One of the things that I learned being a river guide, (Many years ago) not to mention my many years of practicing all of the Arts that I play is that this human operating system loves creating rules and shortcuts for interacting with life. While that may serve some purposes like not stepping in front of a moving bus, or not putting your hand on a hot skillet, it does cause many problems. We all do it, we are wired to have a preset response to the picture we form of the world.
As a whole for most people who are not your normal river rats, boating and kayaking on this countries great rivers. We view rivers as an obstacle, a thing of beauty, someplace that has water in it, something that we avoid while driving, something we don’t want to end up in, it is a kind of static idea that becomes fixed in our minds it is a barrier. We know it changes but it is still a river, it isn’t all that dangerous as long as we use a bridge to cross it. It becomes another concept like a red light or those little yellow or white lines on our streets that designate which side of the road we travel on, that designate how we move saftey.
After a while, in most circumstances, it becomes non-interactive in our minds and we label it “A River” now we can get on to more pressing items such as how many likes we got from our last post on facebook. Most of the time this works for us, if we cooperate and drive on the right side of the road, in the United States, we won’t get hit by on coming traffic. Those yellow lines become saftey. What makes them safe? Nothing except for cooperation. It is an illusion of the mind. Many of these short cuts our minds make are helpful. Many are not.
One day I was guiding a river trip on the Colorado river. It was late Spring with a heavy snow run off it had snowed lightly a couple days before but today it was warm for the mountains it was in the 80’s. I had a boat of 10 people. a whole group of big guys who came stumbling down the bank still drunk from the night before. All in tank tops and shorts wearing flip flops and covered in coconut oil. That’s right coconut oil. They were in a rawcus mood cutting up and they were completely unprepared mentally for the experience they were about to confront.
Somehow it never crossed their minds They were about to get on a rubber raft, covered in coconut oil wearing flip flops , in a raging river that just hours ago was snow. They had put the river in their minds as a place of adventure, something generic, like Disneyland. Perfectly safe and not filled with the reality of the river. You see the shorthand programming in their heads didn’t match up with the reality of this river on this day and at this precise moment in time. They couldn’t even see it!
They didn’t listen to the safety speech and just barely shut up enough to let me speak. It became clear to me that these guys were going to meet the reality of the river, if we were to get home alive. The illusion of control would fall away like a ton of very strong flowing cold bricks.
I got everyone in the boat one leg hanging out in the cold water one leg in the boat, (they don’t do this anymore, both feet in the boat now) and we pushed out into the main flow. I was the rudder the 10 people in the boat were the motor, and we were now a part of the river, in the flow. The whole boat of muscle bound guys were still drunk on alchohol and wrong ideas not listening to me or paying attention to the river. That was dangerous.
The River treats fools badly and many times the people with them as well. People die on the river, boats get wrapped around rocks and bridge pillars, and strainers, people get hypothermia, and usually because they didn’t listen and pay attention to the reality of the river. This River, this day, this moment.
The rapids down below were class 4 rapids and at this level on the Colorado River we would need everyone working together and listening to me. The water was moving fast and getting faster. Not only was it not the same river as yesterday it wasn’t the same river as an hour ago. So I turned the boat sideways and hit the first wave. The cold water pounding them like a truck and since they were so covered with coconut oil they slid grasping at each other and the boat and fell into the river where they were sucked under the water and under the boat, heads bobbing under the fabric, they lost their paddles, flip flops and floated out the other side. Their eyes were about the size of grapefruits, panicking for their very lives and feeling completely out of control. In reality they were not in any danger, the only thing that had be shattered was their illusion of control.
They thrashed about trying to get into the boat by themselves, sliding back into the cold river and the enourmous current. They finally came to the conclusion that they needed some help, and let me pull each of them back into the boat like great big fish right into the center of the boat. Mind you this took all of 1 minute. This, for them, was a lifetime. They were shivering and shocked into some sense about the reality of what they were engaged in. Very sober now and all ears for my comands! The shorthand for how their minds held the river was completely revised. Now we could work together.
We recovered their paddles and for the rest of the trip, they paid attention, listened to my commands through enormous water and waves, we moved safely around obsticles, navigating waves that were ten feet tall, and steered around big holes that flipped boats like toys and maytaged people. This is the real river, cold, super strong and dangerous It is also loads of fun with the right headspace. Cold and exhilarated I got everyone home safely. The funny thing is that seeing the true nature of life fills us with happiness. Losing our illusions makes us happier even in the face of it being terrifying.
Though this example is extreme, we react to the life that is presented to us all of the time. We treat our spouses, our jobs, our politics, different concepts, and ideas, not with the reality of the “Flowing River” but with our preconceptions and our attachments to an imagined static world.
Who’s fault is it? It is our programming. It is within us! Why are many of us miserable?Because we hold onto illusion. How to we change? Pay Attention!