When I was in hospital, I was fortunate to complete a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) sessions with a highly skilled nurse therapist. I found CBT to be an ideal intervention for me and my depression. I was challenged many times with encountering new awareness through exploring my many long held negative beliefs. Through this course of therapy I was able to alter these perceptions and realise new truths. Additionally I’ve been provided with many practical skills to continue to challenge negative perceptions leading to positive realities.
One extremely valuable session for me was when the therapist asked me to write a letter to myself from a person, factual or fictional, or an object or anything or anyone I hold value for and who embodies the wisdom to give me positive insights they have about me. The letter must be positive and enhancing. No negativity allowed.
When presented with this task, I immediately chose my sea kayak, named Sahwira, to write this letter to me. She and I have spent many days, weeks and months together, sharing many intimate experiences.
I want to share this letter with you because it was an incredibly important and helpful intervention during my CBT process. I think too, this exercise may be useful for others too. Choose your person or object and write yourself a positively inspirational and encouraging letter to yourself from them.
Here’s my letter from Sahwira.
I remember the first day we met on the quayside in Oban in April 2015. I was gleaming in my Pigeon Blue, mirror polished and brand new. I remember clearly how excited you were and how you ran your hands over me, checking storage compartments, my footrests and my seat, my deck lines, my skeg and generally giving me a thorough inspection. I knew immediately you were a kayaker who knew his business and you’d take good care of me. I liked you from the beginning.
Now I’m coming up to five years old, not an ancient age for a sea kayak, but in those five years I’ve travelled over six thousand miles with you and this I think, affords me a depth of wisdom which many of my contemporaries may not share. I say this because I think this allows me to tell you what I know.
From the moment we paddled together, I knew we would share many great adventures. You’re not a kayaker who cautiously holds back, instead you are decisive and willing to explore the coastline where many may fear to go. I like our robust relationship. You understand I was constructed as an expeditionary kayak, strengthened for tough landings and heavy seas. You cared for me, but also you made full use of my capabilities. I sensed you trusting me. It took little time for us to meld together, where you made the decisions and worked the paddles and I managed the heavy seas or whatever conditions we faced. Do you remember our first shared experience of stormy conditions when we crossed Wigtown Bay? Eight open miles of huge and chaotic seas, with a strong Force 6 wind. I was so proud of you for making the crossing in those conditions and skilfully landing on the rocky shore on the far side. This was the first of countless times I saw you leave your comfort zone and accept the challenge. I remember you taking a photo of me on that day, drawn up the rocky beach with the stormy sea piled up high behind.
From then on, I knew as our confidence in working together grew, so would our ability to move beyond our comfort zones, every time learning something new and of course, creating incredibly vivid exciting shared experiences. This is what I like about you. You seek opportunities to create wonderful memories. There’s no holding back with you. Here are some of my notable memories; rounding the Mull of Kintyre in the 4am gloaming, just about making out the tide race we successfully navigated. Crossing from the Isle of Jura to the Kintyre mainland sixteen miles away in heavy fog and a heaving Force 7 sea. You were in your element then and so was I. Crossing the Minch for the first time from Skye to Scalpay in the Outer Hebrides. Both of us marvelling at being alone during this iconic seaway where the tides run strongly. Then there was the time when we thought we would be dashed on a submerged reef when the sea suddenly exposed it and a huge wave broke onto us. We both waited in those tense seconds for the inevitable splintering of fibreglass, but instead we skilfully rode the heavy wave pushing us over the barnacle studded rocks. Rounding Cape Wrath, the sea kayaking moment you had longed for. The sea was calm, and we symbolically left the Scottish West Coast behind and embarked along the unknown to us North Coast, by passing through the great sea arch beneath the neck twisting high cliffs. Then there was the West Coast of mainland Orkney in that 3 metre clapotic swell, both of us nervous as anything. Making it all the way around mainland Shetland – boy, can you remember those cliffs and caves? And of course, so much more. East Coast Scotland, North West England and West Wales. The Isles of Mull, Skye, Jura, Tiree and Coll, the Outer Hebrides and even Loch Ness! Of course, too our favourite many times over – the Sound of Mull.
I recall all the above because you are an explorer. You are inquisitive about the world, particularly the Scottish Coastline. You are fascinated by your human heritage and the marks humans have left on the land through the thousands of years. I love how you’ll paddle slowly into tiny coves seeking history and evidence of seafarers and communities of long past days. Your inquisitiveness is contagious and when we have paddled with others, you have inspired them to notice the land differently.
One of your key attributes I love, is your deep and almost reverential connection to the natural world. Together we paddle silently, immersing ourselves in the littoral realm and all this holds. Otters, seals, myriad cacophonous seabirds and of course when we’re lucky, basking sharks, minke whales, dolphins and porpoises. Remember in the Hebrides we glided silently past the sleeping seal, so close, you could have pinched its nose, its scratchy snoring blowing a strand of seaweed on its nostril. We were so silent; it didn’t wake up! I could list so many other close and intimate encounters with wildlife, but this would fill ten pages.
This shows me your compassion for the world and your deep respect for all who exist on it. Your affinity with the wild is unpretentious and humbly natural. Many who have kayaked with you as friends or as guided clients, have remarked on your inspirational ability to open their eyes to what is possible without you patronising or lecturing. You simply embody and ooze natural wisdom.
I always feel safe with you. In all the time we have paddled together we have only ever capsized once – that’s six thousand miles with one capsize and this was due to a moment of inattentiveness from both of us. All was well because you knew what to do. Nevertheless, you chastised yourself and you were embarrassed for making this mistake. In fact, I often notice you are hard on yourself, especially when we’ve found ourselves in tricky situations. As I say, I trust you to make safe decisions and I know your risk assessment is sound. How else would we leave our comfort zones every day?
This shows how keen you are to learn from your experiences. You do not bury them away, instead talking them through to elicit any learning to be gained. I know there are times when you do this, you feel vulnerable to the criticism of other kayakers. You believe you are not one of the crowd. You choose to forge your own path and this at times leads you to think you are at odds with what you perceive the overly cautious sea kayaking community. You tend to undervalue your experience and achievements in the favour of others. I hope you discontinue to do this. I believe you to be a highly capable, adventurous and natural sea kayaker.
We have had our scrapes and I’ve been hurt and damaged by rocks and heavy landings. This is not because you don’t care for me or take me for granted, you’re simply working with me as an expeditionary kayak and these things are bound to happen. You take care of me and always carefully mend any serious wounds. In fact, I like the scars on my hull. To me, they’re a reminder of our many shared adventures.
You are a wonderful companion. I love how you always place me by your tent at night, even if this means carrying me long distances over interminable beaches or up precariously steep rocky cliffs. This shows how caring you are and how you care for those who mean a lot to you. You’ve never had a harsh word for me – only for you and I wish you’d ease up on yourself. You are brilliant at what you do.
Maybe you could tell others more about the experiences we have enjoyed. I think this will help your confidence and help you understand and appreciate your worth. You’ve so many wonderful tales to recount of our journeys which I think would both interest and inspire others.
You’re an insightful person and you’re quick to notice a wider meaning to your experiences. Your ability to draw metaphors our adventures provided, is quite remarkable and it pleases me to share this with you.
All in all Nick, you’re the best paddling companion I could have wished for. You’ve certainly made meaning of what I was constructed for and I truly hope you think something similar in yourself.
Remember: A kayak is safe on the shore, but that’s not what kayaks are built for.
Keep living Nick, living your life to the full. I look forward with eagerness to our future six thousand miles together. I’m proud to carry the name you gave me, “Lifelong friend” in Shona, the Zimbabwean dialect.