Putting Your Canoe Back in the Current


Photo: Library of Congress. Bain News Service, ca. 1910 – 1915

When I was growing up, I was well aware of how special I was. (Weren’t you?) I was a world changer, a bright soul ready to stand on the world stage and SHINE!

My mother wasn’t nearly as confident about this as I was.

I’d come barreling into a room with another huge and wild project idea – repainting my bedroom purple all by myself; sewing all of my own clothes; writing, printing and hand-delivering a daily newsletter to the neighbors, running a three-week day camp in the garage!

My mother would meet my enormous enthusiasm with panic.

“Are you sure you can handle that?” she’d say, and SPLAT. 

The whole idea would dissolve. As if I’d been joyfully paddling a rushing torrent of whitewater and suddenly, floomph – I was sitting on a sand bar watching the water rush out of the world.

Forty years later, I don’t need my mother to quash my wildness. I do it myself. 

Now, whenever I gather a wave of enthusiasm and the energy starts to lift my canoe, somewhere along the way, I hit that damn sand bar.

I don’t blame my mother – not anymore. I can only imagine how my enormous energy overwhelmed her gentle and sensitive heart. I am also, no longer expecting her approval before launching my canoe. Nor am I working this out in therapy any more.

Now, I am simply putting my canoe back in the current.

I’ve learned that the waves of panic and dread that maroon me onto sandbars have nothing to do with my mother. They’re edges… in me.

Edges are formed of fear but we don’t always experience that. We experience edges as overwhelm, as confusion, as repulsion, as anger. We are at an edge when we find ourselves suddenly bored with someone or something that captivated us just the day before. We are at an edge when we feel stuck or when we feel pressured to finish something that now feels way too big, to complicated or too risky.

Edges arise out of two particular errors of the mind. 

Error 1: “I do not have the capacity for this.” aka, “I am not enough”.
Error 2: “It’s too risky,” aka, “The world is not safe.”

When the mind feels threatened (and to the mind, anything uncertain, unusual or untested is a threat), it throws us into lockdown, spinning projections: scary stories about what could happen.

The untrained mind lives in a state of constant vigilance, watching for anything that might cause suffering. It will protect us at all costs. Even at the cost of our own happiness.

The problem is that many of the things that the mind reads as threats are actually opportunities.

The soul knows its way around such edges – and as I grew up, and my mother’s question rose up within me – it became an invitation to find my way around it.

Are you sure you can handle this? I would ask myself and, even when I was scared, Yes, I can handle this, I would answer. If it matters to me enough to do the work.

Viewed in this way, I see now that my mother was a teacher of courage. I see that with her question, she made me stop and take stock of my readiness, to get the gear and preparation I needed and to bravely put my canoe back in the current.

When you get stuck on a sandbar, here’s how to put your own canoe back in the current:

Identify the concern. What’s stopped you? Was it a thought? A feeling? Can you locate it in your body? Can you articulate the words, if there are any to express the concern? Stay present. Fear can make us disassociate into fantasy and excuses. Keep yourself on the sandbar.

Consider the concern. It’s important to consider that you may be receiving genuine guidance. So, look around? Is the stream about to drop you off the edge of the world? Is your canoe leaking? Do you have enough sandwiches in the cooler for this downstream journey? Check. Double-check.

Thank the mind. Don’t push against the fear or the feeling. Don’t get caught in stories about how you are always afraid, how your whole family had anxiety disorder, how this is the same damned sand bar you always get stuck on. Just invite the mind – and all of its concerns – into the canoe. Reassure the mind that you welcome it, that you honor it. Engage the mind with the question of how to get the canoe off of the sand bar. With a puzzle the solve, the mind will climb into the boat and pick up a paddle.

Look around. See that, now, with the mind sitting beside you, you have reentered the stream.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }


Thank you for this affirmation that mothers really quash our efforts to succeed. My mother was also one of those people, until almost the day she died. That was 6 years ago. I can still hear her. I considered it abusive. I’ll use your canoe steps. And, thank you for those.


Christie, Describe Happy

I connect with your writing so often. I was also squashed as a youth and even to this day (I’m 30) I get similar reactions. But this year I have decided that I am going to take the risks that I am going to take. No one is to give me permission or remind me how scary it is… and I bet I will be all the better for it. No Boundries.. my words for the year and thank you for helping me remember that I’m not alone in this challenge!



Getting squashed is no fun but it did teach me to get up, iron out all the squashed places in my heart and get back to work on my own life. Ultimately, I wrote this post to say: I can do this – with or without the approval of others. I wish you very good luck – and thanks for the comment.


Rebecca C

I understand why our mothers do this – and I appreciate your idea that your mother was a teacher of courage. She didn’t tell you you can’t do it – she just was the edge you are talking about – the wall to bump your idea off of (even if she hoped you wouldn’t do whatever it was you were going to do). I believe mothers do this out of care for us – and fear on their part. I am a mother now and I do understand where these feelings of concern come from. But it’s a good thing to remember when you become a mother as well – don’t hold your kids back from what they truly want to do – be a voice of reason, but in the end, let them experience their lives the way they want to.



So true. And I hope that my kids would tell you that sometimes I did okay with this myself. They’re in their 20s now so we’ve been having that kind of conversation lately – where I find out how I did (and am doing) pretty clearly. So far so good. xxoo



Oh my God…

…I was literally just talking about this not more than a couple of hours ago. My eyes widened with each passing sentence.

I just sent you an email.



Thank you for this–I am now completely re-envisioning my halts and stuck spots and knowing that the eddy is there to launch back out on. I love the metaphor, especially as the river in my town is currently covered in ice. Let it break!
Thank you.


Square-Peg Karen

Love! This warms my heart, Amy – thank you!


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