Twenty years later…

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Twenty years ago, a second or a millimetre could have ended my life. I remember the incident like it was yesterday. I was watching my Mom break the ends off of beans when one of my best friends called asking if I wanted to go for a drive. At the time we thought we were so smart, but I’m sure my parents noticed the heavy scent of perfume hiding a faint smell of cigarettes whenever I returned. Or the quick “Hi Mom, Hi Dad!” as I ran upstairs to change my clothes before acting like I was an angel.

 

I waited for her to pick me up and we did our usual country road run. There were five of us in total, I was sat behind the driver’s seat. As we came up over a hill, I said, “Look! There’s Amy!” who at the time was a friend of mine and not such a friend of the driver’s. She asked me, “Where?” but by the time she looked, we were going down the hill and the symmetric rows of beautiful green corn stalks were obscuring her vision.  We came to a T in the road. It’s a country road after all, no one drives on here! We were distracting her and as she wasn’t expecting a car, yielded and the next thing I remember is waking up in absolute agony.

 

The two girls in the front turned around looking shocked. I could hear them talking amongst themselves, but the pain was so intense all I could do was scream and beg for them to help me. I tried to move and couldn’t. I started panicking. I asked the girl next to me if she was ok, she was crying and asking what happened. I wanted to get out, but the window was smashed and the door was bent into my side. I couldn’t move my legs. I asked the driver to get me out. She tried pulling up on my shoulder’s (obviously forgot the first aid we were taught!!) and I screamed in pain telling her to stop. I lost consciousness. I woke up vaguely when they were taking the girl next to me out. I remember because she was screaming and I didn’t want the same fate. I heard the Emergency services talking to me but I could barely respond. I don’t remember being taken out of the car and for that I’m grateful.

 

I woke up in the ambulance with an oxygen mask on my face. The EMT was telling me that he was sorry, but they had to do a full body examination which meant cutting off my clothes. I was just worried I would never walk again. I asked him if I was paralysed. He told me to move my toe. I couldn’t feel it, I started panicking. He assured me that my toe was moving and I would walk again (to this day I don’t know if that was a lie!). I was in and out of consciousness during the ambulance ride. I remember the sirens, I remember bumps in the road, I remember the comforting voices and touch of the staff that were in the ambulance with me.

 

I had lost a part of my memory as I thought that my parents were still on holiday although I had been at home with them half an hour before.  I called my sister and told her what happened. Meanwhile my poor parents received a call from the police saying there had been an accident and they didn’t know which hospital I went to. I’m sure they suffered the same gravity of emotional turmoil that I was experiencing physically. All I remember in the hospital was my sister’s scared and concerned face, nice nurses, a horrible Doctor who was yelling at me to stop screaming, being lifted from one bed to the next, the pain, the agony, please give me something, “No we can’t. We don’t know the extent of your injuries yet.” Drifting in and out of consciousness, the bright lights, the dark x-ray rooms, the relief when the pain medication was administered, the comfort of my Mother’s hand and the reassurance of my Dad’s voice…

 

The Doctor told me I was lucky. I had broken my pelvis in three places, my sacrum in two and punctured my bladder. No paralysis and they expected a full recovery, albeit with complications in later life (starting from my 40’s). He said if I was wearing a seatbelt, chances are I would not have made it out alive…

 

I think anyone hearing they have essentially escaped death has a deep and profound reaction. I was only 18 at the time and thought I was invincible. Well, I was!! I escaped death!! So I went crazier than I already was. Still disobeying my parents, who were changing their lifestyle to cope with caring for someone who couldn’t walk for six weeks. Disobeying Doctor’s orders. Of course I can walk! I’m only 18, I heal fast, I’m invincible. It can’t be any worse. I went to University only seven short weeks later. I was still on crutches and had to ask for my bed to be on the floor because I couldn’t climb up the stairs of the traditional loft bed. I went on a path of self-destruction that luckily never ended in destruction as much as I tried. I have always been surrounded by immense love from my family and beautiful caring friends. They always rescued me before I went too far.

