The Ride of a Lifetime: Navigating Emotional Rapids

Navigating Rapids

Knowing what lies under the surface makes the ride less intimidating.

River rafting and whitewater kayaking are sports I enjoy. I’m not expert, but I savor the ride and do a respectable job of keeping it upright. I noticed that the better we anticipated the flow of the river over the rapids, the easier it was to navigate. Not paying attention and paddling blindly into rapids is a good way to go for a swim.

Our emotions are like rocks under the surface of a fast moving river. They change the flow of the water in ways you can watch from shore. Sometimes the result is turbulence, other times, just a gentle wave. If you understand what rocks are under the surface, you can anticipate how it will affect your responses to life’s events and your decision-making. It can even be enjoyable to know how to navigate the complexities of your emotional river. However, if you don’t look under the surface, you’ll be stuck in a reactionary mode. This is why I’ve worked hard to remain self-aware. I have rocks the size of a VW Bug…the ride is more fun when I scout the rapids ahead.

We naturally want to protect ourselves from painful or scary emotions. In other cases we over-focus on things that feel particularly good. Our motivation could even be multi-layered. While it is scary, true peace comes from looking at those bits and owning them. I’ve never felt as relaxed and peaceful as I do now. It took looking a lot of icky stuff to get here.

For me, the process of knowing myself is often better described as multiple rounds of extreme fighting. I kick my ass all over town, then just when I think I’ve got it sorted out, the bell rings again.

Sweaty, bleeding, and out of breath, I stand back up for more. That thing I didn’t want to face wants to be heard, and there will be no peace till I listen. “Cut me some slack, I know what is best for us, we shouldn’t go down this road….really,” I say. BAM! Knockout. I open my eyes and there it is again, “will you hear me now?” Ugh!

Here’s a good example of what it looks like for me:

A while back I went a full day with something nagging to be heard, an inconvenient fact about my emotional state that I really didn’t want to face, not to mention share with anyone else. Nothing sinister, quite the opposite. But admitting it to myself meant giving up control and being vulnerable, and I thought that wasn’t a good idea. Actually the thought made me dizzy.

When I have a feeling tugging to get out, or I’m simply confused by life, I journal. Okay, this means I journal almost daily. I write what no one else will read and think I’m being truthful with myself, and for the most part I am. However, some things are so difficult to face, I start writing one thing, then keep going back as I peel back layers.

I still felt seriously distrusting of my words after two rounds, so I stopped and really took some quiet time to feel. All right, it was more like I threw myself facedown on the couch and cried for a while. Then it hit me, the reality of my emotional state. The emotion that made my decisions in spite of logic. A big rock under my river in a difficult spot to work around. In a moment I understood so much and said, “Awwww crud!” Actually my language wasn’t that polite. I had realized that I loved someone and that it was messing with my decision-making.

But once I saw it, it wasn’t as scary anymore. I felt a calm because I understood something new about myself and could work around what troubled me, rather than hit it broadside. I was back in control, even though I knew I couldn’t change my feelings, at least I could anticipate my reactions. Even if I needed to walk away, at least I knew how I felt and could better brace myself for the fallout.

So I accepted that I had lost my fight for denial, was vulnerable, and gained a calmness that comes only with knowing I’m not in control. Oh and I’m usually all about self-control, so this was an epic battle, trust me! At least in self-awareness there is understanding, and that my friends, is the road to inner peace.

Take time with your thoughts and look at the ugly, not-so-convenient bits under the surface. How? Meditate, hike, walk, journal, or anything that allows your mind to wander. Hiking and walking are the most effective for me. Initially all of your troubles will rise up, but keep going. Once all of those fears have been heard, new stuff starts to surface. Don’t try to make sense of it, just let it be. After a while clarity will begin to form.

May you enjoy the ride. Peace.

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