Beware Shallow Waters

Beware Shallow Waters


Beware Shallow Waters

Apparently, Celine Dion’s Titanic song was playing in the restaurant when the Costa Concordia hit the rocks off Giglio Island in 2012. The cruise ship had moved off course, and ran out of water above the rocks. The captain is serving 16 years in prison, the company paid $2bill in compensation to victims, and costs of refloating, towing and scrapping.

There’s a navigational model involving rocks and water that’s sometimes used in health and safety and in business logistics; it’s all about the rocks being everything that can go wrong, and the water being what keeps the rocks from surfacing - all the actions that can avoid the rocks becoming a significant hazard.

Keep the water level high enough and the ship sails….let the rocks grow or the level fall and there may be problems of ‘titanic’ dimensions!

Less dramatic than Concordia or Titanic, but closer to home!, my family was navigating in the Dutch canals in a cabin cruiser some while ago. On an area of open sea between canals, we took a short-cut off plan (see the connection!), landing in a stationary position on top of a sandbank! Middle son (at the wheel) tried every manoeuvre to free us; others donned life jackets and went below deck. Our situation was low on danger (about 200 metres from the shore!) and high on embarrassment. Surfers and sailboarders gathered round to have a laugh, and (after much yelling from aforesaid son) offer help. They sped to the beach and returned with a quote from local boat owners for a rescue operation. The quote was high enough to spur us into more drastic evasive action. Risking damage to the engine (less expensive than the quote!), I threw the vessel into reverse, and gave it maximum power. With plumes of smoke, and deafening noise, there was first a tremble from the hull; then a positive lurch, then a slide and finally enough water underneath to get us afloat. Local boats were now cresting the mini-waves to reach and fleece us, so we had to keep engines at full stretch to keep ahead of them and reach the safety of the canal. Water had replaced ‘rocks’, calm replaced panic, peace replaced noise, conservative map reading replaced short-cuts!

Some vital lessons to be reflected on :

  • Don’t leave the charted route unless you know where you’re going
  • Keep the water level well above the rocks
  • If you’re lucky you might get away with it, but at some cost and damage

Rocks and water is too great a model to be confined to logistics and disaster stories!

It must have wider, more significant uses

How about the ‘meaning of life’  - that seems significant enough! Or at least the progress of a life cycle.

The rocks (and the sea bed) could represent the things that affect us at all the stages of life : calm, happy patches of sand and shingle with tranquil waters and colourful dancing fish….and then rocks of all sizes representing the problems, trials, and stresses. And having mentioned the Titanic, some of these rocks (or even icebergs!) are very large at their base and lurk just below the surface – we don’t always see them until we hit them as life’s unexpected twists and turns occur

The rocks are of all shapes and sizes; birth is a pretty big one, emerging from a cocoon into the blinding light, then the fears, uncertainties of the infant, some giant jagged outcrops for adolescence, followed by job searches, career ladders, choosing partners, raising families, dealing with illnesses and loss, bereavements, growing older, dying. Quite a ‘mountain range’ under the water with great potential for stress and anxiety.

And in each stage the worries differ in ‘reality’ : as a child, the ‘small’ things like dropping an ice cream, or being ignored can be big rocks (as witnessed by the yelling); as a budding teenager, the stress about what music to impress your friends with, or having the latest football kit can seem rocky; the traumas of teenage years and trying to make (sense of!) relationships can hardly be forgotten; later on there’s ‘real adult’ worries like : where’s the money coming from?, can I keep my job?, where shall we live?, who shall I live with?, is this medical condition really going to get very serious?, will I lose my faculties?, how are those we love?, and, of course, the loss of people we care about. All of these are big rocks at their time? How can we keep our ship sailing above them?

Trying to minimise the rocks is one way : mindfulness, meditation, faith, working harder…but those rocks are made of strong stuff!

It seems easier to try to keep the water level up.

The water varies throughout life, sometimes bright and clear and flowing, transparent enough to see the rocks down below…very far below! When life gets difficult and worries overwhelm, the water gets sludgy and cloudy, hard to get moving, hard to see through, tricky to see how close those rocks are now.

In youth, music, sport, friendships, lovers may provide a free-flowing flood; in middle age perhaps money, status, possessions, friends, relationships, security keep the level above the rocks – but it’s hard work keeping the water flowing in. In older age, the flow is slower, the texture is thicker and it’s harder to see the rocks approaching; exercise for mind and body, optimistic reflection, meditation might help delay the final surfacing of the tip of the ‘gravestone’


Can we actually alter the rock formations, or is it easier to keep the water level up? Can we break down the rocks of sickness, poverty, loneliness, or should we just ‘let go’, opening the lock gates and going with the flow?

How have we coped in our life so far with the obstacles we have faced? What lessons can we learn from our earlier life that show the reservoirs of strength that we never knew we had.

Does it help to have a life review of where the rocks were and what kept the water level up at that time?.  A survey of ‘role to soul’ as Connie Zweig recommends in her book ‘The Inner Work of Age’ can be a valuable thing to try.

" There are many possible dimensions to a traditional life review. For example, you can go through each decade from the point of view of your body: the body has its own life story, its seasons of youthful vitality and beauty, midlife potency and response to stress, illnesses and accidents, and late-life slowing, resilience, limitations, perhaps illness.

It may stir a desire to turn from doing to being, to slow down and contemplate the lessons learned from the life we have lived—and the life we have not lived, the gifts and dreams that were sacrificed and buried in the shadow. …."


How to do a Life Review to Find Your Soul’s Mission: An Essential Step to Becoming an Elder | by Dr. Connie Zweig: The Inner Work of Age | 

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