 

Then the complications started… But I was only 27, please no! At one point it got so bad I could only walk 20 meters before I would stop to rest, often crying with frustration. I was living in England at the time and after waiting months and months for specialists through the NHS, my then boyfriend decided it was time to buy private health insurance in an attempt to try and ease my constant pain. I couldn’t sleep, I was popping prescription pain killers like they were sweets, taking valium as much as I could without gathering suspicion from Doctors and my personality had totally changed. What’s the point of living if I have the body of a 90 year old? I started to accept this was how I was going to be and that I could either spend the rest of my life being upset or fight and find a way to make life worth living whether I had pain or not.

 

That I did! Luckily the private health insurance got me in touch with top specialists who discovered the problem in a month and after a few months of treatment, I was able to walk long distances again. It wasn’t only until then that I really valued my legs, the freedom to walk, to move and to get things when I want. I can’t say I was exceptionally lazy before this point, but I’m the first one to get up and offer something and unless I’m ill, I don’t like to ask anyone to do or get things for me. I know first hand the ability to move is a gift given to us that can just as easily be taken away. This is something I never forget and at the end of my yoga practice, I always hug my knees into my chest and kiss my knees saying thank you. I may not have the perfect body, but it’s a body that allows me to move and dance and jump and feel good. To me, that’s a perfect body. Funny enough, since I started doing yoga regularly, any of the residual pain I had is gone. It only comes back if I don’t practice for a few days. Maybe the NHS should refer patients to yoga while they wait for specialists!

 

As I sit here writing this twenty years on, I know that I didn’t put that seatbelt on for a reason (other than I would’ve looked like the biggest loser ev-a). I was meant to be here and subconsciously, maybe that’s why I’ve always made ‘crazy’ or what I like to call, alternative, life choices. I move countries a lot, I travel often, I have had numerous romantic relationships and I change things if I’m not happy. This incident often pops up in my mind when I’m facing a struggle. I think, “Is it worth it?” Tomorrow something could happen that could end my life or drastically change it. This could make someone live in fear or live life to the fullest. I chose the latter because life is meant to be lived, is it not? I just want to make sure I experience as much of it as I can before I go, and what a hell of a ride it has been so far!

 

I am grateful for this day and each year I celebrate it. I’m grateful we all made it out alive, I’m grateful we are all able to walk and I’m grateful that it taught me how to live as though each day could be my last.

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A typical day on the canals

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That’s a lie, a typical day in boating life is non-existent! But I can give you a summary of days that happen more frequently than not.

 

One reason why I love this particular job is because whether or not the owner is on board, I can wake up and do yoga every morning. On previous boats, when the owner was on board, I went to bed so late and had to wake up so early that I valued those five hours of sleep too much to take one for yoga.  I do yoga for about an hour if he’s here and 1.5-2 hours of yoga and meditation if he’s not. I do 20 minutes of coconut oil pulling (to rid myself of toxins and whiten my teeth. The teeth whitening really works!) first thing when I get up and use this time to read Vasistha’s Yoga.

 

After this, if the owner is on board, I change into my uniform and grab my chamois so that I can get the boat looking perfect before he wakes up. I chamois the stainless if there’s dew on it, wipe off any bird droppings and clean the hundreds of cobwebs. I’m so glad I’m over my fear of spiders because the river is a spider’s paradise and an arachnophobe’s nightmare! Clearing the cobwebs is my least favourite part of the job because they spin such beautiful homes and I feel bad destroying them.  If there’s dew on the windows, I take a squeegee and make the windows sparkle. Then the boss gets up, sometimes gives me tasks to do or I go in and help Ms Argentina serve breakfast.  I finish walking along the boat making sure there are no water stains or bird droppings as I prefer to take care of them before they are brought to my attention by the owner.  Throughout the day, I polish off fingerprints, do the required tasks, or help Ms Argentina with the interior.  Around 8.30 or 9 pm, the owner tells me to stop working and sometimes gives me money to go enjoy myself. The owner doesn’t like to stay in the same place for very long so quite often we cruise along the river and then I spend the day doing the lines in the locks. I love it! He’s normally at the bow with me so sometimes he gives me tips and he always says how well I’ve done. By the end of summer I’m expecting to be able to throw a lasso like a cowgirl.

