Rafting Downstream: A Metaphor

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Although I’ve never been river rafting, I’m extremely fascinated by it.  I love listening to stories friends tell about their adventures on the rapids; just looking at photos and watching videos makes my stomach do somersaults. It’s one of those things that scares me so much that I think someday I might try it.

One of the things that intrigues me most as I watch river rafting videos is how—even with the speed, the unpredictability, the anxious exhilaration of the rapids—there is still a sense of peace. I think it has something to do with the fact that no matter how wild the ride, the raft is always going with the flow of the river. It always moves downstream.

I heard Esther and Jerry Hicks explain the power of “downstream” in their audio book, “The Astonishing Power of Emotions.”  The gist of it was this:

Achieving,  true success and happiness in life can be like going downstream in a canoe on a river. You don’t need to be paddling your boat against the flow all of the time.

To be honest, I thought it sounded like laziness when I first heard it. That response came from an old, limiting paradigm that said “if I’m not constantly doing something, then I am lazy and I don’t deserve to rest; I don’t deserve to enjoy my life because I haven’t made it to “that level” yet. As soon as I get to that level, then I can relax. And that is missing the point.

“The most common misunderstanding that prevents people from getting control of a situation and gaining their personal balance is the belief that ‘I need to get where I want to be right now or as quickly as possible.'” -Esther Hicks

There are some who might argue, “Because if I don’t hurry and get where I want to go, I’m going to be stuck in this frustration forever, and I don’t like how it feels.  I wanna get to where I wanna be, so I don’t have to struggle anymore.”  Truth is, we will always struggle. We will always have something to “struggle” with because we are always progressing—always.  Human beings are progressive beings, and if we don’t have something to “struggle” toward, we won’t be happy. (Click here to hear what Tony Robbins has to say about Progress.)

“Thinking that we need to get there as quickly as possible is a misunderstanding. We certainly understand your desire to find the answers to your questions quickly, so when you feel an urgency to be somewhere else, you are pushing hard against where you are. That is upstream. But an even more important flaw in the premise you are beginning from is this: in your belief that you must hurry to be in an improved place, you are discounting the power of the Stream–its speed, its direction, and its promise–and in the forgetting of those things, you are definitely pointing in the opposite direction of who you truly are and all that you have become.”

The urge to move faster than you have strength or to move faster than you are works against you. It creates a friction inside of you–which is a feeling that you don’t want. It doesn’t feel good, and the feeling we are all going for is to feel good—on one level or another—so when we are fighting inside of ourselves, we are actually attracting more fighting ourselves about because What we focus on grows. Feeling is the secret. Our focus is determined by the way that we feel—not by what we put on a vision board. Of course having a vision is important. However, your thoughts and feelings must match.

And then…we must trust the flow of the Stream, and “the Stream” is God–the Power of God.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone rafting upstream. Even when someone is looking for a wild and crazy high adventure, braving the rapids is never about trying to force the raft to go upstream. From what I can tell, the rush that people get from river rafting is the rush of the rapids–and they’re moving downstream! It doesn’t look easy by any means, and I never look at the people on the raft as being lazy or unproductive because the raft is going downstream. It actually looks likes very hard work! It takes careful and deliberate navigation!   Sometimes the river might move more slowly; sometimes the path might be straight and even and peaceful. All in all, the trip takes a ton of effort– even though it was all downstream!  From what I can tell, anyone who has gone river rafting would say it was both a challenge AND that they enjoyed the ride.

I asked some of my friends on FaceBook to describe what if feels like:

  • “It’s like roller coasters and wet adventure”
  • “You get a pit in your stomach, once on (the rapids) you get an uncomfortable feeling, but knowing you have a guide to get you through makes it better.”
  • “The greater adventure is the compilation of it all. The elements are extreme and mild. It is freezing cold in the shadows and then blazing hot. The area was so beautiful, and yet you could grow bored easily and overwhelmed with feeling uncomfortable. It was essential to sit back and enjoy the calm.”

This creates a whole different image for me of what it means to go downstream.

As we progress in life, there’s going to be times when it’s slow and easy, and there’s going to be times when the water is rough, and I’m going to have to navigate my way through that. I do need my oars, and I do need to direct my course, but I don’t force it to go the other way, and I don’t fight it. Turning the boat upstream in the middle of the rapids wouldn’t help you move forward–even if you’re paddling as hard as you can.  I don’t know if you’d even stand still!  I’m pretty sure you’ll go backward– and backward is downstream.

And do you know what else?? As I contemplate experiencing a river rafting trip for myself, it brings me great peace as I realize that there will also be skilled and confident guide with me to keep me safe and to ensure that I reach the goal. This is also what brings peace to my life–God is the Ultimate Guide!!

In his book “Working With the Law,” Raymond Holliwell says: “Each experience through which we pass operates ultimately for our good.”  Every single experience, even paddling upstream–even if we’re going backward while we’re paddling upstream–is still working for our good. It may feel like we’re standing still or going backward– it’s a lot harder when we haven’t learned the lesson yet. Every time we go through the unpleasantness, we’re eventually going to learn the lesson and we’ll switch our canoe around and head downstream. Even though we may choose to, we don’t always have to struggle. I think that one of life’s greatest lessons is to learn to trust the flow–Let go of the fight and Let God be our guide.

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