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  • LivingWell Institute

Lessons from the River

Many of my life’s most important and difficult lessons are ones that I have learned in the river, whether literally or figuratively. Living or being “in the river” is a term that I often use to describe engaging in the life that I am blessed to be a part of, that is happening around me, and that I find myself either partially or completely submerged in.

The image of a river is a foundational concept and point of reference that I use when considering my orientation to where I am in life, what I am currently experiencing, and the velocity at which I am travelling on my life’s journey.

There are times in life where we may find ourselves floating along in the river, arms stretched behind our head, basking in the sun in calm and gently moving waters. The green trees line the shore, birds fly gracefully overhead, and we are overcome with a sense of peace, present in time to an experience that is pleasurable, stress free, and positive. I have learned to savor these moments and soak them up like a sponge, tucking them carefully in my heart and spirit as a way to anchor to them when the conditions of the river of my life changes. 

Inevitably, the calm waters of the river of life tend to lead to one of two things. One can be described as a period of stagnation where little change occurs, the lack of movement of the water leading to the water becoming increasingly warm, cloudy, and less invigorating and life-giving. The slow and often undetected progression into this place could be described as a personal experience of depression, hopelessness, or lack of inspiration.  

At the other extreme can be an increase in velocity and movement into a stretch of rapids - fast moving water that can have us feeling like we have been flung out of our safe boat and now gasping for air and fighting for our life. As we travel this tumultuous stretch of river, we find ourselves submerged in cold, rushing water, clinging onto our small boat and whatever semblance of safety and normalcy we can find, unable to slow the incredible flow through obstacles, dangers, and barriers that continue to present themselves in our path.

If there is one thing I have learned in my forty years of living life in the river that has been most helpful for me, it is the concept of “pointing positive”. When leading kayaking and rafting trips with a group of friends, I would scout the rapids ahead, going first down the treacherous stretch of river myself, after which I would turn around to face my friends who were upstream and guide them through the obstacles. 

Due to the incredible noise that flowing water coming into contact with rocks makes (much like all of the noise in our lives - noise in our minds, noise in our environment at home, work and school, and noise in our hearts) my friends were completely unable to hear my words to direct them. And I needed to find a way to communicate effectively to them so they could avoid danger and choose the path that would provide for the most enjoyment and the least amount of danger and potential for pain and suffering.

Our minds, bodies and spirits are hard-wired to follow the direction and orientation that we set our boats in (or where we choose to go physically, in our mind, or with our heart). This translates to “pointing positive” - charting your course in the direction that will bring you life. Because when we point our orientation towards what we fear, what can harm us, or what will steal our life - our body, mind and spirit are sure to follow. And we have a choice. Our own internal compass can be trained to point positive, even when that means navigating challenging situations that are full of uncertainty of what is around the bend in the river.

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