How MEANING Makes Boat Life Heaven Or Hell

The meaning that we attribute to things and events in our lives causes us to have a bad time or a good one. By becoming aware of the meaning you give to things and then changing that meaning you can create far more good times than bad. And living on a boat will provide you with ample opportunities to test this premise. 

Let me tell you a story that starts as a homeschooling session from hell that eventually extends into a lesson for all to learn – including you (I’m pointing to you and giving a funny wink). Read on. 

Homeschooling on Britican is messy.

We might get into a routine for up to two weeks but at some point, we sail, have guests or something gets in the way to disrupt any calm peaceful system. No matter what, weekends are disruptive. There’s always the Monday morning whines from our daughter that are now expected and usually go as follows: ‘I have a headache. I didn’t sleep well. Let’s not do school today!’ Sienna will lay on the bed, flop around, and act as if she only has one day left to live. 

But we push on. The first day back from any break, whether it’s a weekend or a three-day sailing passage, we grit our teeth and find space to learn something. 

Interestingly, however, over the years I’ve realized that our greatest learning lessons seem to be in-between the core topics of reading, writing, math, history, and science. And I say ‘our’ meaning that, as parents, we’re learning too.

Yesterday was a homeschooling hell day. 

Earlier in the week, we allowed our daughter to celebrate Canada’s Thanksgiving Day with her two friends on sailboat Mohini (our daughter is British/American). In other words, she got the day off for no real reason. We decided that since we were leaving our friends soon, time was better spent enjoying loved ones rather than reading another chapter of Pippi Longstockings and doing multiplication tables. School is important but our friends and community are important too.

As a cruiser, there are often times of celebration upon greeting old friends and there are many times of ‘see you later’ gatherings. We’ve always instilled in our daughter the ability to be grateful for the time we get to spend with our family and friends. We’ve also proven to her over and over again that it’s almost always a matter of ‘see you later,’ and not ‘goodbye.’ It’s taken years to be comfortable with the coming and going of friends/family but we now know to trust that when one door closes (and we say see you later) another door opens and we’re saying ‘hello new friend!’. 

Goodbye’s used to mean a sad time.

Now they mean a remembrance of time well spent with beautiful people. Goodbye’s also means that there are new or old friends ready to receive us at the next port of arrival. Notice how the meaning we gave to goodbye has changed over time?

So, our daughter, Sienna, missed a couple of days of homeschooling due to Canada’s holiday and us prepping the boat for a three-day journey. It’s not a big deal because we do schooling all year round and she’s on par with where she should be amongst her peer group. 

But the homeschooling hell days are no fun. There’s arguing, negotiations, outbursts, pain, and suffering for all parties. And the crazy thing is that homeschooling isn’t that bad once we get into it and just do it. 

So yesterday, just after one outburst and prior to another, we had an in-between core topics chat. My husband, Sienna, and I had a chat about MEANING. I explained that we’re meaning-making machines. We attribute meaning to everything based on our experience. 

Without attributing MEANING, most, if not all, things are neutral. 

We choose what friendship means. We choose what homeschooling means. And ‘Goodbye’s’. We choose what everything means. And therefore we can look at the meaning we attach to things, people and events and choose to change it. 

I explained to Sienna that she’s attached some very heavy and not-so-positive meaning to homeschooling. When asking her how schooling has been going and reminding her of the fun projects we’ve been working on she started to smile and talk about a funny historical fact we learned. 

And then we giggled about the fact that it took us three days to figure out the difference between a transitive and intransitive verb – which drove us all nuts. In the end, it wasn’t really bad once we figured it out. In fact, once the penny dropped and we all got it there was a sense of achievement. A good feeling! As I was thinking up other examples Sienna burst out with…

“I think I understand this mom. Not long ago while on a passage I had a cheese quesadilla and it was terrible. I mean it was so terrible I couldn’t believe something could be so terrible. So I attached the meaning to quesadillas that they were bad. Last week you made cheese quesadillas for my friends and I tried a bite. I then realized it was delicious and my meaning changed back to it being good.”

