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FlUSHED THOUGHTS FROM THE HORIZONLINE


Why is kayaking so compelling? If I were to offer one reason, perhaps it’s because kayaking thrusts us directly into the forces of the natural world, serving up crux points of life in a primal form. Merely paddling a boat down a river is exquisitely symbolic of grappling with life decisions. The river is a path that can have many possible outcomes, where the entire range of human experience can rise up in pure form—disaster and success, terror and ecstasy, chaos and calm. Take the horizonline as one example. When we come to even a small rapid, the river drops away and we can’t see where it goes. The


river’s flow is literally the current of time into the future. At the horizonline we confront a fact about life in simple physical form—the unknown and threatening future just over brink. We can’t see it, but we must make a decision and commit to it. Not knowing what is there, fear and doubt rise as our imagination spins out possibilities: flipping and swimming, broaching, washing into a hole or sieve, or just a simple thrashing. The horizonline presents us with a simple but universal life question: What lies ahead? Everything about our next decision is important. Are we careful? Flippant? Aggressive? Experience teaches us skills for handling that critical moment, whether scouting, quickly seeing eddies and nab- bing them, sensing the nature of the river from the geology, or heading into the unknown and weather- ing what’s there. Throughout kayaking there are plenty more such situations, all of them ready metaphors for funda- mental life decisions. A short list of what they teach us includes mindfulness of choice and action, flex- ibility under stress, dealing with challenge and fear, and flowing with what comes. Every one of these is a life lesson. Rivers teach them as fast as we can learn.


Consider mindfulness. A river moves ahead no matter what we do, jostling us constantly off balance, pushing us toward hazards and out of control. We have to be aware at each moment, because any lapse is instantly taken over by the river’s action. Safety comes from staying mindful. One lesson always leads to another: as we get more skillful we find that mindfulness creates an acute sense of awareness and flow. While schools of meditation take years to teach this to devotees, the river shows it to everybody who enters. Zen is nothing esoteric. It is a simple experience that ap- pears as the river teaches us how to flow with the water. We progress from class I, grade after grade, until we realize there is no limit except our own appetite and ability to control the boat. Rivers continue far past anything we can do, so they provide endless stair stepping upward. Confronting each step is a new horizonline of challenge, commitment and resolution.


For all the kick ass fun, clawing romping rapids, and sun-shimmering days on the water, we are


learning more than we know. I encourage you to think about the things that linger much deeper after you’ve put your paddle down. Doug Ammons is the author of The Laugh of the Water Nymph and Whitewater Philosophy. He holds a PhD in psychology and has been confronting horizonlines for over 25 years.


54 RAPID SPRING 2012


PHOTO: RYAN CREARY


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