Putting Your Canoe Back in the Current

In the good old summertime. [canoe] (LOC)

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. Flat. Dead. Dropped connection. Stone wall. It was like sitting in a rushing torrent of whitewater, paddling wildly, joyfully and the next instant, floomph, you’ve landed on a sand bar as the water rushes out of the world.

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

The pattern is inside of me – a pattern of beliefs and fears designed to ‘protect’ me from my own excesses. 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.

This is what I’ve learned about the things that lift me onto a sandbar: 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 ‘out of love’ with someone or something that captivated us just the day before. We are at an edge when we feel stuck – and/or pressured to finish something that now feels way too big, to complicated or too risky.

Edges arise out of one of two illusions, two errors of the mind. In other words, they arise from thoughts.

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.”

Both of these errors arise from fear. 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.

Still, that’s okay. The soul knows its way around edges. And my mother’s question, “Are you sure you can handle that?” became a powerful edge that I used to strengthen my certainty that, “Yes, I can.”

It trained me, early on, to notice my own hesitation, my own fear – and caused a response from deep inside that was determined to figure out a way around it. In this way, it becomes clear that my mother was a great teacher of courage. She taught me, over and over, to 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.

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