< Chef Lua
Be the Dolphin
“When you control your breathing,
you control your mind.”
Bob froze and darted his eyes in my direction. Before he could even get his beer down from his lips, he said,
“What is she talking about, Rico?”
He was staring at me in obvious bewilderment.
“I don’t know. You don’t look any shade of blue to me. Though I do sense you are full of brown sometimes.”
After her characteristic giggling subsided, Lua said,
“You know, Mister Bob, one way to break up tension and deal with moments of emotional pain is with deep, conscious breathing. I am sure you notice the motion from each ocean wave as it passes underneath Kalea’s hulls as we sit out here moored in this beautiful lagoon today — and how she gracefully rises and falls over and over with each passing wave. A roiling complex of thoughts, feelings, memories, and emotions come and go, rise and fall in our minds, in an endless series just like that.”
Lua explained that emotions can be quite disruptive to our sense of well-being and to our relationships with others. But conscious breathing can be a wonderful stabilizing anchor.
“I think it would be helpful for you to have a more intimate relationship with your breathing, Mister Bob. Be more conscious of your breathing.”
While the stunned captain was trying to understand how the mundane activity of everyday breathing could have any possible effect on his emotional states, Lua proceeded to elaborate on her advice.
She explained that most people assume that we breathe with our lungs alone; but breathing is actually done by the whole body, with the lungs playing a relatively passive role in the whole process. They expand when the thoracic cavity is enlarged and they collapse when it is reduced.
Proper breathing actually involves the muscles of the head, neck, thorax and abdomen; and therefore chronic tension in any part of the body's musculature interferes with proper breathing, which interferes with our feelings of well-being.
Everyday breathing is one of the basic pleasures of being alive and the one that is taken for granted more than any other. At its most basic level, the simple act of breathing provides the oxygen for the metabolic processes — it literally fuels the fires of life.
While she still held the stupefied captain’s attention, Lua described breathing as a rhythmic activity, like a series of ocean waves. The breathing rate is higher in infants and in states of excitation and lower in sleep and in depressed persons — and like all types of waves, breathing can vary greatly in wave height.
The depth of our breathing also varies with emotional states. Breathing naturally becomes shallower when we are frightened, anxious, or stressed. And this means less oxygen enters the bloodstream.
Breathing deepens with relaxation, pleasure, and sleep. The quality of our respiratory movements determines whether breathing is pleasurable or not.
We live immersed in a fluid, she explained — just like fish in the sea — in an ocean of air we call the atmosphere. By our breathing we are attuned and intimately connected to our surroundings.
If we inhibit our breathing, even mildly, we isolate ourselves from the medium in which we exist. Perhaps that is why breath has a strong connection with spirit or soul.
Chef Lua was a big fan of Asian cuisine and had learned a good deal about Eastern cultures and philosophies while pursuing her passion for the culinary arts.
Lua informed us,
“Did you know that in all Oriental and mystic philosophies, the breath holds the secret to the highest bliss? Breathing is the dominant factor in the practice of yoga and, if controlled effectively, can have a powerful calming effect.”
She said that our breath is our essence. The Chinese know it as qi, the ‘life force’ or ‘energy flow.’ Hindu sages encapsulate the universal life force as ‘Om’—the sound of all that is.
In fact, the word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus, which is a translation of the Green pneuma, meaning 'breath.' Both physically and spiritually, breath represents life.
“Practice more conscious breathing, Mister Bob. Whatever you are doing and wherever you are, I think you will enjoy a more calming stillness and better control of your emotions if you become more aware of your breathing and learn to control it better. When you control your breathing, you control your mind. Be like a dolphin — unlike humans, they breathe consciously, you know.”
Bob appeared rather confounded following Lua’s impromptu mini-sermon on the simple, mindless act of breathing.
“Be like a dolphin, huh? I’ll have to think about that a bit. You did just kinda take my breath away for a minute there, Lua.”
We continued our lunch with a discussion about what was left on the day’s to-do list. Perhaps I was more sensitized to notice, following the conversation, but it sure seemed like Bob was taking deeper and longer breaths when he wasn’t doing the talking. In any case, he appeared more relaxed by the time we finished lunch and got up to resume knocking off our long checklist of tasks for the day.
I made a mental note to remind Bob of ‘conscious breathing’ whenever I might catch him alone over the next several days at sea. I’d use a simple motto that would surely annoy him to no end, to my great delight: ‘Be the dolphin, Bob … be the dolphin.’
“Hey Lua, ya wanna hear a funny song?”
Lua and I were working side-by-side painting the forward bulkhead of the pilothouse. I loved re-purposing well-loved pop songs and coming up with what I considered to be much better stories to tell with those marvelous melodies. I had a humorous version of Just a Gigolo to offer my fun-loving, uke-playing crewmate.
“Sure, I’d love to hear it!”
She was delighted by the offer but did not break the steady rhythm of her smooth, graceful brush strokes. She seemed to naturally enjoy the relaxing, meditative, beautifying act of painting.
I gleefully put down my paintbrush, grabbed my guitar, and sang my lighthearted little ditty with all the emotional depth of a hopelessly love-struck troubadour:
I’m just a piccolo
And everywhere I go
People say I'm short and skinny
I wish I were a flute
That would be a hoot
And then I wouldn’t sound so tinny
But there will come day
When things will go my way
When all the lower notes retire
And when the end comes they’ll know
I was one fine piccolo
Just like a flute, but higher
Lua clapped enthusiastically.
“That was great, Mister Rico! How did you come up with that?”
She was giggling with delight.
“Well, that classic tune has a great melody ripe for repurposing, but the only word that I could think of to rhyme with ‘gigolo’ was ‘piccolo.’ So I had to imagine myself as a piccolo and wonder what would go through the mind of this sad, slender, squeaky little flute wannabe. Now Lua, wouldn’t you agree that a poor little piccolo, having only a very limited selection of weak, wimpy high notes to offer a big-bass world would have significant self-esteem issues and be dreaming of a day when all the lower notes retired?”
I had barely finished my explanation before she lost her composure in a fit of contagious laughter that drew me in like a helpless cork in a whirlpool of merriment.
We both laughed together for a good long time.
Now any salty, savvy, seasoned boat captain will tell you that great food is vital to the morale of passengers and crew at sea, especially when the going gets unpleasant or downright dangerous. Chef Lua would certainly provide that.
But laughter — with its fearlessness and solidarity — can sometimes be the most effective way to release the pressure from the mounting stress of a difficult situation.
Lua was one of those special class of people that laughed easily and often, a trait that I lack, but greatly admire in others.
There would surely be many extraordinary challenges crewing for a bunch of ill-matched landlubberly passengers dealing, many for the first time, with the tight quarters and daily discomforts of living aboard a relatively small vessel with few modern conveniences; Kalea was no luxury cruise liner, after all.
So I made a mental note to myself at that moment to keep ‘Laughing Lua’ in mind for when the time comes, and most surely it would, that a rapidly deteriorating situation called for the magical mood-saving power of a timely and well-thrown lifeline of humor.
< Chef Lua