What Floats Your Boat?

Here is something to keep your mind busy for a little while.  I used this exercise in 2002 and ran across it today, so I wanted to share with you.  Enjoy!  Take my ideas and create your own ocean and your own ships.  I am speaking of relationships with self and others.

Conversation Starters or Self Awareness Prompts:

  1. A difficult conversation for me……….
  2. What I think about the statement, “People don’t change that much”…..
  3. If I were called, as a vocation, to be “fully human”, I would……..
  4. I know I am competent, because……
  5. I am a good person, because……..
  6. I am worthy of being loved, because……..
  7. “The absence of disease is not the same as the presence of health”  means……
  8. The best listener I know……..
  9. The secret to effective relationships is…..
  10. Respect for the future means……..
  11. My top five strengths are……..
  12. I can see my Strengths in action when……..
  13. My mind is open when………….closed…………..
  14. My heart is open……………….closed…………
  15. My will is open……………closed…………….


Concept:  Life is like the ocean.

We travel the ocean of life in a series of boats.  Childhood was the first boat.  Who was in that boat?  These are the relationships we live, love, and learn from.  What we learned in this boat or what we didn’t learn brings lessons throughout the rest of the journey.  F.O.O.L.S. is my acronym for Family Of Origin Life School.   You will leave that boat of family relationships and travel in many other vessels.  Does your life follow the pattern of one ship with a captain?  Are you one of a flotilla of float vessels….canoe, skiff, dugout, yacht, sailboat, Titanic???  Do you keep re-meeting your mother, your father, your little brother who stole your yo-yo?  Somewhere in every office you will find these family of origin facsimiles.

Boats move in the water by what means?  How do relationships move in the waters of life?

Oars are the primitive way of moving.  Consider a relationship where you are in a canoe and each person has one paddle.  How will the canoe move?  Balance in effort works best.

Sails represent the natural way of moving.  What moves a sail boat?  How does the wind that unfurls the sails resemble a relationship pattern?  What if there is not wind?  A storm?

Motors are the modern way to move a boat.  Motors come in many kinds,  diesels, outboards, inboards, gasoline powered, nuclear power, etc.   Think about and discuss what powers your “boat?”


The locomotion comes by way of Oars, Sails, and Motors.  Think of these as styles of conversation.  Conversation is the power that moves our ships of relations.  A relationship is made better or worse through the power of conversation.  What is conversation?  Conversation IS the relationship.


Conversation is not all talk.

Conversation can be verbal (words, tone of voice) and

Non-verbal (facial expression, body postures, gestures, movements)

Oars in the water are like a conversation.  Who is talking?   Who is listening?  Slow way to move but may be more beneficial than the fast pace a motorized conversation brings.   Taking turns, in tune, in harmony.  Talk, listen.  Reflect, understand.  Steady and responsible to the movement of the boat—the relationship.


Sailing brings the silence of waiting for the wind.  Letting silence do the heavy lifting is a good thing in a conversation.  Relaxing, waiting.  Knowing how and when to tack.  Navigation depends on cool heads and willingness to be still.  Dead in the water may simply mean waiting for the next spiritual inspiration.


Motorized conversation is dependent on everyone in the boat following the rules.  In relationships, we can follow the rules of courteous communication.  Empathy and understanding are the gears in the motor.  These gears function well if there exists hearing without blame, judgment, or fault-finding, or the worst F of all—Fixing.  Seeing with soft, fresh eyes.  Holding the field of possibilities as the relationship unfolds in its best form.


Intake and output are dependent on the machinery, which is the skills.  The oars, the sails, or the motor are the metaphor for skills.  The skills are exercised through use of the human senses.  We see, we hear, we smell, taste, and touch.  We also intuit.  We respond based on our interpretation of what we see, hear, taste, touch, smell, or intuit.  Higher consciousness is required to do this.  And, it is worth doing!


The fuel (elbow grease for oars; wind for sails; or fossil fuel for motors) is like your desire, your motivation.  Wanting this communication to succeed means that the necessary fuel will be found for the ship to go forward.  The oars can be skills such as mirroring, validating, and empathizing.  The wind for the sails can be the emotional energy to reach for a caring communication.  The gas or oil for the motor can be that stretch into possibilities that says what you need could be just exactly what I need to learn to do for my own development.  Like refining crude oil into the gasoline that makes the power, we reach for our depths.  We see in every difficult conversation a stretch into the possibilities of our very being itself.


From the book, Theory U by Otto Scharmer (published in 2007), further help for the flow of conversation:  Open mind (vs. judgment); Open Heart (vs. cynicism); and Open Will (vs. fear) make the difference between “presencing” and “absencing” in any relationship.  These three requirements are necessary in order to meet any other person(s) in a fruit-bearing relationship.  It can be done through depth awareness of oneself as participant as well as observer, being awake and aware of the submerged (unconscious-unaware) part of our mind as well as the small tip of the iceberg conscious part.  Not easy to do but nobody promised that growth was easy.


In every moment of interaction with oneself or with others, our beliefs-thoughts-feelings will show up in our behavior.  Changing behavior is the necessity for changing relationships.   How?  By acknowledging that thoughts can congeal into beliefs and that beliefs are the unconscious stimulus of behavior, and by observing our own behavior (words, tone of voice, facial expression, body posture, gestures, and movements) we will discover our beliefs.  I admit this is difficult to grasp and even harder to do, but what else is our evolution about?  We are here in this life for a purpose and our growth demands that we wake up through awareness and ownership of our total beingness.


Here are some ideas for change and growth:

Crucial conversations will be around 3 things:  1) What happened?  2) The feelings about it and 3) the Identity of the conversationalists.  These three elements will be present in our communications, especially the difficult conversations.


Who travels with you in your lifeboat today?  Name the relationships.  Work, School, Home, Church, Community, Relatives, extended family, and friends.  Who are your traveling companions?


Which of these are the most significant?  The most difficult?


What is the ideal relationship?  What do you desire in your relationships?


How do we take charge of our life boat?  First, listening.  Second, seeing through new eyes.  Third, self awareness of our own interpretation machine.  This requires knowing how we take in what is said or done, filter it through our interpretations, and respond.  Our reponse is done through the same avenue as the stimulus.  A message is sent through words, tone of voice, facial expression, body posture, and movements.  A response to that message also is sent through words, tone of voice, etc.


Self awareness is the door through which all skills move.  Becoming aware of our interpretations, our responses, our emotional wake, is imperative if conversations are to improve and be effective.  Start with a detached look at each person’s story.  Be the story teller. Listen to their story.  Ask yourself the deep questions so that you can learn about yourself.  What is your life drama?  Who are the actors on your stage?  Whose stage do you act on?


There will always be at least two stories, probably three.  Mine, yours, and the third story, which is like a version that a mediator would tell.


Gossip is the virus that invades a ship when the difficult conversations are avoided.  Instead of working through the difficulty of what happened with the person originally involved, the feelings it brought, and the threats to identity,  it seems easier to avoid, deny, or gossip to someone else about what has happened.  Telling feelings about it seems safer when told to another, rather than the one who is in the conflict with you.


The change comes when we summon the courage to confront and to hold the difficult conversation.  A difficult conversation is anything you find it hard to talk about.

2 thoughts on “What Floats Your Boat?

  1. nancy schwartz says:

    Hi Marj! So enjoyed this post. Sending you and Paul lots of light and love.
    Life is good-been retired for 5 months now and am working on what’s next. It’s
    a nice challenge!
    Let me know if you will be on the West coast anytime as I’d love to see you!

    fondly, nancy

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