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When the owner is not on board, it varies. Except my yoga routine. There’s always cleaning to do. This boat is 30 meters (98 feet) long and I’m the only deckhand so by the time I finish the bow, the stern needs cleaning again. The owner chooses spots far away from where we left him to meet him again so we can sometimes cruise down the river every day for four to five days before we have a break. I don’t mind, it’s chilled. There’s so many sites to see or sometimes I read or study outside in the cockpit. I usually steer for a couple of hours, do the lines through the locks and generally just enjoy the scenery. I can’t complain! It’s more relaxed when the boss isn’t here because the Captain doesn’t expect me to clean as we’re cruising along. Sometimes I do anyway because I don’t like a dirty boat!

 

On the odd day off, I take one of the boat bicycles and explore whatever area we’re in, try some of the local food and/or drinks or write. I work hard and don’t really have my own life because the owner can say he’s coming with only hours of notice.  However, there are so many advantages to this life that I don’t mind giving up my freedom. I know that in a couple of years, my salary is going to give me ultimate freedom!

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Yesterday, I spent the whole day de-calcifying and washing down the side of the boat that isn’t on the dock.  As I was balancing with a few toes in the groove of the side of the boat, the tip of my other big toe grazing the dinghy, and my go go gadget arm extending as high as it would reach to tie the dinghy line on the boat, I couldn’t help but smile. I am basically a boat cleaner. My eight year old niece could do my job, yet there’s no other way I would chose to ‘make a living’ right now. Visions of my office life came flooding back to me and I was so grateful that even though I’m far off from the typical University age, I found a new area to work in that gives me pleasure. There are many captains in their mid 40’s and older who are so tired of this job, yet it is all they’ve done and it’s difficult to retrain, especially for the salary they’ve been accustomed to! I really wanted a different life to the one I was leading and I was willing and did, give everything up to find what suited me better.

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So there you have it! Possibly not the glamour you thought this kind of job would have, but it’s the best job I’ve ever had!

A bit of yoga magic

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Well that was really interesting. I wrote my previous blog as we were cruising down the river. To be honest, Captain Dink was making comments throughout that writing which were really irritating me and helping give me some practice to repeat my newfound mantra over and over.

 

CD asked me to take over steering so that he could phone a marina. I’ve been steering nearly every day for the last two weeks so I’m not a novice. I haven’t driven down a river since I was a child and of course the rules are very different to sea rules, but there are some things that are common sense and related.  Anyway, we were going down river in a very fast current. I was steering rather well, or so I thought. Of course I was going a bit drunk like because it was the first time I had been in current so strong in this boat, but there were no other boats so I was ok. CD puts the phone down and says, “Jesus Christ! What have you been doing? You’re going to turn the boat sideways and then we’re going to lose all control and crash into the riverbank.” I found this quite dramatic since at no point was I steering the boat any more than 20 degrees off to one side. He came barrelling over, grabbed the wheel from my hand and corrected us, or should I say overcorrected us with his unnecessary panic.

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I calmly said that I was doing what he taught me to do yesterday and that if there was a new technique, can he please show me with patience as I’m still learning. I said there was no need to swear. His response was that he never swears and when I said, “Jesus Christ,” he said, “That’s not a swear word.” I remained silent. Then the cook/stew came up and sat next to me. I started telling her how I read the oven manual and am now an expert in Miele ovens so I will show her what I learned. I was looking straight ahead and not at her. At the same time I saw a huge barge coming in the other direction, CD said in a very angry aggressive tone, “Ok. Now there’s a big barge coming…” He didn’t finish because I interrupted him and said that he makes me very nervous when I’m driving because he has to comment on every little thing I do or don’t do. He started arguing with me saying that if he can’t say anything to me, there’s no point in me driving. I explained calmly (for I still had my yoga glow going) that he can simply say, “Do you see the boat coming?” or tell me to move to a different side of the river. I was already as far over as I could be, so really there was no need to panic and talk aggressively.

 

He stood up and said, “Ok, I’m going to take over.” I replied, “As you wish.” I sat for a few minutes and then explained to him that I may never have been a river barge driver before, but I worked on charters where I was steering in a busy channel with 15 people around asking me questions. I said I can see a big barge coming my way because I am paying attention as I was looking forward, not at who I was talking to. I told him that he is very aggressive when he tells me things and that it’s unnecessary. Before he could say anything, I said, “And I know you’re going to say you’re not aggressive, but you are.” Then I finished by saying, “or since this job is for only two more months, maybe I should just shut my mouth and deal with it.”

