Stubborn Pilots vs. Experiential Learners


I am, what a compassionate school psychologist might refer to as, an “experiential learner”. However, I am coming to accept that the other side of that same coin may hold the inscription “stubborn as hell”. (I am not promising I will admit that again so if you are one who has been waiting for me to admit that, feel free to reread that sentence). This past year has been one of the richest I can recall when it comes to getting to know the operation manual of me. I have been engaging in tough work that has led to recognizing and honoring both sides of a variety of coins I hold, and to be reverent to the powers at play in determining which one lands face up.

Case in point. Last summer I bought a stand-up paddleboard, or rather, I invested in a stand-up paddleboard, as I saw it as an investment in dreams I carry for both professional and personal fun to be had. I did some research on the specs, i.e. why a six inch thick board is really worth the extra few hundred bucks over a four inch, which companies crafted them and are they lifestyle-driven or just profit-driven, yada yada… That was fun, for a little bit. Then I hit send on my payment and a few days later it arrived. And I did what I tend to do when something new and shiny arrives at my door in life. I dove into it. No adhering to directions-just feeling, sensing, a little huffing and puffing, and getting familiar with its parts so that I can come to know it, understand it, experience it for myself. The day of its arrival, in the mountains of Western North Carolina, I took a ride on my paddleboard on top of grass in my side yard with music playing and raindrops falling, and happily watched the kids and the dog fight for the new stage built by my investment.

Then, a couple weeks later, the itch to get it into the water was too big to resist. And so I packed it up, along with my four-year old son, Theo, and a hodge podge of stuff to sustain us, including a five foot splintering wooden, metal headed shovel that my dad told me by phone that I must not forget to take. Theo and I set out on I-26 bound for Charleston/Folly Beach to visit friends for a few days, the only commitment on the calendar was a date with the full moon on Saturday evening, three days away. The second day we were there, after our friend who was hosting us left for work, we decided to venture out with the board. It  was sand-stirring windy, and getting more swirly by the quarter hour. I had no leash (only looking back does that seem like a good idea, the thought never crossed my mind that day). Walking out to the beach, Theo was monkey-clamped to my hip and the shovel was in tow. No other adults were accompanying us. At the time I was too hungry to binge on the experience all by myself that I had given no thought as to how greatly a friend could have increased our chances of success here. There was a couple set up on the beach probably 20 yards away who were casting an escalation of glances our way, and who began to deeply irk me by the third one. But I was doing it. Piloting. As sometimes bad-ass, often dumb-ass entrepreneurs are inclined to do.  

It wasn’t pretty. I aggressively pushed the board out into the equally charged ocean. For a second or three, Theo was perched on the front of the board (he was life-jacketed, God channeled his dad’s voice into that moment of clarity). The coming of the first wave flipped him off. I abandoned the unleashed board and the paddle to retrieve him and then clumsily reconfigured us and all of our parts for a second attempt. Full blown repeat. Time to get out.  Except we had drifted down the beach and the wind was coming at us and the petrified, x-marks-the-spot shovel had fallen over in the distance. The board was now acting as a land sail as I tried to muscle it up the beach in the other direction. This was the moment that my son decided to have a full-on freak-out. And…oh… that couple. Nothing but hate for them by this point. Smug encased in sunburning flesh. There was really only one option, deflate the paddleboard. And yet now, for the first time, beading from August-in-South Carolina sweat, I decide to read the instructions printed on the center of the board: “Do NOT deflate in direct sunlight”. I attempted one more wrangle up the beach, as I saw the value of my investment deflate before my eyes. Then, ungracefully, I declare “F$#* It”, and release the pressurized wind back to its angry mother.

Fast forward…a month later and it is the third morning of our annual coastal reunion of dear friends, this time at Atlantic Beach. A solid crew of folks we have come to love and trust over the past 20 years is slowly caffeinating for the last full day that we have together before we scatter again. The last day of these trips always holds sweet, precious energy that is lined with our collective denial of its fleeting nature. Porch swing and rocking chair inhabitants are holding court, kids are running up and down the flip-flop scattered boardwalk, I am hosting an impromptu one-on-one yoga session with a west coast friend down below the deck. Life is feeling so very easy and inter-connected. The ocean had been a bit too rough the few days prior to really play freely, and yet on this final morning it was friendly and the dolphins and birds were starting to show off. Deciding I wanted to play too, I excused myself from yoga instructing, and went out to the shore line with my paddleboard, strapping on a borrowed leash this time. The board cut smoothly into the water and I doggie-paddled out to greet the dolphins. I then slowed down and practiced my own yoga amidst. A short while later, with just one wipe-out on the return, I passed off the board to dear friends who were ready to take it out. And throughout that day, I received the joy of witnessing most everyone in our crew enjoying time on the floating stage. Some lounging, some paddling, some surfing, some standing, some shaking, some falling, some (little bodies) catapulting. All playing, all piloting, in their own way.

And all were supported. Supported by the elements between and beyond us that were also out to play. Here is where the proverbial two-sides-of-the-same-coin insight approaches. One side: Stubborn. The other side: Experiential.  When it lands with Stubborn side up, what I have learned is that the universe usually gets a good laugh at our expense. And when it lands with Experiential side up, we are reconnected with the truth that we are just another element at play on a much grander stage. If we tune into our “pilots” from that broader perspective, consulting with that which lies beyond us, it seems apparent that we can up our odds of success. And yet, I have to say, I wouldn’t have had it any other way, in retrospect. One side’s journey layers meaning to that of the other. But, yes, I do realize that might just be me being…um…stubborn.

Annie Price