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  • Paul Elia

Kicking off from the Bank

I am fresh off of a week long river trip. Eleven of us, friends and family, spent 5 days moving through southeastern Oregon, on the Owyhee River, riding the spring run-off north through green, rolling hills and deep volcanic canyons. Days were warm and filled with sunshine; nights lit by the full moon. There were hot springs to soak our sore bodies, plenty of wildlife to observe, and numerous rapids to keep us on our toes. It is an easy, adventurous existence filled with elements that feed me at the deepest level: laughter and connection, excitement, simplicity, movement, nature, and a little bit of uncertainty.

Trips do not always start out this way. Every multi-day river trip begins in a similar manner: mounds of gear and food that looks disproportionately larger than the space available on the raft, food planning and organizing, vehicle shuttles, and clothing selection, to name a few of the logistical Gordian Knots. I’ve been running rivers since I was 14 and the pre-launch dance continues to be done with two left feet, on my part.

Once completed, when the boats are topped off, the gear strapped down, and life jackets on, there is a distinct, magical moment between all the preparation and being on the river. It’s like passing through a gateway between mind into body, or from chaos into stillness. There is some deep part of me that feels it immediately, though it usually takes my mind and nervous system a few days to get on the boat. But once they do, man, the world looks and feels totally different. Nothing has changed, yet everything has.

On the river, it becomes clear how distracted our lives are: a constant barrage of stimuli coming at us all the time. It feels normal, but is really just familiar. Minds, being what they are, are constantly processing, judging, planning, and problem solving. Life takes on an air of urgency and dis-ease, with all the resulting symptoms. Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved by the same mind set that created them.” When our mind is in the driver’s seat, we get caught in a negative feedback loop mentally checking again and again in the same drawer looking for our keys that are not there.

Living at an arm's length from our direct experience is innately dissatisfying and disquieting. But, taking moments to stand still, in the midst all of the churning, to kick off from the bank, can be a revelatory: peace and contentment to naturally reveal themselves as the mud begins to settle. This, in itself, is restorative. By stilling ourselves and incrementally opening to what is happening in our lives, bodies, and minds, right now, we give way to the full spectrum of being alive.

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