As I look back at the summer and evaluate my summer bucket list, I reflected on some of the more meaningful experiences. My family spent a week camping. Both my wife and I grew up camping and were provided this experience by our parents. However, we (mostly me) were reluctant to venture into the woods with young children with all the work that would be required to take care of them and keep them quiet so that the wolves didn’t eat us. My own parents threw caution to the wind and gave my brother and I this gift when we were very young, and I have felt guilty for years not having had that same spirit of adventure, until this year. So, one of my biggest accomplishments and most proud moments this summer was sleeping in a mosquito filled forest with itchy ankles, unshowered and unshaven for three whole nights. You’re welcome Meyers children!
One of the experiences our family undertook while camping was a white-water rafting trip. This was a new experience for me and for our family. Passing through Carlton Minnesota, we passed Swiftwater Adventures and decided to stop to find out more information. They informed us that at no time did anyone on their trips ever die. This information gave my wife and I pause to consider spending part of the day floating gently down the river together as a family. We believed this would be an experience of relaxing in the sunshine on the St. Louis River, singing river boating songs and reciting Mark Twain quotes from memory. So, we paid our fee and entrusted our morning to the delightful guides of Swiftwater Adventures! Our guides informed us that white-water referred to the “rapids” that we would be traversing. Rapids are fast moving water, usually over rocky terrain. They can come with a significant drop in the river as well, almost like a small waterfall.
Our orientation to voyaging over and through rapids included behavior that sounded counter-intuitive. Our guide informed us that to move through a rapid the entire crew of the boat must put their weight forward and lean into the wave and rapids. I found that as we moved towards the rapids my body, in fact, wanted to do the opposite. My body, all on its own, wanted to lean away from the rapids. Although I had no reason to trust our guide, I instructed my body to follow through with his direction. As we crashed through the waves, I found that even as difficult as it was to instruct my body to do the opposite of what it wanted to do, our boat did in fact crash through the waves and come out on the other side with all members still on board. We were wet, but all still living!
Another thing that I appreciated about our guides at Swiftwater Adventures was that before each big rapid they provided us with instruction, coaching, and choices. I recall that before one of the last and largest rapids we would face that day, the guides had us rest on the side of the river. They talked with us about the upcoming rapid and the Electric Slide (I think they endearingly called it), preparing us for what was the most difficult of the rapids. I also remember our family being tested at this point, as our guide informed us of the challenge ahead of us and gave us some choices about how to move through it, including taking an easier route. I recall my children all giving their feedback about their “vote” for which direction they wished to go, and out of my mouth sprang, “This family is NOT a democracy”. My wife and I then decided to move forward with the coaching and support of our competent and confident guides. We paddled hard, leaning in, and moving right through the Electric Slide. It was scary and exhilarating!
I am grateful for the lessons of white-water rafting from our guides on the St. Louis River that day. I appreciated the connection between white-water rafting and real-life hardships and struggles. That leaning in and putting our weight into the hard stuff coming our way is the only way to keep moving forward. When we get stuck, it is often because we are not ready to head into the obstacles of life. I also greatly appreciated the insight that there are predictable rapids in our lives and finding a guide, especially right before we push forward through those difficult torrents can assist us in understanding how to move through and how to lead our families through those sometimes seemingly insurmountable difficulties.
Other blogs by Mathew Meyers, MA, LMFT