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Deep Keel, Light Prow

August 2, 2017 by Joseph DiCenso

Dominant culture tells us knowledge is "out there," and it trains us to live in our head. Yet, in our body we each carry our own wise witness and intuitive genius. Recently, while co-leading a workshop during a personally challenging period, I turned to a practice of "listening" to my body and my non-linear mind for wisdom and guidance. I refer to this practice as embodied metaphor; it’s one way I'm reminding myself these days to harness the power I have and bring my best to the world, however unstable or bleak that world—or my inner terrain—may appear.

"We teach best what we most need to learn" (Richard Bach). For most of my life I've been helping people come home to themselves. This is my personal work, too. My daily yoga practice helps. I also work at observing and directing my self-talk while managing a fierce inner critic and a tenacious inner skeptic. (I have good days and not-so-good days with this.)

Lately I have been pausing in the morning before I rise to listen for an intention for my day—a simple mantra to guide me as begin my day. On a recent morning, during a three-day workshop, as I lay in my hotel bed, the following words came: deep keel, light prow, precious cargo.

This nautical metaphor crystalized how I wanted to show up during the workshop, and it ushered me into several days of generous presence and ease. In fact, I continued to use it beyond the workshop. A few days after my return home a fourth phrase came to me like a final puzzle piece: wind in the sails.

I'll describe how each of these phrases points me toward my 'best self' while detouring my debilitating patterns, and share how I embody the metaphor—which helps me “live into” the intention and come back to it throughout the day.

Deep Keel

For those unfamiliar with sailing terms, the keel runs along the centerline at the bottom of a vessel's hull. By "deep keel" I mean one that extends downward, like a fin to increase stability and help the vessel track (not drift sideways).

For me, a deep keel evokes confidence, trusting myself to handle the rough seas and sudden gusts that life—and leading workshops—sometimes brings. I embody the metaphor by feeling my feet, feeling rooted, grounded, connected to the Earth. Just being in my body and being kind to myself also bring a sense of a deep keel.

Separate from life’s heavy weather, my inner critic can buffet my sense of confidence and competence. This body metaphor creates ballast, allowing me to ride out my self-generated wind and waves.

Light Prow

A strong propensity for worry, doubt, fear and shame was instilled in me by my family culture and ancestral legacy. The image of a prow (the part of the bow that's above water) lifting over oncoming waves helps me defy those tendencies to bog down. My body's response: sternum lifts, shoulders drop, heart expands. This brings a sense of wellbeing and optimism. And this lightness extends outward: I choose to see the beauty around me (rather than dwell on the 'mistakes') and to view the world as friendly (rather than malevolent).

Precious Cargo

For years, I've known that putting myself in service to others (my clients, workshop groups, friends, family, colleagues) leaves less bandwidth for my self-critic channel. The reminder that I’m in charge of “precious cargo” helps make the learning, growth, or healing of others my primary concern (and the type of impression I'm making less important). The same image reminds me to view what I bring—my skills, experience and fresh thinking—as "good stuff," and to assume that it will be received as such.

I feel this as a warm glow in my heart and belly.

Wind in the Sails

A recovering Catholic, my faith was colonized early in life. My path back to an authentic relationship with 'something greater' has been bumpy and zig-zag (did I mention my skeptic?). One thing I love about sailing is that wind, a force I cannot see or control, bestows the power. "Wind in the sails" says to me that invisible forces are working with me, supporting my work like a hand at my back. The same phrase affirms my faith in those forces. It invites me to lighten up. To be less ego-identified and attached to outcome (a good stretch for a recovering perfectionist). And to see myself as part of something larger.

This feels like belonging, like being held unconditionally. My body's response is tension-release; my nervous system cools, blood vessels dilate. I surrender my weight—as if resting in a large hammock, or floating in the ocean.


Holding this intention, deep keel, light prow, precious cargo, wind in the sails, in my body has been helping me greet and move through my days with more presence and ease. And with a more open heart.

In these tumultuous times, what have you been doing to root yourself in what you most want to bring to the world?