Skills for White-Water Living

I used to think of our lives as a journey, envisioning a walk through meadows and forests. Now, I experience life more as white-water kayaking—it seems that fast and that intense.

I have only done a couple of white-water rafting trips, but I vividly remember the thrill and the terror. The river is a powerful force. Everything happens very fast. Obstacles are everywhere, most of them hidden below the surface

Here are some skills that may help you on the wild ride of life.

Know yourself. Know what you do well and what you struggle with. Know how you respond to stress. Think about repetitive patterns, problems and dilemmas you have experienced. Beware of thoughts or behaviors that may make life difficult to navigate.

Develop skills for navigating the river. Develop the awareness and skills to navigate your life as you experience it. Build your capacity to perform well under pressure.

Learn what you can about the specific river before you begin. As you face particularly difficult circumstances, spend some time thinking about what life is asking of you. Spend some time thinking about how to best deal with what you are currently facing. Talk with others who have dealt with similar difficulties.

Don’t let fear stop you. We live in anxious times. We think we should know everything, anticipate everything and do everything right the first time. These beliefs paralyze us. We learn what we can—we can never know everything. We aniticipate what we can—we can never anticipate everything. We develop comfort with being imperfect and even with failing. We we go forward.

Keep your craft in good repair. With all life asks of us, it is vital that we pay attention to our physical well being. Healthy food, frequent exercise, adequate sleep, good hydration enable us to perform well under pressure.

Find companions for the trip. You don’t have to run the river alone. Life is an individual journey AND it is good to share that journey with friends who can shout encouragement and even throw you a rope when necessary.

Have a plan. Know where you are heading. Plan how best to get there. Plan stopping places and time to rest.

Go with the flow. I remember one guide telling me about “holes” in the river. When you get caught in a hole, the water pulls you under again and again. The only hope of escape is to relax, and stop fighting the river. You will sink below the hole, go down river and be able to surface. When you find yourself fighting what is happening in your life, it may be time to let go and let life take you forward.

Come out of the river to rest. Our bodies and minds do not do well with chronic, ongoing stress. Exert yourself, then rest before you exert yourself some more. When you are under stress, plan for time to rest and recover.

Come out of the river to scout. Practice reflection. Ask yourself—Where have I been? What have I learned? Where am I going? What do I need to do to get there? What obstacles will I face? What is my plan for dealing with them? Revise your plans based on your new information.

When necessary, find an experienced guide. There are times when the challenges seem too great or your skills too limited. Be willing to seek a mentor or therapist to help you understand, prepare, increase awareness, develop skills and enjoy the wild ride of life.

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