On Being Awake

Our guide told us ‘tap the sides of your kayak’ so the Humpback whales ‘know you are there’.   Surrounding us were whales feeding and breaching.  That we were in the midst of a pod of whales was awe-inspiring, humbling and somewhat frightening.

The setting was Tebenkof Bay Wilderness in Southeastern Alaska.  For ten days our group kayaked and camped on small islands in this vast and primal setting. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tebenkof_Bay_Wilderness

Ours was a Zen meditation kayak trip.  Each morning and evening we shared in the Zen practice of becoming still and open.  Half the day we’d paddle and sometimes simply float.  Always in silence, allowing the sounds and sights to fill our senses.  The silence created a container within which we could experience what each moment offered.


It has been fifteen years since I communed with the humpback, bear and eagles of Tebenkof Bay.   I remember the wisdom of living in the moment of being present to the now.

To live in the moment is counter cultural. Often we live in the past or in the future and even in the present are easily distracted by what doesn’t matter.

There’s something special however about floating in your kayak knowing that another world of whales and fish are below you.  You ‘knock on your hull’ to let the whales know you are there and to remind yourself to live in the now.

Contemplatives call such heightened awareness being awake.  The challenge is to spend more time being awake than being asleep.

Another gift from that kayak trip was being introduced by our guide Kurt Hoelting  to the poetry of Mary Oliver.  Mary Oliver a prophet, poet and mystic invites you to dig in the dirt and float on the water. To take notice.

For ten days eagle, whale and bear spoke to me. I smelled the earth and felt the wind.  Each offering wisdom.

Silence creates space to see, hear and receive.  Martin Luther said, eagle, whale, bear, dirt and water are ‘little words from God’.  The Tlingit’s who have lived in Tebenkof Bay for thousands of years know that Spirit speaks through nature.

This day I invite you to  join me in being awake.  To listen and receive.

Contemplative Paddling

We live in a culture that celebrates our ability to spin many plates, both professional and personal. We also remain highly connected through multi-media, not the least being the ubiquitous ‘Smart Phone’.

I’m not writing to bemoan the state of our culture. There is a lot to be said for the ability to multi-task and staying connected to our immediate and wider community.

Yet there are times when our brain, heart and spirit ask that we let our plates drop (for a while) and tune out from technology (for a while). The reason is that physiologically, emotionally and spiritually we need time to rest, reflect and restore.

A wonderful way to do this is through contemplative paddling. Recently I paddled with a group from the church I serve. We met early in the morning on the banks of a local lake. Our instruction was to limit our talking and to paddle slowly. We were given a meditation mantra from the Vietnamese Buddhist, Thich Nhat Hahn: “Breathing in I calm my spirit….Breathing out I smile….(inhale) Living in the moment….(exhale) This is the only moment…”

Kayak lone paddler photo

As we paddled on the lake, we were invited to practice this mantra when we found our thoughts pulling us away from being present to where we were. Half the time we simply floated and allowed the wind to take us where it would.

As we slowly paddled or simply floated we found that our minds, hearts and imaginations slowly began to be filled with the simple and profound beauty that was under and around us. Those busy spinning plates or glued to their computer, were missing the beauty that we floated upon.

3000 years ago a Jewish prophet named Isaiah offered this: “Listen and your soul will live”. From the waters of the lake we listened deeply, to the call of a mallard duck, to the soft wind, to the hopes and dreams that slowly emerged as we paddled or floated.

There’s a reason Jesus often removed himself from the demands and busyness of life, to go to a quiet place to pray, to listen. In the late 19th century a mystic and theologian named Soren Kierkegaard said: “The Sacred is always present, simply waiting to be found.”

Sometimes all it takes is time on the water to rest, renew and restore one’s soul. Sometimes all we need to do is slow down to find that a blessing is simply waiting to be found.

Paddle well.