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  • michelle m. davis

Adjust the Sails

“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.”

Never in a million years would I have guessed that Dolly Parton is the author of this quote. When I first heard these words they resonated deeply. Actually, it’s quite a brilliant statement because while we cannot direct what life gives us, we can certainly adjust our reactions.

Have you ever noticed the lulls in life, when we don’t experience much wind at all? It’s literally smooth sailing. Our days aren’t necessarily fabulous, but they are manageable. We can handle our world fairly easily, or so we think. But then the wind picks up, sometime to the point of never ending gales, and we feel helpless, like we can do nothing to find our true north.

Maybe you, too, have noticed these changing weather patterns in your life. Everything flows smoothly for a bit, yet when you least expect it, the weather turns from calm to stormy, sometimes with absolutely no warning. This pattern repeats itself, sometimes lingering in either condition. However, the one thing that’s for certain is that just like the actual weather, this energy surrounding us will change. While we can neither predict nor control what comes when, our true power lies in our ability to alter how we behave in the presence of the gentle breezes as well as the gusty squalls.

This fall I experienced a major windstorm. I had just returned from an amazing yoga retreat, and while I knew some of it was coming, I had no idea the impact these life events would have on me. My husband and I were in the midst of downsizing, closing on our home (that I grew up in and that we lived in for 18 years) in the beginning of January. However, the new house that we are moving into isn’t going to be ready until the end of February. Being a person who likes to have my environment in perfect condition, well, let’s just say that this has been a bit “unsettling.” However more impactful was leaving a home that I’ve lived in for almost 40 years. So many memories…

But that was nothing in comparison to what we faced as a family. Four days after Christmas, we lost my mother-in-law, a beautiful, spunky lady, to cancer. While words cannot express the pain a family goes after the death of a loved one, it does, in a strange way, bring everyone closer. That was her gift to us, that, and her dog, Bella.

It seems like the skies are clearing, and I can see the sun shining in the distance. Despite eagerly waiting to move into our new home, life in general is quieting down a bit. Still, I know that at any moment the weather can change. But instead of worrying about impending storms, I am doing my best to stay present and enjoy the calmer days. This is a huge shift for me. It’s taken me quite some time to understand that I can do nothing about what comes my way. All I can do is decide how I want to react to it.

When things become uncomfortably windy in my life, my natural inclination has been to constrict, respond strongly, and then turn inward. In my search for some sort of control over my life, I’ve cling tightly to whatever certainties I could, be it organizing the house, exercising profusely, burying myself in work, or tackling various projects. Actually, I think that this is pretty common behavior. But, what if I were to listen to Dolly and adjust my sails instead of scrubbing the deck? Could I then react differently to turbulent situations so that I do not escalate things further? Could my behavior actually help bring me back to calmer waters?

I believe so. Lately it seems like “control” weaves its way into many of my blogs, perhaps because it is something that I struggle with (bingo!). Yet, maybe it’s also because the need to control is an underlying factor to many of our actions. If we want to change this behavior, we must learn to identify when we go into this mode. Then, we can try to pause prior to reacting, breath before speaking, and consider listening and holding space instead of trying to “fix” things or people. I must confess that I still struggle with adjusting the sheets of this sail. Sometimes it seems easier to just grab the tiller and try to force a new direction. Yet, the reality is that doing so will not help the situation. In fact, it usually makes things worse.

For many years I prided myself in thinking that I had things “under control.” However, I could not have been farther from the truth. Recently, I’ve been working on surrendering, the opposite of control. When the stakes are not high and I am not invested in the outcome, it’s not too difficult to surrender. But when the winds seem to prevail and the skies are dark, that’s the most challenging time. It’s important to note that surrendering isn’t giving up or giving in, it is giving over to a higher being, acknowledging that we cannot control the outcome, but having the belief that God, the Universe, or the Source (whatever speaks to you) can manage what is. Surrendering is freeing because we put our trust and faith that the situation will turn out as it is supposed to. While it doesn’t necessarily give us what we want, it will often give us what we need… help us to learn, to grow, to elevate.

There is another benefit to surrendering... peace. It’s as if you allow someone else to take the heavy load for a while, giving yourself a break. After all, it’s exhausting trying to control everything. Surrendering permits us to rest, knowing that things will happen as they should. Envision a conductor handing over his baton, taking a seat in the front row, and watching the symphony play the most beautiful rendition of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6. Pretty amazing, right? But can we release that baton?

If you struggle with control as I do, try surrendering this week. Pick something easy to start. I’m still not ready to surrender the scale (cause I need to control that part of my life), but I am willing to surrender smaller things, like what restaurant we go to, what we watch on TV, or what we do this Saturday. And slowly, I will try to surrender some of the “big things.” I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.


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