The River is Good for Your Mental Health

No more than half-a-mile from the canoe shop there’s a tiny “lagoon,” on the town side of the Pocomoke. This summer it is lined with honeysuckle, hundreds of blooms so low to my deck that at high tide some are beneath the tea-colored water. It has become one of my favorite morning spots.
I’m in the habit of paddling that way several mornings a week, not long after dawn, and floating quietly surrounded by the flowers. The drone of traffic on Route 113 finds a way through the cypress, but as I tell everyone who asks me about how to choose a kayak, everything that has to do with small boats is a compromise. Length vs. maneuverability vs. speed. Cost vs. durability. I can paddle another hour north and the traffic din will disappear, but the schedule intrudes. Silence vs. the clock.
In my kayak I can sit cross-legged in the shade, and for half an hour or so, by concentrating on my breathing, I can nearly wipe from my senses anything that isn’t natural. On a paddleboard, like this morning, I have to lie on my back. With my hands crossed on my chest, unmoving except the rise and fall as I breathe, from a distance I must look like a corpse. No one has ever paddled or motored over to check on me.
There is an amazing symbiosis between the practice, meditative breathing, and the natural world. The sum of the two far exceeds its parts. I can do the same at home, sitting on the carpet in the air conditioning, but I cannot hear the seagulls overhead nor can I feel the aroma of the honeysuckle as I breathe in – and it is, believe me, a palpable feeling. I cannot feel the motion of the boat under me; even with your eyes closed you can feel your boat drift. The contact points, knees against the underside of the kayak deck, shoulder blades against the hard plastic paddleboard deck, sharpens my perception of every other incoming sense more than my sit bones on the plush carpet do.
The quiet meditation enriches the absorption of the surrounding nature. Absorption is the correct noun. A walk in the woods does much the same, but without the gentle rolling of the boat and the darkness of eyelids closed much of the rest of the experience is lost, undetected. Paddling my kayak without stopping is a great way to become a part of my surroundings, but without the corpse-like stillness and the concentrated aromas, much of that experience flies by as the bow parts the water.
Green is good for your mental health.