Three Valuable Lessons from a River Retreat

I am a Certified Life Coach and Retreat Leader, and I recently went on a four day rafting retreat on the Gunnison River in Colorado. Since I returned home, the lines to an old spiritual that we sang on the trip have been repeating over and over again in my head, “I’ve got peace like a river, peace like a river, I’ve got peace like a river in my soul.” I realized that the river was still with me and that it had given me some valuable lessons:

1. All things flow toward the ocean –Contently floating downstream, it dawned on me that my life already has a direction and a purpose and a force all its own. Peace is when I surrender to its guiding hand. Sometimes, I tend to be like a fish franticly swimming about in search of water. I’m already living and fulfilling my purpose! All I have to do is fully BE, by that I mean living with intention, awareness, and presence.

2.When things get rough, start paddling –Gradually I learned to read the river and be aware of the currents so that I could avoid both the hidden and obvious obstacles in my path. When taking action was necessary, I learned I need only match my energy level to the external forces trying to take hold of me. Sometimes this simply meant placing my paddle in the water and using it like a rudder and other times it required a quick intense effort. So this second lesson built upon the first, reminding me that surrendering to the flow is not a passive state. It requires diligence and effort.

3.Lighten your load and only carry with you what you need – Each morning when we packed up camp, I set the intention to leave behind a personal quality or belief that was no longer serving me, to shed another rocky layer of my heart. The canyon lands that surrounded us were visible proof that when exposed to the wind and air, even the hardest rocks can be shaped and molded and eventually be reduced to silt. So each morning, I went off quietly into the canyons and consciously chose to discard a worry, a judgment, or a doubt that I was holding onto.

The dramatic landscape obviously had a profound effect upon me. None of these lessons were unknown to me before this trip, but four days on the river brought them all together with a new level of clarity and understanding. That’s the magic of retreating into nature; it’s chockfull of metaphors to help us find our way. I need only put ourselves out there and listen. There is a quote by Barry Lopez: “(Our) interior landscape responds to the character and subtlety of an exterior landscape: the shape of the individual mind is as affected by the land as it is by genes…” This is why vacations like this river retreat are so valuable. Going to the ocean or the mountains or the canyon lands expands our horizons and opens us to new possibilities. We need not limit this experience to once a year in the summer. Any time we are feeling stuck, all we need to do is get outside, take a day trip, immerse ourself in a different landscape, and let nature offer us a new perspective. When possible, we should immerse ourself in a total new environment, listen to the silence, and witness our own reflection.

Copyright (c) 2007 Karin Marcus