Fishing is an age old tradition that has long permitted men to escape the hustle and bustle of city and family life. This relatively in-expensive sport allows for men to get away from the never-ending honey do list and stress of the workplace, allowing for refreshment in the quiet of the great outdoors. Many men benefit from this classic outdoor sport; however, with some small redirection in attention and awareness the benefits of fishing can be bolstered into an exceptional self-care and mindfulness activity. In today’s world, mindfulness has been touted as a therapeutic technique or skill that allows for calming and relaxation, as well as potential insight into one’s experience through this process. By making fishing a mindfulness exercise, the everyman can increase the therapeutic benefit of escaping out onto the water with this time honored tradition, subsequently improving his mental health and well-being.
This first step in turning this sport into a mindfulness exercise begins with pulling one’s self into the present moment. According to a wise old proverb by ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” With this, the present is truly all we’ve got and is a means of helping to alleviate any depression or anxiety that we might be feeling. While fishing, we can get present by truly noticing what we see, hear, smell and feel out on the water. You might watch closely your line and fly, or pay close attention to the moving water. You might notice the sound of the rapids crashing or of the birds nearby, you might smell the cool summer breeze or the mist as it steams away from rapids and you might truly notice the weight and texture of the rod itself. By essentially using all of your senses to notice all that the present moment has to offer, you are well on your way to turning self-care into sport and to finding peace on the water. If you get distracted by some thought, or preferably a fish on your line, simply bring it back to your five-senses and the present moment as soon as you’re able.
Once fully present, utilizing the senses and time afforded by a day on the water, we might begin to notice certain feelings, thoughts or memories in these mindful moments. With these, it is important to take a curious yet non-judgmental and kind stance in our awareness. Due to the ways that we are socialized, men often have a harsh opinion of their felt or emotional experiences and many men in turn make an effort to suppress their feelings. This only serves to compound what is being suppressed and is likely a contributing factor to the mental health issues that men often face. In one statistic, 4 out of 5 completed suicides are men, clearly pointing to some issue in the way that men experience their most difficult emotions. Furthermore, suppressing emotions in this way can be a contributing factor in the development of problematic coping strategies such as substance abuse. There is a better way!
Instead we can use this awareness to process feelings and experiences and even to gain adaptive insight into changed behavior strategies or in improving our relationships. Simply taking advantage of the quiet time afforded by the sport, men can make gains in their personal growth, relationships, careers or mental health. Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the opportunity for growth in this process is to come in reflection after the days catch; for now, focus on being present, noticing and allowing for a non-judgmental curiosity.
A final process in the mindfulness opportunity for the fisherman is acceptance. Rather than shaming himself with what’s come up, as men often do with vulnerable emotions, acceptance can allow for us to take advantage of insights that are being offered and to benefit from whatever emotional release that might occur. In other words, insights will allow for us to make changes in the days following a mindful fishing excursion and a cathartic release, as part of the mindful experience, might allow for a man to truly blow off some steam, essentially turning fishing into a pressure valve experience. Exemplifying this, you might notice the ways that your body, posture, demeanor or stance might change in response to this mindfulness experience. We can hope that you’ll have a fish-on interruption frequently throughout the mindfulness experience, but in those quiet moments, look inward, get present, notice with non-judgment, as well as acceptance and you can use fishing to fine-tune the man that you are you today.
In the return route back to city life, reflecting on your mindfulness experience will help to more concretely integrate into your life any insights that remain with you. Be the best man that you can be, without giving up a hobby and sport that has been near and dear to men for many, many generations.