“YES. YES, Sienna that’s kind of what I’m talking about,” I said.

And trying my best to be a good teacher/parent I reached into my experiences and relayed a recent experience where I decided to change the meaning I attached to something. Parenting books often suggest that you demonstrate to your children how you learn lessons so you lead by example rather than ‘do what I say because I’m right.’ 

I didn’t have to reach very far for an example of how I chose to change the meaning I assigned to something! 


Our sail from Grenada to St Martin before issues happened!

On the passage from Grenada to St Martin, which we just completed yesterday, we had to divert to St Lucia due to a broken sail and a leaking engine. It wasn’t a fun trip – there were major squalls, all our systems went down, it was at night, there was lightning.

But during each problem, I decided to look at the meaning I wanted to assign, and then consciously, I shrugged my shoulders and thought, ‘it is what it is.’ I did this without placing strong meaning on each issue. In the past, I would freak out at any of those things but I thought to myself, ‘Sure, the engine is dripping water. We have a chance of overheating. We have a sailboat so we’ll sail!’ and ‘Yeah…the sail isn’t working right and the whole boat is shaking a bit funny but we’re still sailing!’ 

I have to say that after the fifth or sixth issue I did look up to the Universe and say, ‘OK. That’s enough now!’ 

But what I explained to Sienna is that I kept choosing to NOT attach a negative or strong meaning to each problem. I kept my thoughts and focus neutral and just kept taking the action that I needed to take to get us to a safe place. 

Was it an enjoyable night? Hell no. But was it overly stressful and even painful – not at all. It was what it was. It was neither good nor bad because I chose for it to be neither good nor bad. 

I’ve been trying to understand for years – probably decades – what the freak people mean when they say ‘stay in the present moment’ or ‘live in the now.’ Over the past few weeks, I think I’m getting a glimpse of what that means. I’m not only applying my new understanding to myself but also finding ways to teach Sienna the learnings. 

Living in the now means that you don’t judge the situation. You don’t give it meaning. You don’t pull from past experiences and determine what’s going to happen. You acknowledge the situation, refrain from thinking too much about it, and just take action if you can. If you can’t take action you simply wait until you can.

Instead of getting set on a certain plan I’m now making a plan and open to the idea that it’s probably going to change but that’s okay. I’m making plans to move forward yet allowing the Universe to lead the way. The Universe is going to win anyway, so I mind as well just ‘let go, let God,’ as religious people often say.  

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If you go with the flow and stop judging situations or applying strong meaning life flows so much easier. 

Instead of ‘Homeschooling’ or ‘Engine Failure’ being a trigger for us to spiral out of control we can choose to look at each event in a neutral light. Then, we just move forward without making assumptions as to how things will pan out. It is what it is – neither good nor bad. Ironically, by using this mindset, more times than not, what used to be something I attributed a bad meaning to ends up being amazing. 

Case in point – my last ‘homeschooling day of hell,’ was actually far from hell. By not putting meaning into the whining, complaining, bartering, and negotiations I found the space to enable Sienna, Simon, and me to cover possibly one of life’s amazing lessons. You choose the meaning you attribute to everything so if you’re struggling with the way things are going change the meaning you’re giving those things. Kind of cool – isn’t it? 

Interestingly, after we safely got into St Lucia, we later found out there there was a major storm that bubbled up ahead of us. Had our engine and sail not failed I might have had a more challenging experience on keeping neutral. Lately, when things don’t seem to go as I want them to go, the meaning I like to attribute is that ‘All things happen for a reason. This event might look like it’s bad at face value but perhaps it’s changing my life’s course so that I’m lined up for something better.’ This attitude has definitely been keeping me much more uplifted in these interesting times.

What about you?

Do you have any examples of how you’ve chosen to change the meaning you’ve applied to things – for the better? Or how about an interesting lesson that transpired unexpectedly during a homeschooling session? Please share them with us below. 

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Posted by The Sailing Traveller