Why Sailing is the Next Step to Enlightenment… After Having a Dog

I’m a very good girl. A people pleaser. A rule follower.

I always remember to say “please” and “thank you.” I clean up after myself and try not to impose on others. I always bring a hostess gift to a party.

Golden Retriever Honey with stuffed toy

Who needs instructions? Feed daily, wash occasionally in warm water, and never take away my Butterfly Stuffie.

Dogs Don’t Come With Instruction Books

When I adopted my first dogs, Agatha and Christie, I floundered as I tried to figure out a new set of “rules” that would work with these furry aliens who lived with me. I read books. I bought training aids.

But somewhere along the line, I figured out that I was in a relationship. Just learning the rules wasn’t going to work. I couldn’t fit “Tab B into Slot A” and get perfect dogs.

Because while dogs form the longest and closest partnership between humans and other animals, they are also forces of nature.

Most of the time they use their amazing resilience and adaptability to fit into our world. But, at the same time, they inhabit a world all their own. A world of scent. A world of body language. A world of physicality.

To have a relationship with my dog, I have to accept this different world even if I don’t always understand it. And I have to bow to it because I can’t change it. (If you’ve ever walked a Beagle, you know what it means to humble yourself before the mighty lure of a good scent. And you know you won’t be going anywhere until that scent is good and sniffed.)

Following Too Many Rules for Enlightenment Keeps You From Getting There

I suspect that to become a whole person, a generous person with a wide perspective, I need to be thrown into situations where I can’t just figure out the rules and obey them.

In that sense, dogs might be the training wheels to enlightenment. They aren’t subject to rules as I know them but they meet me more than half way.

Learning to Travel with the Wind

Sailing aboard Iris out of Henderson Harbor

Does one of us look happier than the other? It's probably because Mike's actually steering and I'm only posing.

That’s not the case with the wind.

I can learn some rules that will help me as a sailor, that help me to understand how to respond to the wind. But I can’t learn any rules that will change the wind. Nothing in my control ever changes the wind.

Last week, we decided to sail to Kingston, Ontario to spend an evening. The wind decided differently. So, although we got to Kingston, it was by sail and motor. There was not enough wind to get us there before nightfall without the aid of an engine.

We anchored in a small bay off an island one night. All the “rules” say that when you anchor a boat, the bow will always point into the wind. Weather forecasts told us the wind would be coming from the South which meant our bow would be facing directly into shore. Except we kept getting puffs of wind and waves from the West and ended up parallel to the shore over and over again.

And although it can be frustrating when things don’t work as you planned, there’s not a d*mn thing you can do about it. That’s terribly freeing.

Rule followers, people pleasers, are always trying to control something. We figure that if we do the right things people will like us or we’ll avoid conflict or whatever.

But not everything is under our control. Dogs aren’t, not really. And neither are the wind or the waves.

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  1. As a fellow rule follower, former people-pleaser and control freak, I an completely relate. The one thing I that freed me to pursue my business was losing my job. No control there. I do not control the economy. (Hard to believe isn’t it?) I also found that I had to “go with the wind” so to speak when I started my business. People, like dogs, can be unpredictable too. I think that being thrown into different situations teaches us about flexibility, strength, and letting go and letting life happen. Great post Pamela. I really loved it.

  2. Well said! The wind and the waves are great teachers.

  3. Thanks, Mel. I don’t want to wish ill on myself or anyone but you’re right that when circumstances take control away we can do some amazing things.

    I’m hoping that voluntarily relinquishing control will teach me the lessons I would normally have to learn by losing a job or my health. :)

  4. I hadn’t thought about it before, but you described a lot of things about me in your post. I definitely agree that having a dog can be a humbling and rewarding experience, sometimes at the same time, although we may not realize it until later. I’m sorry the sailing didn’t go quite as you planned, but I’m betting it was still a beautiful trip!

  5. Having your sailboat point in a particular direction when anchored was a good example. In all the time I have sailed the thought that could be desirable never crossed my mind. I understand what sailing can do and what it means for you. Letting go can not be easy for someone used to prefer being in control.

  6. You are so right about letting go of what we can’t control. I find it’s not the easiest thing to do when you are basically a “rule-follower” but something to work towards! Having dogs, though, is truly rewarding, even with all the sniffs!

  7. What an excellent analogy. I am okay with breaking rules as long I know what the consequences will be and feel I can control said consequences. Or, to put it better, I will break rules when I know I won’t get caught. 😉
    I definitely struggle with being flexable and adapting to changes in the plan. Dog agility has helped me with this because as you said above, dogs often live in their own worlds. I can visualize and plan as much as I want but sometimes Shiva will still do her own thing. Many times she will do something unexpected and I find myself thrown, unable to continue. To be successful on the course, I need to be able to change my tactics on the fly.

    I am so proud of you for taking chances and trying something new and incredibly difficult. For putting yourself out there to the wind. It’s not easy and it is very inspirational!

  8. What a philosophical post! And I thought you were a practical woman. 😉

    So much of life is not in our control, and you really nail it in the comment to Mel– you don’t want to control of your health most of all. We were supposed to go on a day trip on Sunday– it poured rain and the dog was sick and my husband went to the office instead and was there until 9:00 p.m.! I wish I had more control, and I have to learn to be okay when I don’t. :(

  9. So true – and yet such a difficult lesson to learn. Since we started RVing full-time I’ve been reminded on many occasions that things work out better when I stop trying to force the square peg into the round hole and just go with the flow. It happened again over the weekend when we were traveling in northern Oregon/ southern Washington. Unable to find a campground with availability for the weekend, we decided to see what all the hubbub was about and take a detour to the small town hosting a big kite festival. Right in the middle of town, walking distance to all the events, was an RV park with an opening for the weekend. Ah, serendipity.

  10. I’ve re-read this post about 5 times now! I’m a rule follower and people pleaser too and yes, it’s limiting and constraining. Sometimes I’d really like to tell someone what I really think of them instead of being nice, lol. But I’m also a coward so that isn’t going to happen.

    I like to bend rules a lot but rarely break them. Dogs have such wonderful free spirits but we do try and teach them our boundaries. I don’t have many, which is OK when it’s just us at home, not so good if Frankie is jumping on people who don’t like being jumped on, or demanding attention of those who think being pawed at for a pat is inappropriate.

    Oh, Frankie and Beryl covet Honey’s butterfly stuffie!

    I think Mother Nature is uncontrollable. We have to learn to bend with her or else suffer the consequences. Plan ahead, and have a plan B when plan A isn’t going to happen.

  11. Sailing is such freeing experience. I hope you had a very wonderful time out on the water. Sailing can teach you so much, not just about allowing the wind to be wind, but about how to embrace the solitude, respect the awesome pliant and yet powerful force of the water and to live each day in awe of our beautiful planet. Sweet sailing, my friend.

  12. Hi, I’m Vicky and I’m a control-freak-aholic. Or at least, I very much want to be, but have learned, especially over this summer that no matter what precautions I take, some things will always remain outside the lines of my life’s coloring book, and all I can do is learn what I can from the experience and move forward until I find something else where I can apply my control-freakiness for maximum happiness.

    Hint: It’s not the dog and sure as heck won’t be the cats. I’m thinking maybe knitting 😉