I've just returned from an awesome, memorable journey – 3 days on the road and 7 days paddling with a good friend 100 miles down the Green River in eastern Utah. For me, traveling offers not only a break from old routines but also a chance to break old routines and patterns. Traveling teaches. And the Green River, as it winds through towering canyons and sacred lands, is a master teacher.
It's hard to ignore beauty when I'm surrounded by it – the lush green of grass, thicket and tree and the stark, striking, arid, awe-inspiring walls of rock along each bank. These sheer cliffs have guided the river's flow and soaked up sunshine for centuries, concentrating and containing the energy of this wondrous place. In the presence of unusual beauty, I'm reminded again of the difference in my inner landscape between times when I'm noticing beauty and times when I'm not.
River is a great metaphor for life. It flows in one direction – forward, into new territory. Paddling against the flow, even for short distances, is exhausting. I think of how often I paddle upstream in my mind, regretting the past, imagining do-overs that could never be. I feel the weight of wishing I'd done this or not done that and the way my energy depletes as I carry that weight. I'm invited to let go.
With all its twists and turns, the river constantly takes us into the unknown, where surprise often awaits – the sandbar hiding just under the silty surface, the fierce swarms of mosquitoes lurking in the brush along the bank ambushing us when we get too close, eddies, whirlpools and countless other obstacles along the way. We learn to go with the flow, but not to do so passively. We try things. We learn from experience and from what we call "mistakes". We discover the need to choose in the absence of information. We pick a place to stay the night, not knowing if a "better" campsite is just around the next bend.
Traveling the river is sometimes messy business. The silt in the river makes it impossible to see beneath the surface. My first step out of the canoe was an introduction to a sticky muck that took 20 minutes to wash out of my sandals. (After that, I went barefoot. Cleanups were quicker.) There were times when I was up to my knees in gooey stuff. Debris from recent storms typically floats with us downriver, cluttering the water. And, of course, there's the inevitable collisions and messiness among traveling companions. All part of the journey.
The river invites humility and humor. It teaches mercy. I'm invited to go with the flow, to learn from experience and embrace myself as a learner, to smile and forgive – forgive myself, my companions and life itself. In this moment, all is what it is and cannot be otherwise.
In this moment, I'm here. I get to choose. I get to move forward. I get to remember that I'm not in charge.