold, stocking up on food for the pantry to avoid hunger, planning things to the nth degree so as to minimize discomfort. Reflecting on my experiences through life (in particular what I’ve learnt in life) is that avoiding those feelings actually hinders us. True experiences of what it really feels like help us develop qualities of perseverance, resilience, empathy and compassion. When I’ve faced up to my fears, pushed through the uncomfortable, I’ve discovered really amazing things about myself, about others and about life in general. And of course it makes life interesting.
When I think back to being a young child I was carefree and full of enthusiasm for life. The joy de vie. I did take risks, like walking along the top of the fences between our house and the neighbours in South Africa, knowing that a vicious Doberman pincher lived there! Mooning the passing cars along a busy road. I know, I know, this may surprise some of you reading this that have known me for many years! The times I climbed a big rock and then jumped from it into the ocean (I tried to do this as an adult and failed miserably, unable to get up the rock in the first place and then chickening out as I looked down below and saw rocks beneath the crystal clear waters and wandered what lurked in between them!).
I’ve then gone through a rather long stage of life of being afraid to step out of line, to do the wrong thing, to break with tradition and not fulfil other’s expectations of me. Becoming a mother has really forced me to face fears and wrestle with deep emotions. I’ve found this to be painful, but also exhilarating. It’s the thrill of the adrenalin rush. Coming to terms with some deeply held feelings, allowing them to surface and spill over, deal with the craziness of that burst of authenticity and then settle into a state of creative acceptance and moving forward.
In 2008 I was given an incredible opportunity to hike with my friend Deb and 6 other women. At that stage the only person I knew in the hiking group was Deb. The others I had heard about, but never met. They were all older than me, but definitely fitter than me! I spent 8 days with these amazing women, walking along the Bibbulman Track over the stretch from Walpole to Denmark, the lower South West part of Western Australia. I had left my children in the capable care of their father. This was the first time I had been away from them for more than 2 nights ever since they were born. It was not an easy thing to do and was at times gut wrenching as I prepared for the trip. Many times I nearly pulled out, but I knew I had to do this for me, and again Richard encouraged me as he knew I needed to do this too. I was on a journey to finding myself again after becoming lost in a haze of nappies, breastfeeding and unconditional love.
The hike was tough. Up and down sand dunes, watching out for snakes, tending to blistered toes and an uncomfortable pack. BUT, the wildflowers were magnificent, the scenery was incredible – majestic cliffs along a spectacularly blue ocean, and women friends who were like medicine and nurtured my bruised soul. There were tears of pain and there were many tears of joy. I remember driving home from that hike singing songs of praise and thanks to God for bringing these women into my life and for the amazing experience I had just had. My soul was singing again.
Just this weekend I thought that that was a significant ‘stepping out’ for me, into my discomfort zone only to be rewarded three fold. You see when I was asked if I would like to go to Papua New Guinea as a midwife, I was under no illusion that it would be tough, but I knew I could manage because I had been on that hike in 2008. I knew there were surprising rewards awaiting me for stepping out of bounds, bounds that I had created for myself. But, I needed to take the plunge into the cool waters of that experience before it could begin.
When Richard kept asking about going on an overnight sailing voyage, I knew I had to face my fears and get ready to step out of comfort again. I thought, well I’ve been hiking on the track, I’ve been to a remote village in PNG, I can cope with being on a small sailing boat with my family for 2 nights!
It wasn’t easy. There were some really uncomfortable and unpleasant times like trying to sooth the seasickness in the boys while also feeling a bit queasy myself, being stuck in a small space with 3 other males and not having a shower for 3 days!! But boy were they overshadowed by the wonderful times and experiences. We saw a huge sea turtle sunbaking on the surface of the water, a whale near Carnac Island, several pods of dolphins some which came really close to the boat and caused gasps of delight from my children, beautiful sunsets and moonrises that no camera can capture and of course, snuggling together with my family on the deck while sailing through the ocean rollers feeling safe in our life jackets.
It’s these experiences that will stay with me forever. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. I want to keep living my life like that. For years I’ve felt that I’ve just been surviving. I really think I’m starting to embrace life now. It’s not just about surviving, it’s about thriving. And hopefully through these experiences I can impart to my children a desire to reach their full potential by not being afraid to face trials and tests of many kinds. Growing, flowering, sowing seeds, planting faith…
The common thread through these 3 significant experiences in my life have been the people. When we step out of our comfort zone for others, the blessings are eternal.