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Setting Clearing Bearings for Our Life Journeys

Recently, I had the fabulous opportunity to take sailing lessons for two weeks from the Corfu Sea School (yes, in Corfu, Greece!), and am now a Royal Yacht Association (RYA) licensed day skipper. I greatly enjoyed my sailing lessons, particularly the navigation and charting exercises—as well as the beautiful blue Mediterranean waters, delightful people, and delicious food.

When you make a pilotage plan for a voyage, you plot the ideal route that you would like to take. But, given than the wind and seas can be variable (even if you have considered the latest weather forecast), you also plot the transits beyond which you do not want to veer—the limits at which you would be heading dangerously off course, maybe into shallow waters or other obstacles. These are called the clearing bearings. If you stay within the triangle of the clearing bearings, you will be safe. It would be shortest, of course, to take the ideal route—the straight line between where you are and where you want to go. But, if you encounter a headwind, you will need to tack back and forth; if you stay within the clearing bearings, this zigzag course will get you to your destination—eventually. Similarly, if you encounter another vessel, you may need to alter your course to avoid them—again, if you stay within your clearing bearings, you will get to your desired endpoint without running aground, and without running into the other vessel.

Our lives’ journeys are similar. We have a desired destination and set a route to get us there. But, outside forces intervene. There’s traffic. There are headwinds and unfavorable seas. If we don’t know the range that we can safely travel within, we can be unnecessarily rigid—colliding with others as they pursue their objectives, or stalling out when conditions are less than ideal. Conversely, if we don’t know the boundaries of what is safe and therefore, let ourselves be blown too far off course, we risk serious injury—being dashed against the rocks.

If we know our clearing bearings, we can accommodate without losing sight of our objective—and, simultaneously—being flexible and safe during the voyage. But, our lives don’t come with a GPS and satellite-perfected charts. We are perpetually sailing in uncharted and unfamiliar territory. However, we have these amazing bodies that are constantly providing us with feedback—if only we get still and quiet enough to listen. And, sometimes, if we don’t listen to the subtle feedback, our bodies start to shout at us. Many chronic illnesses are caused or amplified by stress—not utilizing the available space of, or straying outside, our clearing bearings. Often, exceeding our clearing bears will come with immediate loss or pain. Since sustaining a concussion, when I exceed my capabilities, I get a searing headache that can take days to recover from—I’ve crossed my clearing bearing. What are your body’s signals that you have crossed your clearing bearings?

Our desired route and destination are constantly shifting. So are our clearing bearings. But, if we pay attention to our body’s feedback on our available flexibility as well as what is too much, we can improve our understanding of where the clearing bearings are for us, at this moment. We can delight in the breeze playing on our face, accommodate others, avoid the rocks, and move towards our true selves.

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