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Captain Dink remained in silence for hours, only talking when necessary during a manoeuvre.

 

I was starting to feel quite bad about my conversation and internalised it thinking maybe it’s me that just needs to chill out. That’s his personality so instead of trying to change it, I should just keep on working on ways to deflect negative energy. He’s not coming to me as a psychologist, so I should just keep my opinion to myself and find my own way of managing his at times very disrespectful behaviour. I quickly negated that thinking because actually he treats everyone that way and it would help him make friends if he could see his own behaviour.

 

Then the weirdest thing happened. When I asked him if he wanted the line on the port or starboard side, he paused a while then said, “Sorry, I had to think a minute which side was which.” I smiled and stopped myself from hugging him. That was the first time he had ever shown any vulnerability. It got weirder… He asked us what we were doing for dinner. If we were going to eat out or eat in. I said, “I don’t know, what do you think?” He said very timidly with a slight smile, “Oh no! Don’t do that. Answer a question with a question.” I laughed and said, “I said I don’t know first, isn’t that an answer?” He smiled and we all had a discussion about what we wanted to do.  The cook/stew and I exchanged a surprised glance. For the first time in a week, we all ate dinner together. For the first time since we started working together, we had a conversation where he didn’t one up the story and he actually asked questions. If I didn’t believe in yoga before, I sure do now!!

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CD asked us if we wanted to go for a drink that evening. I was waiting for a phone call and on the laptop with my Dad trying to recover my external hard drive which suddenly became unreadable (and has 12 years of photos). I said that I would just finish up what I was doing and I would be ready to go.  With a sad look, he said he would go there and sit by himself. The boat was parked on the same dock as the restaurant so he went down and shouted up to us, “Hey, if I’m not back by midnight, just toss a blanket down!” He looked so vulnerable and nervous. I explained to my Dad that I would really like to go so maybe we could do the recovery later.  At the same time I was writing that message, I received the expected phone call. I had a quick chat and went to the bar with the cook/stew to meet him.

 

The three of us had a nice evening together. He was still sharing his stories, but they had a different light to them. He was listening to our stories and asking questions. He was even bent over with laughter at one point. Any guilty feelings I had disappeared. This is exactly what life is about. Sometimes people are so lost they don’t know how to, or can’t, ask for help. Some don’t want it and it’s not worth the energy. That’s ok, eventually they will find their way. But as human beings, it’s our responsibility to stand up for our right to be treated with respect, show kindness to others no matter how they treat us and give some people a different perspective that may just help make bring some more peace to their lives.  

A yoga experiment

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I’ve been reading and meditating on an ancient scripture I still can’t spell, despite looking at it every day, called Vasistha’s Yoga (at least I think that’s the spelling, I’m too lazy to get up and check it). When I used to ask my Mom about things that were told to us in Church or Religious Education that I didn’t believe, she would sometimes say that it was in the Bible if I wanted to read it. I tried once because my sister was reading it, but I didn’t understand the language and found it boring so I just gave up!

 

Vasistha’s Yoga has become my Bible. I refer to it when I have questions about the yogic way of living.  The more I read, the more questions I have and funny enough, they’re all slowly starting to get answered the further along I get in the book. This is quite a round about introduction to a question I have right now.  How not to let other people’s negativity effect me.  I have some friends and loved ones who don’t seem to get rattled by such people and yet sometimes a touch from a very negative person can set me off balance and change my mood for the whole day, or every time they’re in my presence.  If you ever wondered why I want to live on the sea- I mean in the middle of the sea – that is the main reason why.

 

Let me explain my current situation.  In laymen’s terms, the Captain of this boat is a complete and total dickhead. In yogic terms, he is one of two types of lost souls.  One that is far away from reaching enlightenment with a heap of bad karma to work through or a soul in the middle where with patience and some guidance, he may find a lighter path.  I haven’t been around him long enough to see which one he is, but as a yogi, it is my place to give him a chance.  

