Riffles, Rapids and Obstacles Help You Finish the Journey

A couple of weeks ago I went to spend the weekend at a lake. After a little fishing (my first fishing trip ever! though I didn’t actually do any fishing) my friends took me to the river to see something special.

“The smell might be a little hard for you to take,” they warned me, “but it’s worth it.”

As we walked to the edge of a small rushing creek, the fishy odour was indeed overwhelming. When I saw a row of dead salmon at the water’s edge, I had to turn away at first. Steeling myself, I turned back and focused on the middle of the stream, where the water was alive with large fish.

“These salmon were born here,” I was told, “and they swam out to sea and spent their lives there, thousands of miles away. Now, at the very end of their lives, they swim back against the current, back to where they were born, where they spawn. They’ve lost most of their muscle mass and are barely alive by the time they reach the end of their long journey; if they’re lucky they manage to seed the next generation before they die.”

The salmon looked old and frail indeed – thin, humpbacked and missing layers of their beautiful skin. We were standing near a small churning waterfall, and I couldn’t bear to watch the obviously tired fish make it to the top and then get knocked back downstream again. I started to feel upset, and expressed that.

The response:

“They’ve come thousands of miles, that setback is nothing in the big picture. These are the winners, dead or alive. These are the ones who’ve made it home against the odds, who’ve reached their ultimate lifelong goal. Don’t feel sorry for them – be happy for them!”

I stood there in awe. It was true.

At the water’s edge

Watching those brave tireless fish, it struck me that there are so many parallels to our own life:

1) The road to success can be stinky

Failure stinks. So do mistakes. Sometimes we fail so spectacularly that the carcass of our flameout lies there at the side of our path, for everyone to see. What’s the alternative? Dying out at sea having contributed nothing. Plug your nose and keep going.

2) Waterfalls and rapids may force you to backslide, but you’ll be better off

I came across a sign on the creekside path:

“Riffles and waterfalls help by adding oxygen to the water. They also act as a nursery for insects which the fish feed on.”

The waterfalls that set me back in life (such as my depression) have proved to oxygenate me, ultimately nourishing and developing my life in ways I’d never have imagined. If you’re coming against a life current that feels like it’s dragging you farther and farther back, be alert to the strength it’s building in you and all the things it’s teaching you. You will make it through, and one day will make a joyous splash as you reach the other side.

3) Always keep the big picture in mind

This year may feel like a sucky one to you. Maybe you’re nowhere near where you thought you’d be by now. Step back though, and look at your whole life. What things have you accomplished that make you proud? What terrible situations managed to turn out well, in some way, once you could see the bigger picture?

4) Rest and even hide in your obstacles

Another sign on the path taught me this:

“Logs, rocks and boulders add complexity to the system, providing hiding and resting spots for fish.”

How might your obstacles actually be places to rest or hide? Might they even restore you in some way? (or redirect you in a way you might have otherwise missed?)

I’m reminded of an unexpected obstacle I faced that occupied my resources and made it hard to get anything but the basics done in my business. It was frustrating at first, but then I accepted it for what it was and relaxed into it instead of fighting it. I was forced to make rest, prayer, exercise, good food, and relaxation a priority in order to make it through. I finally stepped out of a longstanding pattern of rat-racing and ambition and just focused on good self-care. Might you rest or hide in your obstacles in the same constructive way?

5) Do your best to respond to your calling(s) in this life

Since I was a child I wanted to write a book. Now that I’ve done it once, I’m not sure I’ll be able to find the effort and determination to do it again – it was so much more work than I ever dreamed. Additionally, my perspectives have changed so much (with respect to how I now view spirituality/faith, and what truly matters in this life) that I no longer stand behind large chunks of the content, not to mention the title. Regardless, it’s very significant to me that I did it, it was a major milestone in my life journey. What do you feel called to do with your time here on earth? (Hint: it’s always going to serve other people, in some way.) There may be many things, but see if you can identify one thing, or a few key things, and get going on them.

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!” Hunter S. Thompson

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2 Comments

  1. Shannon says:

    Dr. Biali, This is such a beautiful analogy to life & a post I will be sure to come back to often! Thank you. Thank you! 🙂
    Shannon

  2. Maria says:

    Great article thank you; I loved the metaphor and the signs which allowed me think afresh about a current situation and relieved some of the pain/ distress of it

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