After self-publishing my book, I immediately realized I needed to write another. You’re the Boat uses the elements of a ship to help people see themselves. For example, your heart is the ship’s wheel, strength is your mast, and the sail is your soul. The beautiful lady on the front is your face. While talking to a guy at a restaurant about my book, he asked, “So, what does the ship’s bell stand for?

Feeling the warm wash of embarrassment flow over my body, I realized I’d missed something fundamental. In my rush to get through the challenge of publishing the book, I’d forgotten to add the ship’s bell. (Along with many other things, but we’ll save them for later).

photo credit Hiroki Kawamoto

Your voice

The ship’s bell is your voice. You recognize it by listening to how you communicate with your crew and speak to and about yourself.

I could hear my inner voice, poisoned by shame and anxiety, saying, “How could you have missed something so obvious?!! Your last name is Belding! Duh!! “See, you don’t know what you’re doing.” “Nobody wants to hear about the Boat! Just give up and let it go!

I immediately recognized two things. First, I needed to get my anxiety under control (again) and speak more kindly myself. Second, You’re the Boat needed a sequel! My heart sank a bit, knowing the hard work of writing and publishing my first book wasn’t over. The real work had just begun.

Here we go again.

“It’s easy to feel great about yourself when everything is going your way, but the more difficult task is to accept yourself even in the presence of your flaws.” 

Debbie Ford

That wasn’t the first time I realized I needed to pay closer attention to my words.

Our wedding day. July 17, 1999

In 1996, our first year together, Blake and I moved to Michigan. I learned a valuable lesson that I needed to speak with love, respect, and kindness. (Click the link to read that story).

While in Brazil in 1998, I was wiping some spaghetti sauce I had flung across the wall after a swarm of beetles caught up in my hair, and I freaked out! I heard myself saying what a horrible klutz I was and all sorts of other hurtful, mean things. At first, I was shocked. I’d never really paid attention to my inner voice before. Listening to it then made me realize I needed to speak more kindly to myself or risk being miserable.

Noticing my pattern of self-punishment and bringing myself back to kindness has become my life-long journey.

Round and round

Then, in 2008, while struggling with homeschooling our son Garrett, I heard myself being rude and snapping at him. Angry, ashamed, and desperate, I asked the question that changed everything.

“How am I supposed to get through this?!”

The answer from my Captain changed my life. The analogy helped me realize what I needed to start feeling better. My attitude sucked because I wasn’t taking care of myself. For months, I had been obsessing about self-doubt and overworking us both.

Studying this analogy showed me where I needed to start making changes. Looking within the belly of the ship shows the portholes, reflecting our appetite and the stuff we need to fortify and strengthen ourselves. The first shows provisions, such as food, clothes, and other material resources. The second shows a table with cards and drinks, representing fun. The third shows a sailor sleeping in a hammock, representing time to rest and recharge.

My first change was becoming more consistent with mealtime and balancing our time with schoolwork, fun, and rest. Speaking to Garrett with kindness became easier as I began to feel better. Adjusting my attitude is much easier now that I recognize my constant appetite for provisions, fun, and rest. I’ve shared this realization with my son, nieces, and anyone willing to listen.

I’m happy to report they’ve found the advice useful for feeling better. In fact, can you imagine my delight when Garrett came home from work and told me he had shared the idea with one of his co-workers when their attitude sucked? I wrote about it in my journal and called my sister to celebrate.

Healing and growth

“The path isn’t a straight line; it’s a spiral. You continually come back to things you thought you understood and see deeper truths.”

Barry H Gillespie

As I continue to learn about myself, I keep finding more parts of the ship. As I’ve been talking about the boat analogy using the bell, it didn’t take me long to realize we also have navigation lights, describing our willingness to show up. There’s the wake, representing legacy and what we leave behind. Looking deeper into the ship’s cannons to understand what needs protection, I researched boundaries. Reading through books and internet articles, I came up with eight: physical material, mental, emotional, sexual, spiritual, temporal, and virtual. I could see how facing the challenges within these boundaries is similar to the waves we face while sailing through daily life.

A couple of years ago, while talking with my son, I discovered the ship’s deck, enabling us to recognize our awareness of ourselves within body, mind, and soul. The foundation of our presence can be tapped into by returning to ourselves within each moment. It felt like my mind was utterly blown open again!

