One of the things that I learned being a river guide not to mention my many years of practicing all of the Arts that I do. A lesson that I keep needing to remind myself is 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.
There was one day on the river that illustrates this in big terms. But there are so many programs running us some good some bad that I would like you to think of this example as a universal construct that opens you to a process that happens continuously.
As a whole for most people who are not your normal river rats, boating and kayaking 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. We know it changes but it is still water and the water doesn’t change all that much in our minds it’s water right? Another concept. After a while, in most circumstances, it becomes non-interactive in our minds and we label it The River, it is safe at a distance. Most of the time this works for us. It is an illusion of the mind.
One day I was guiding a river trip on the Colorado river. It was late Spring with a heavy snow run off. I had a boat of 10 people. People of different ages sexes and sizes. There were two big beefy muscle-bound guys, who came stumbling down the bank still drunk from the night before. Both in tank tops and shorts wearing flip flops and covered in coconut oil. They were in a good mood cutting up wearing flip flops,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 the other folks had as well, 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 be the first to meet the reality of the river. 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, 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 two muscle bound guys were still swimming in alcohol and drunk on wrong ideas, and they were yelling and not paying any attention and not only unaware of the river but me and the other people in the boat. That was dangerous. The River treats fools badly and many times the people with them as well. People die on the river, they wrap boats around rocks and bridge pillars, and strainers, they get hypothermia, and usually because they didn’t listen and pay attention. The rapids down below were class 3 and 4 rapids and at this level would need everyone working together and listening to me. So I turned the boat sideways in the river with them down stream and hit the first wave. The cold spray pounding them like a truck with cold water 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 completely out of control. They thrashed about trying to get into the boat by themselves out of the cold water and the powerful forces of the current, mind you this took all of 30 seconds. This, for them, was a lifetime of real river time. They finally came to the conclusion that they needed some help, began to calm down a little bit and I pulled each of them back into the boat like great big fish right into the center of the boat. They were shivering and shocked into some sense about the reality of what they were engaged in. Very sober, and the shorthand for how their minds held the river was completely revised. Thank goodness! We recovered their paddles and for the rest of the trip, they paid attention, listened to my commands and had a great time though they wished they hadn’t covered themselves in coconut oil as they did fall in the river, each once more time, and in much larger rapids. Even the guides didn’t want to swim in that cold water. Cold and exhilarated we all made it back safely. The funny thing is that seeing something real fills us with happiness. Losing our illusions makes us happier.
Though this example is extreme, we react to the life that is presented to us, like this, 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 attachment to an imagined static world. We get shocked by reality, shocked by the flow of humanity, shocked by how wrong “out there” is. Who’s fault is it? It is our programming. It is within us! Our programming shouldn’t be running us, we should be engaging our programming and constantly be moving away from our false ideas towards what is happening now and engaging the actual moment. Being buffeted by, desires and aversion, false fears, and empty concepts create more pain than you can imagine.
When I was on the river every day, I noticed it was different every time I floated it. The river changes color, the water flows at different rates, the different rates of water causes the water to flow differently over the rapids. Each time you join with the river you have to be a beginner because the river is different every time. Guess what? So is everything else! Everything is moving and changing, our spouses and lovers are different, all of the people in our lives are changing, the world is spinning and changing, we are hurling through new space that we have never travel before on this mud ball rocketing through space at 300,000 miles per hour. It has always been this way! What is the solution? To pay attention, to be aware of your programming, to look for the shorthand you use to engage life, and constantly bring a beginners mind to your life. All of the sufferings in the world come from attachment ( Our Programing). At that moment the Big Guys were attached to, among other things, their idea that they were in control, and that the river was a concept, not a real thing. They had a bad program running amok. Everything is in constant motion at different rates, our programming obscures our experience of the moment. To change the world, you change yourself. That is the only way.