Fear on the River

Last Friday I went whitewater kayaking on the Lehigh River. The water was unexpectedly high and so was my anxiety level. I kept noticing that the higher my anxiety level got and the more freaked out I got, the greater chance I was of creating exactly the thing I was so afraid of.

I’ve been whitewater kayaking for about three years now. The first year was just super fun. I absolutely loved it. I had no idea what there was to be afraid of and so everything was just super fun. I would just smile the whole time and it was a great experience. I never flipped over or anything. I thought it was strange when people would ask if I flipped because I never did.

Then someone told me about the ways that people have died on the river. They told me about the spots on the river where if you get caught in these holes, you can easily drown, and people have. So, then I became afraid of the river and it was after I learned about that that I flipped for the first time.

After I learned to be afraid of the river, I noticed myself trying to resist the river, as if it were possible to put on the breaks when you’re in the middle of a class 3 rapid. Of course, the more you resist going with the flow, the greater chance you have of flipping over. You can get turned sideways or hit a rock unexpectedly or whatever.

Last Friday I noticed my mind thinking about dying on the river, getting caught in a hole, hitting a rock, or getting stuck under water. I am not sure if the thought was that I was going to die, but that’s what it came down to, really. I could feel my body shaking with anxiety and I kept trying to not think about it. Of course, as I tried not to think of it, I was thinking of it.

“Don’t think about dying.”

Oh.

So, of course, in my panic, I hit a rock and flipped over. And again almost panicked because I couldn’t get out of the boat which was upside down in a rapid. Then I freaked out because I was thinking about the possibility of hitting a rock or my foot getting caught and dying.

It sounds kind of funny to write it.

But it could really happen, right? Like it’s not just illogical or irrational thoughts. The possibility of that happening does exist.

And so what I noticed was that the more freaked out I got, the more I was afraid of the river, the greater chance I had of creating what I was so afraid of.

We never do our best when we’re afraid, do we?

We can become so fixated on negative outcomes that we create exactly that.

And yeah, I didn’t die, but the first half of the trip was filled with negative thinking and fear. It wasn’t as fun as it could’ve been. I did appreciate noticing what was happening in my mind, but I created a less-than-fun experience for myself.

After lunch, I was able to relax a bit more. Rapids came and went and I was trusting the river more and just going with it, as opposed to fighting or trying to control where my boat went.

At one point, I ended up out in front of everyone who knew where to go and it was just like, welp, I guess it’s just me and me now.

Relax. Here we go.