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I have done my psychoanalysis on him (Captain Cool was right, I can never stop being a psychologist) which has led me to believe that his behaviour is a result of a certain life that is quite sad and I could try to show some empathy. Sometimes I can feel empathy in my heart and my kindness is genuine.  The other 98% of the time, I have to take a deep breath before I go up with a smile on my face and say in a kind voice, “Would you like a cup of coffee?” Because what I would really like to say is, “Fuck you. You think we’re your maids you can treat like shit. Get your own damn coffee.” I then receive a response of “yes please” or no with the same droned on boring explanation that never changes.  I speedily make my way downstairs to do an eye roll to the cook or just to myself if she’s not around. If I have to make the coffee, numerous thoughts of spitting in it or putting in other unpleasant things go through my mind. Then the yogi steps in and reminds me we’re all on a path, some have it more difficult than others and the only way forward is to treat everyone with kindness or ignore them as the Scriptures of Putanjali suggest.

 

Sadly I can’t ignore him because he’s my boss. He is bullying the cook/stew, part of which includes giving me certain privileges she doesn’t have (which I don’t do once I discover them) and it just makes for a terrible environment. I often feel like I’m in middle school and have to change my strategy on a daily basis in order to stay sane and out of the middle of this nonsense behaviour. They spent two days not talking to each other. Yesterday I had a conversation with the cook about how people like him don’t have fuel when people are kind to them or just reply ok without discussion. I guess it worked because today she said good morning to him.

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I’m using the yoga scriptures to find a way to protect myself from this negative energy that I seem to have been ultra sensitive to since I can remember. I’ve seen a few shamans who have all told me that I hold other people’s negative energy and they see it inside of me. Sadly they haven’t told me how to get rid of it. I guess that means I have to discover it for myself. *sigh* I suspect my stomach problems are partially related to it as well since I seem to be able to eat more things without getting pins and needles when I’m in a good environment. As you can guess, I’m not only battling with how to manage the behaviour of Captain Dink, I’m also having to manage my stomach which as I write this, is in agony. Luckily the cook is very caring and wants to help so she is making me what I request. Sadly this means she cooks three separate meals because she wants something with more flavour than what I can eat and she doesn’t want to eat the processed food that Captain Dink eats. She’s a saint.

 

I keep digressing, how unusual… Anyway, I’ve wondered how people can become enlightened and still live in this world because people are annoying. Not everyone, but there are always some people in our paths who press buttons. Put simply, Vasistha says that the soul is contained in a physical body with a mental capsule and it will react how it wants to through laughters, tears and anger. Yes my readers, that means that even enlightened people show emotion and get irritated! The basis is that in the soul nothing is changed, the soul remains grounded and knows that this will pass and that indeed nothing is reality. We are just creating reality ourselves so why bother staying in any state whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant?

 

The other morning during my delightful two hour yoga and mediation practice, I pondered this notion of protecting myself because I want to run from this boat. Actually I’m seriously thinking about going back to Colombia and working with Captain Cool again. The money is half the amount, but so is the work and I get to spend time with someone who I am discovering is not only a soulmate, but one of the truest loves I’ve ever had in this life. However, I do have a tendency to run when things get difficult, as you may have noticed. People say life isn’t meant to be fun, well, I disagree with that so if I’m unhappy, I change my circumstances. Sure new challenges come up, but look at my life!! I wouldn’t change a thing.

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Back to the point… While I was in a focused state, an image of a white ball with pointy rays of light emerged from my chest and I felt so strong and so free. I imagined this ball encapsulating me and that the white rays were radiating positive energy, kindness and love to those who were willing to receive it.  The pointy bits burst all of the negative energy so it couldn’t touch my heart. With a somewhat quiet mind, I focused on this imagery and when a thought about Captain Dink popped up, I would use the white light to poke the negative energy and replace it with positive energy. I felt great. I felt like I was ready to face the demon!

 

Half an hour later that feeling was washed down the river when he shouted at me with impatience to take off a line I was trying to take off, but was stuck on the dock and the boat was too far for me to jump off without swimming to clear it. *sigh* Oh well. I found a new strategy so I guess it will take some practice to get it working.

 

This job is only until the middle or end of September so really I shouldn’t run from this. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very intense living with such a heavy ball of negative energy 24-7.  But I can use this as a lesson because there are always people who pop my chilled yoga bubble and quite frankly, I’m tired of giving other people so much power. It’s time to take the power back and use my energy to radiate positivity and kindness instead of using it to fight off negativity. Wish me luck…