Green and growing or ripe and rotten

As is so often the case, when I uncover a new part of the ship, my anxiety automatically flares up with the feeling that I should have somehow already known this. That’s a crazy thought because I never learned boundaries. Like most people my age (Gen X), I learned to follow the rules and do what was asked of me, and everything would turn out okay in the end. The world we live in today is proof that it was a lie. Discovering this analogy has helped me recognize the truth within myself despite the old habits that sometimes still send me off course.

As I mentioned, returning to kindness and self-compassion is my life-long voyage. I heard somewhere that we are either green and growing or ripe and rotten. I’d rather be green and want to connect with others interested in learning and growing.

With so many more parts of the analogy to talk about, I’m currently working on writing new books as a check-in for people of all ages. I’ve asked for help from the people in a local university’s Early Childhood Learning department. I look forward to getting some help making the books appropriate for the different stages of childhood development.

I initially thought the analogy was an answer because it came to me when I asked a question. However, after all this time, I’ve realized that You’re the Boat is not an answer but more of an approach to help us recognize ourselves through our body, mind, and soul and move toward whatever we need. Whether healing, learning, growing, creating something new, or connecting through our relationships, looking at ourselves using this tool can help us get where we need to go. I aim to share the ideas within this analogy to help people recognize their power, presence, and possibilities, empowering them to get what they need to feel better quickly.

We can’t truly love what we don’t know, especially ourselves. The deeper we understand ourselves, the better we can chart a course to a life worth living.

To be a good influence.

Despite the anxious voice in my head, I’ve done my best work learning to speak kindly to other people.

In 2017, I took Garrett with me to Toastmasters. It’s a nonprofit educational organization that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of clubs. He enjoyed it so much that he agreed to take on the task of being the Topicsmaster. The following week, he would offer our group questions centering on trust.

Garrett started by asking, “At 17 years old, I have my entire life out in front of me. What advice do you have to offer me and why should I trust you?”

With a big smile, he pointed to me and said, “Mom, you first!”

Everyone laughed as I came up to the podium and shook Garrett’s hand before he went to sit down. With two and a half minutes to speak, I began.

Author and architect

“Thank you, Garrett, for this opportunity to offer you some advice. As your mother, I have always had your best interests at heart. That’s why you can trust me. My advice is a reminder you are the author of your life and the architect of your relationships.”

A young man wearing jeans, a plaid shirt and glasses stands next to a podium which is covered in ribbons and a flag representing Toastmasters International.
Garrett at Toastmasters

“Every day, you tell yourself the story of who you are and what matters to you. Pay attention to your words, how you talk to yourself, about yourself, and to the people you love. With every word, you tell the story of your life. Make it a good one.”

“Pay attention to your family, friends, and people around you. Those relationships, and your sense of humor, are tools for building a life worth living. Remember to be kind. You get what you give.”

“Before I go, if you don’t remember anything else I’ve said tonight, please remember this…”

“You know, your attitude is like the rudder on a ship. Keep it adjusted appropriately to get where you need to go.You’re the Boat, charting a course toward a life worth looking forward to.”

The rest of the audience laughed along with Garrett, who roared with laughter and pounded the table! The idea that made him roll his eyes since he was eight years old now surprised and delighted him.

Life doesn’t have an answer.

Garrett and many others rolled their eyes when I talked about the analogy because I was pretty heavy-handed when I first discovered it. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm alienated people with the impression that I had the answer to life. While I had the best intentions, over these past 15 years, I’ve had to work on my tone. After all, I am the bell (Belding), and this analogy is my story to tell.

No amount of punishment will ever bring about inner peace. Self-knowledge and compassion are the keys to creating harmony.

Life is complicated, and there is no single answer to life’s questions. We can, however, adjust our approach and continue learning to see ourselves with understanding while growing and connecting with others.

To be clear, powerful, and resonant.

I’m sharing this story hoping something in my experience touches something in yours. I still have much to learn, and I plan to continue sharing what I’ve discovered with as many people as possible.

If you are struggling with anxiety, please know that you’re not alone! That voice in your head doesn’t have the whole story! You have a lot to offer, and every moment brings another chance to use your voice as a clear and powerful message to love and support yourself and your people. You have a better story to tell.

I’m so grateful you’re here, and I hope you’ve found the stories helpful.

What do you think, my friendly blog reader?

What do you hear when you listen to the tone of your ship’s bell?

What’s been your experience dealing with your inner dialogue and your crew?

I’d love to hear from you. Please reach out if you’re an early childhood educator. I look forward to working with you to expand this idea into age-appropriate books.

I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments below.

xoxo Pam

p.s. You can download a free PDF of the Boat analogy from the Library.

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