Heading For the Rocks

A calm spot on the James

A calm spot on the James

There is pretty much no place I’d rather be than on the beautiful James River here in Richmond. But I think I’d rather be soaking my feet in the river rather than trying to navigate the rapids from the water’s surface.

I took my second kayaking lesson this past weekend, the first lesson nearly two decades ago (obviously it did not captivate me then either). Most people are surprised to learn that the James has Class 4-5 rapids running through downtown, and that the water is clean enough to swim in and fish from. The part of the river on which I was trying to learn to kayak was probably Class 1 or 2 at most, fortunately, because I am just not a boatswoman (is that a word?). I’m just terrible at navigating the little boat as it courses through the rapids. It’s just not intuitive for me to figure out how to steer, especially as the situation rapidly (haha) changes.

Welcome to life, Susanna.

Indeed, the more that I see rocks or a stalled family member that I want to avoid, the more likely I am to end up beached or worse, flipped over on said rocks or family.

The upside is that – hey, we’re all in this together – and now we have many laugh-worthy moments.

The other upside is that – hey, I finally figured out that the 20-year old guide taught me an important lesson that I of course didn’t listen to. He said to look to where you want to go, not the rock you’re trying to avoid because you unconsciously steer to the place you’re looking.

It’s true for life. Why would paddling be any different?

It’s hard not to look sometimes. Those rocks and pileups are like an accident on the side of the freeway that you just can’t help but stare at. But I know if I gawk, I will slow the traffic for those behind me, or worse, end up creating an accident for myself or others.

My own life is that way too. Sometimes I can’t help but focus on the grotesque and the problems and the failures and the logjams. When I do, I inevitably become part of the problem rather than the solution.   Unlike paddling the river, being part of the logjam is not so laugh-worthy.

Toward the end of the journey, I started to do much better by focusing on the path I wanted to pursue as opposed to the rocks or pileup I wanted to avoid. I ended up doing better and feeling more in control of my destiny. The small successes started to build my confidence that I am not mere tinder at the mercy of the whims of the river. I learned that I can control the focus of my attention and thus chart my course both metaphorically and literally.

So can you. Bon voyage and smooth sailing, fellow travelers!