Rowing to Cope

Mind over matter. That’s what they say.

In the boat, bodies dominate brains. When I shove off the dock, I shut off my mind and go to work. I it do every day. It makes me happy. It’s a relief. Being on the water is peaceful, working hard is gratifying. I can forget the stress that waits for me on land and be with my teammates; we are quiet and focused.

It’s harder off the water. My brain goes in different directions and I find it hard to do my work without getting distracted by all the other things that are softly nagging. I only truly feel in control when I’m rowing.

It’s not all doom and gloom. There are things in the day that make me happy. There are moments when I’m overwhelmed by joy. It takes me over and grabs me until I can’t stop smiling. I start to revel in life and how lucky I am to be alive. I release a happy sigh and go back to my average life.

The highs are great, but they’re always followed by lows. I trip and fall into the pits of blue that I had soared above the days before. Suddenly I’m swimming; I’m bogged down with negative thoughts and everything seems like a waste of time.

It ends when I pull myself out of the cold water and haul myself into the boat. I’m not alone anymore and I’m not underwater– I’m floating above the surface again, I’m rowing.

This pattern has been happening for a while despite my best efforts. I think it’s important to acknowledge that it exists. I’ve had a lot of help getting myself back into the boat, both literally and figuratively. My teammates have been critical in helping me feel like a normal human and effective rower again. One of them started taking me to her Buddhist meditation group and there they spoke to what I had been experiencing.

Everyone has moments of great joy—moments when they’re skydiving or spending time with people they love. We live for these moments, but if someone’s entire life was spent skydiving that would be their normal and great joy wouldn’t exist. Mediation, they said, is about appreciating those moments of joy and savoring them. It’s about finding a calm place in the mind and being thankful for the experiences. It’s about getting to know yourself so you can get to know other people better.

I’m attracted to this ideology. It doesn’t condemn me for not being happy all of the time, it allows room for error and uses that room to let me expand my mind. It glorifies the spirit and the mind instead of the body.

I’ve also been thinking about these ideas a lot because rowing glorifies the body. The most successful rowers are built in a certain way and have a specific body type, but there are people who have rowing bodies who are not cut out to be rowers. The best rowers are strong not only because of their bodies, but because they have a strong mind and sense of self. They are more likely to succeed because they think they can succeed. Rower A might be stronger, fitter or more experienced than Rower B, but if Rower B has a more resilient mind, they are more likely to be successful in the long run.

If you could find 8 resilient minds in strong rowing bodies and put them in a rowing shell they have the capability to be an unstoppable crew. This is what I’ve found. When my mind is weak, my team pulls me back into the boat and forces me to be strong again. They need me and I’ve come to need them.

I can’t row constantly even though that’s what makes me happiest. I’m starting to learn how to hold onto my calm, focused rowing mind and translate it into the rest of my life. I might stumble into the blue once and a while, but I know that even if I can’t get back into the boat myself, my team will pull me back in.

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