A class of one

I often don’t realize what a great time i’m having until i see a photograph afterwards. What a moment ‘feels’ like from the inside is rarely captured with what it looks like on the outside. When discussing things in a group i often ask people “what does this look like from the tree branch YOU’RE sitting on?”

Yoshio was a surprise, Kernal Popcorn was a surprise. I never expected or anticipated the importance and depth of lessons they brought to my life. Yoshio was always generous with his time and spirit. Kernal was always fascinated by the wonders of the world and the next person to engage with. I often tell people I don’t like surprises, but sometimes true surprises expose themselves and slowly reveal their depth and complexity over time.

This photo captured an “ordinary” moment in time. That ordinary moment captured a focal point in my lifes work and then proceeded to vibrate my entire ‘web of life’. In the words of one of my mentors, “ordinary is sacred.”

I have a process loop when i’m sailing. That loop begins with “Assessment of the Conditions”, It’s a point in time where you start and restart as needed. Conditions change sometimes minute to minute, sometimes hour to hour, you need to be aware of changes, and when a change is substantial, or you see it coming, it’s time to restart the process loop. The question at the beginning of the loop is “What is happening now?” If you’re really good, you see something coming and ask “What is about to happen”?

This question is so fundamental and foundational to sailing that not only do i teach it to my students and protoge’s every time we sail, but I ask that question of myself as many times as necessary everytime I sail. The difficult part is to teach the students to ask that question continually. As they master sailing, one learns to ask this question at appropriate times. Most people who sail never master this first step, and thus never become ‘sailors’.

The mother of one of my protoges took this photo. Her comment was “I had to.”

Tell me what you see.
Photo by Rachel Carter-White

At first glance it’s maybe a dad and son, or a granddad and grandson, or an uncle and nephew or just an old guy and a young guy at the waters edge.

This is a class of one. It’s actually so ordinary. Everytime I take a class out the first thing we do, before even rigging the boats, is to go to the waters edge and assess the conditions. That’s all this is, but it’s so much more.

It’s frostbiting season. the air and the water is cold and it requires special gear and special skills in order to NOT BE life threatening. When you go out in frostbiting season there are situations that must be considered in order to protect your own life, that we don’t need to consider during the regular sailing season.

Sam wanted to go sailing, and while he’s 11, I didn’t say ‘don’t do this’, or ‘do do that’, we assessed the conditions together and came up with various strategies to account for potentially life threatening situations. Completely ordinary.

I was looking forward to this particular assessment. It had been months since i had done any, and Sam was so enthusiastic about going sailing we had more than just the usual stuff to discuss. Yes, the weather and conditions were essential, but this assessment would be more complex as it included potentially life saving strategies and we wanted to complete Sam’s School project, “How to Sail” in one take. I want to make it clear that I had NOTHING whatsover to do with Sam’s project. At the beginning of the day I wasn’t even aware that he had a project to do. My entire function, responsibility and position in Sam’s project is simply as his sailing mentor and safety boat operator. The only direction I gave was at one point on the water I said: “make it go as fast as you can.” Anyone who knows me realizes how ordinary that statement is.

I remember vividly, moments before that photo was taken, Sam’s focus looking into my eyes with anticipation and excitement about what we were going to discuss. His excitement was palpable AND contagious. I looked around. Mastery is not just looking and telling what you see. Mastery ignores and filters out the irrelevant and spots the relevant as to danger and fun. Mastery doesn’t look to where the weather is not, but to where the weather is coming from. I saw potential danger in the future. I pointed to it and asked Sam, “what do you see, there?”

You can’t teach ‘mastery’, it needs to be demonstrated, repeatedly. It needs to be desired and pursued, and that pursuit never stops. Mastery is asking the right questions at the right times, then objectively evaluating decisions afterwards, not memorizing and regurgitating on demand. Think of it as muscle memory for the mind, body and soul.

We do our best for children. It is an obligation. Children must be respected as they herald in the future. How we engage with children today creates the future that we have to live in ourselves.

I hope you enjoy Sam’s sailing project as much as I did. His video shows complete competence and mastery of sailing his boat. He has been sailing for less than 2 years and has already won a regatta. There are people who have been sailing for decades that don’t display his competence at the tiller.

Sam White – How to Sail.mp4 – Google Drive

A comment from my mentor:

“Mediocre teachers tell others what to do. Great teachers inspire people to become more fully themselves – to stoke the fire/hunger to learn, explore and advance in mastery.”

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