Most of us would agree that life is changing faster than ever before. It’s a challenge and, at times, overwhelming trying to keep up with it all. The average person has six to eight careers. There are physiological changes and health challenges along the way and economic occurrences that affect most of us. Friendships change and the divorce rate is high.
We have to look deeper to find time-tested techniques and strategies that enable us to understand and embrace the unpredictable twists and turns that life, like rivers, inevitably brings.
In my writings I make frequent references to the river of life. Let me share with you the genesis of that metaphor. When I was 13, my Uncle Sam took me on a weeklong river rafting trip, sponsored by the Sierra Club on the Green River in Colorado. We flew in a little six-seat plane over the mountains and landed in a town near our campsite. Already an adventure for a 13 year old we drove over a rickety bridge to the river. On the second day of the trip as I was swimming along the side of the raft, I noticed the raft getting ahead of me. Then I heard the yells: “Get in the boat. Get in the boat.” But it was too late. As I swam against the current toward the boat, I heard more yells: “Stay in the center, stay in the center.” That’s what I tried to do as I was propelled through the rapids right behind the boat.
I made it through to the calm water and was able to relax for a second, until I noticed that the boat was still ahead of me and the next series of rapids was approaching. Quickly I grabbed the oar that my uncle extended and was pulled onto the boat as the boat went through the rapids again. On the return home, my uncle said something to me that I have never forgotten. “You will think about this trip later in life.” It wasn’t until many years later on a return trip to Colorado that I thought about the river experience. There, high on a mountaintop, I noticed a river flowing through a reddish-peaked canyon. I thought about my life and all of the changes and transitions that had occurred to get me to this place in my life, including the joys, triumphs, heartaches and disappointment.
Let ”the river” teach you what is necessary to navigate these waters and to make your journey fulfilling, adventurous and meaningful. There are eight principles and strategies that have been my guide and compass as I’ve navigated the swifter currents of life.
1. Find and live from your center. That was the message from the Green River and the last thing I heard before I went through the rapids. When you are centered and connected to your inner most being you are connected with the source of everything. Meditation enables me to connect with that center every day.
2. Develop the practice of gratitude. I was grateful for that oar. I was grateful that I got to experience the river in the way I did. And I am grateful for my life. We all have a lot to be grateful for. By expressing gratitude for some of the inner qualities that are most important to us such as the ability to love, to smile and to connect we cultivate a sense of how truly abundant we are.
3. Be curious. Think of your life as a river with its lessons, challenges and complexities. Being curious about how the changing nature of the river enables you to get to know and sense its many currents. As this knowing emerges, you’re more comfortable with not knowing where the river is taking you. In the process you become the person you’ve always wanted to be, fully present with life, and passionate about living.
4. Be prepared. I wore a life preserver on the river. When you are prepared you can relax and enjoy life more. Preparation involves taking care of your mind and body. It involves eating well and exercising. It involves being informed and being curious. It also involves working on yourself. Meditating in the morning before starting my day prepares me for whatever life throws my way.
5. Get out of your comfort zone. I could have stayed in the boat and played it safe but I was curious and adventurous. My comfort zone for me was my law practice and, as a result, my life for many years was on hold. Getting in the current and flow of life involves risk but that is what you need to do sometimes.
6. Learn to let go of resistance. Resistance is a constant struggle and makes you tired. At first I resisted the current of the river and tried to swim against it, back to the boat. But I became tired from the struggle. Then I let go and stayed in the center and enjoyed the adventure. When you allow yourself to flow with what is, there is a synchronicity in your life that seems magical.
7. Be willing to be connected. You can’t do it alone and why would you want to. We all want to feel that we belong and that we are loved. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable by honestly sharing who you are and what matters to you, you create a synergy that is greater than the sum of the individual parts. It is in that moment that you experience the magic of connecting with a kindred soul.
8. Embrace the great mystery. I am becoming increasingly more comfortable with not knowing the next step. And when it comes I enjoy taking it. The river is unpredictable and you can’t figure it out. Whether the waters are “still” or “raging” it is still the same river. You have to just flow with it and enjoy the adventure.
By the way when is your next river rafting trip?
Mark Susnow, is an executive & life coach and thought leader who inspires others to believe in themselves. He is passionate about life being an exciting journey of discovery. His enthusiastic and inspiring keynotes on change, leadership and connection thoroughly convey this message to his audiences. A former trial attorney for 30 years, he integrates what it takes to be successful in the world with the inner wisdom unfolded to him through years of yoga and meditation. He is the author of Dancing on the River…Navigating Life’s Changes and Discover the Leader Within.