The Ultimate “Letting Go” – Clinging to a Rock in the Rapids

Yes, clinging onto a rock in the middle of the raging rapids along the Lower Fork of the Salmon River. This is the exact spot where I found myself during a recent river rafting adventure in Idaho. The trip was called, Reflections on the River, led by an amazing mindfulness and meditation instructor. I imagined the journey to be filled with peaceful days – flowing down the river, lazily and carelessly. But this wasn’t exactly what happened on this particular day…

My nails clawed onto the rock, attempting to gain a better grip which proved difficult because of the slippery green grass covering its sides. I gasped for air and filled my lungs with deep breaths.

What was I doing propped against a rock in the middle of a raging rapid?

Wasn’t I supposed to be on vacation?!

Only a few minutes earlier, we had been “securely” nestled in our tandem kayak.

I was seated in front and the leader of our group, an adept rower and canoe expert, was in the back. That morning, we had kayaked quite well together and I had started to feel more confident with my kayaking skills. This abruptly changed when we came upon this particular set of rapids!

One thing that I’ve learned about rapids – you better “take” them the right way. We didn’t exactly “take” them the right way as we headed straight down. Within seconds, we were drawn down by the raging current then catapulted onto a steep rock face. A ninety-degree angle with the water is never a position a kayak should be in!

The kayak flipped – propelling the two of us into the raging water. Paddles went flying. Kayak went sailing down the river. The force of the current pulled me down and I couldn’t determine which way was up. I gasped for air and swallowed large gulps of water. Then, amazingly, I found myself propped up against a rock. I saw my kayaking partner going down the river, taking the rapid on the left side holding onto the kayak as it was being swept down.

What do I do now? I first needed some deep breaths to realize what the hell just happened. Did I really just get thrown off the kayak? Was I really clinging onto to this rock in the middle of a raging Class 3-4 rapid?

Surprisingly, I was not filled with fear. Yes, I was afraid, but fear did not overwhelm me. I did realize that this wasn’t the best situation to find myself in – literally up a river…with no paddle or kayak!!

What were my options? Luckily, my survival instincts kicked in and two options came to me. Option #1: to be rescued by another boat. Option #2: to let go and face the rapids by myself sans paddle or kayak. At first, the possibility that another boat might “save” me, seemed plausible. Yet after a few minutes surveying the water’s course, the probability of a paddle boat stopping in the midst of the rapid and snatching me up, soon vanished.

Option #2. Let Go! I felt the surge of water against the side and back of my body. I watched how the river’s powerful force carefully carved passages between the boulders studded in its path. Downstream lay much calmer water, but not for some distance.

What about the rocks? Would I hit one?

I looked around at the shore. There was Lindsay, my “celestial” member of the group. We had kayaked together the day before and developed a bond while navigating the rapids. She had stopped with her kayak downstream on the left side of the river’s shore. I spotted her there and my heart immediately filled with warmth and sense of connection. She looked at me, smiled, and calmly signaled me with a “two thumbs up” sign.

Yes, this was my sign – I had to let go. I had to let go of the rock.

I took a few more deep breaths, knowing that there were about 150 feet of raging rapids to go down. I was at the river’s mercy. If this was my time, I needed to have faith and trust. That morning, during our meditation, our leader said, “The river is our mother and we are her garden…”

Well, “Mother River”, I said, “what do you have in store for me?”

One more deep breath before letting my fingers loosen from their death grip on the rock. Then I was released – into the powerful rapids, heading straight down with my feet in front of me and buttocks tucked under. (Note: This is what you’re supposed to do, should you ever find yourself in this situation!) The strong current took me under and flailed me high over the waves. I felt my body crashing down and then rising up against the powerful crests of water. Wave after wave came with amazing force pulling me under and then shooting me to the top. I couldn’t get any air. I just kept telling myself that there was an endpoint – calmer water lay ahead.

It seemed to be an eternity before I could finally see my paddle group up ahead. I had made it through! I swam furiously towards the safety of the paddle boat. I could tell by their facial expressions that they had feared the worst- not seeing any signs of me for quite some time. The rafting guide hoisted me up by the straps of my life vest into the paddle boat. I felt an immediate sense of relief when my feet landed on the sturdy rubber surface. I took deep breaths of wonderful air and gazed at their smiling faces.

A metaphor for life….This amazing experience can be seen as a metaphor for life. How many times have we felt the need to cling onto something and not let go? Our “rocks” may take many forms – relationships, jobs, thought patterns, belief systems, etc? We hold onto this false sense of security – believing that this “rock” will provide us permanent solace and safety. In actuality, we all know that we need to let go and have the courage to face life’s challenges… no matter what situation is presented to us!

A wonderful passage by the late Irish poet, John O’Donohue, presents it beautifully:

“In our day to day lives, we often show courage without realizing it. However, it is only when we are afraid that courage becomes a question. Courage is amazing because it can tap into the heart of fear, taking that frightening energy and turning it towards initiative, creativity, action, and hope. When courage comes alive, imprisoning walls become frontiers of new possibility, difficulty becomes invitation and the heart comes into a new rhythm of trust and sureness. There are great sources of courage inside every human heart; yet courage needs to be awakened in us. Courage is a spark that can become the flames of hope, lighting new and exciting pathways in what seemed to be dead, dark landscapes.”

Lessons learned.

I am grateful to the river for many invaluable lessons. This experience re-awakened the courage in me to face life’s challenges straight on and cherish each day as a true “gift”. One major lesson was that I had survived this near-death experience! From this, came the need to fulfill my mission in life – to be a leader in women’s health and empower women ( and men!) to lead the most fulfilling lives possible. To not hold back, but go for our dreams!

Life is not a dress rehearsal – it is here, right now, right in front of us. We only have the present. No need to waste energy on the past or worry about the future. We may not have absolute control over what happens to us, such as being flipped from a kayak in the midst of a raging rapid, but we can control how we choose to react to life’s challenges.

Over the past 2 weeks, I’ve pondered over the “rocks” in my life. What things was I clinging onto? What was I resisting and not letting go of?

Hopefully, by reading this you will be inspired to look at the “rocks” lying in your river of life —and choose to ultimately let go!

Questions for reflection:

  • What things are you holding onto?
  • What do you need to let go of?
  • Do you have courage and faith in your river’s path?

Please share any of your thoughts or experiences of “letting go”.

Lighting the way…
Dr. Diana

Please share your comments and experiences!

7 thoughts on “The Ultimate “Letting Go” – Clinging to a Rock in the Rapids

  1. First of all, I’m so glad you made it out successfully! Whew! Secondly, I am going to have to literally take the plunge next year at this time when our family goes down the Salmon River. Lastly, I am holding onto a few fears … I will definitely keep your suggestions in mind to get me through them. Thanks Dr. Hoppe!

    1. Diana….loved this!!! Would like to use it with some clients but only with your permission. Its sometimes a delicate balance between what we need to cling or attach to and what we need to release. I will pass this on to Steve…an avid kayaker. Hope all is well.

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