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How do we rationalise what we do and how does this matter to our skills set?

Perhaps some answers to questions you never asked?

On a personal level I have kayaked hard white water for over a decade. On a commercial level standards and expectations are so much different now that when I started paddling. For the purpose of this essay it is the former that I will examine again with bridges to the latter.

For me, I don’t know about you, I paddle for those places and those times when nothing matters. It matters no less, it matters no more. All that is of concern is the breath, the simple in out – the rhythm. I paddle not for the physical experience but for the mental – for the precise point that my mind is still and pure away from its mechanisms of conscious thought. I paddle for the truth of the matter – where Lacans unconscious mind rolls in, (re)acts to the arena without consciousness. I paddle knowing that this flip from consciousness to unconscious will happen. I force it to happen.

In the words of JCC – [are we] ‘Condemned to drift like forgotten sputniks in the fool’s orbit bound for a victim’s future’. The victim in this case, is my own development – a stilted stale pond of nightmare visions that could be set as my future.

Then why, if I force it and know it will happen, do I paddle harder water. It is a tough call. I don’t know I can answer in a way that means anything. I paddle simply to ‘be’.

At the core we may call it fun and all the words we use are simply academic masturbation – I don’t believe this to be the truth to get tied to words. We can have a most hated day on the water, broken kit, swimmer, stress but we all know we will return again to the flow. Even when the fun is taken away we still react to our stimuli. It means more than that.

As a staging point for this thought process, I understand it’s been a tough year, friends old and new have passed away at the rivers song. Taken. Has it driven a wedge in what we call fun? Has it tainted it forever? Personally for me, it hasn’t, it could never. If anything it has enforced the cement of that truth and the reasons to paddle. It is not about the grade, it is not about the group and it is certainly not about the gear – as I have said many times before. It is what it is, what it will be, what it will not be.

We get too concerned with how we made the moves on the river, is our stroke perfect. Is our curve in the flow right on the line. Our mind loops and concerns with details at a conscious level it repeats the mistakes we have made. It is common to get questions about this on a commercial level.

Each repeat embeds the negative, compressing the next loop further into the dirt of failure. Consciously we get entangled. Paddling is about escaping this, unconsciously we all know what to do, what is and what was. Through our training we have practiced time and again. It is only when this negative loop begins that we forget our training.

This brings me back to the breath, the simple in and out –it gives the conscious mind a task, occupies it fully. We find it hard to do this, to split the mind in its parts. For some the breath is too much, the focus too deep. A favourite pop song, looping in the conscious mind will do the same job – sing it loud, remember it – allow the conscious thought to embrace it.

Let us use paddling in this way as meditation. It takes us away from the realms of what we think we know and forces us in the realms of what we know as fact. Slow it all down, the body knows how to – but the mind halts it. Like a baby that can swim before it can walk, let the unconscious take charge.

It’s a long road, from analysing mistakes to processing that they don’t matter. Take rolling for example. This is no natural skill, we work hard at it. In the pool practice makes perfect but once we get on the river where rocks and rapids hide, things change we rush, we know full well that our head should be the last thing to come up, yet in time of stress we rush this all too often. Once we fail the roll we try again, but we are already in the negative cycle, again we fail and again. The result is a wet exit. We curse our skill base, our own lack. Why? It doesnt matter, we had fun. Slow it down, relax. The mind doesn’t want us to fail and swim – it wants us to be happy with our day – breath, sing that song. For that will release the demons of failure.

It is not a matter of knowing we will fail – the reverse, it is knowing we will do it, knowing, without conscious thought. The fiction of Poe – Purloined Letter – offers us truth. It is what it has always been and is where is always was.

“Which is why we cannot say of the purloined letter that, like other objects, it must be or not be in a particular place but that unlike them it will be and not be where it is, wherever it goes.”
Jacques Lacan

To break it down, we need to trust our skill set, it will get us through the dark times without exception. If our skill set is not complete and this includes mind training we need to assess our desires in the sport – have we overreached our foundations? Did we have foundations at all?