Upstream Battle or Upstream Joy?

I think that the phrase “Paddling Upstream” might have gotten a bad rap.

Scenario: We are camped on the Sacramento River, a river with a considerable current and some occasional white water. We are doing laps in our kayaks which consists of paddling quite a distance upstream in order to take a lovely and occasionally wet, swirling and exciting flow down the river, …and then repeating the process over and over. In my maaaannnnny laps I have come to appreciate, believe it or not, the process of paddling upstream and against some heavy current. As a rampant metaphor seeker, several have come to me.

I noticed that the paddling upstream was hard work, yah… especially the first couple laps up. But then I noticed I was getting stronger, both physically and mentally. I felt eagerness to get to the top, to the spot where I could float and really feel the unbriddled life of river. I had a goal in mind and worked towards the goal. That is a good feeling! It wasn’t that I was just able to look past the effort to the prize, but instead, I began to really enjoy each paddle stroke upstream as it mingled with the beauty around me and the going forward-ness. I saw that with awareness I could see the patterns of the current and some of the ins and outs, and some of the places to veer for less effort. I found places where it actually felt that I was being carried forward, even though I was going upstream. I found myself just very AWARE.

I also found that there were inlets along the river that provided support and blackberries. Yes, quarts and quarts of ripe, delicious blackberries that I would not have noticed if I hadn’t stopped for a breather.  Little indications to me that slowing down and stopping occasionally is good…and provides unexpected treats.

There was SO much to see along my paddle upstream – golden and silvery sunlight on the water along the way, getting absorbed in the patterns of the current and the sunlight playing with each other, noticing all the nuances of the whirlpools and eddies, watching some of the waves grow and fade-  building momentum and breaking, seeing the water swirl around the rocks and obstacles – most of them under the surface and out of view…and then, before I knew it, I was there at the head of the current, ready for it to carry me effortlessly downstream – in a ride of fun and flow – a ride that I don’t think would have been as much fun if I hadn’t paddled upstream.

As I floated downstream (very quickly I might add) I experimented a bit and saw that even if my craft started to spin with an eddy, it would right itself. I was alert and used my paddle as a rudder at first, but as I let go the waves just carried me with such a gentle flow of power and buoyancy, turning me sometimes in 360’s and then righting me back on course. True, unrelenting freedom!

I was particularly intrigued by the many little coves along the shore line that fit my kayak perfectly if I needed a short breather, and the nourishment provided by the loads of ripe blackberries I stopped along to the way to forage. There are those things along my sometimes-upstream journey in life, too, and this river has reminded me of that. I can keep moving forward when it is the thing to do, even when it seems to be against the current, but I also can remember that I can follow a pace that is right for me, stopping along the way to eat my “blackberries” and move out of the current when I need some shelter or support.

As I sit writing this with this swirling, lively river flowing right in front of me, just FULL of the sun’s glint on its flowing, frigid waters, I feel its call…the call to move forward with a balance of flowing and ebbing, paddling and floating, surrendering enough to feel the FLOW and to go with it.

 Written by Tien Stone Langlois, Director – Scholars Together Learning Community

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