The freshwater viciously pounded at my face and down my throat, leaving only millisecond intervals to gasp for air.
The moment that I was able to wipe the frigidly harsh water from my stinging eyes, I saw the rock. A boulder, really. A massive, sharp-edged beast that my canoe was headed straight for. She was the ruler of these rapids, and stared back at me with a humor in her eyes. It’s as if she were opening her gargantuan mouth, creating a pathway for my entrance.
I was numb, and memorized. I gazed intently at her as she came closer and closer to my doom.
“Don’t look at the rock!” A friend screamed out to me as I paddled, literally, for my life. “Huh? What does that mean?” Without a moment of warning, the rapids became thicker, faster, and went straight for my canoe at every direction. Suddenly, the canoe tipped over and spit me out. I watched it as it eased down the river, leaving me stranded to fight this battle on my own. As I headed straight for the rock, I glanced at my paddling partners, who were at the end of the rapids. Their faces expressed looks of deep concern as they awaited my arrival. I tried to swim away from the rock, but the rapids kept bringing me closer.
As my heart beat hastily inside my chest, I shifted into survival mode. I began to recall my childhood experiences in the Napeague Bay of Amagansett. One in particular came to mind.
My father and I were on the boat on a warm summer afternoon. We were reflecting on an incident that had occurred a day earlier. I’d taken my rowboat out with the intentions of a short cruise. Without my recognition, the drain plug at the bottom of the boat wasn’t tightly fastened, and midway I was capsizing fast. The small island across from the main land was nearby, so I decided to abandon ship and push a half-sunken boat in this direction. The waters were rough, and I was growing weaker with every push. Luckily, my father went out looking for me in his boat. He wasn’t happy to find me in the aformentioned circumstances. “You should have told me you were going to take the rowboat out.” He lectured me as I entered his boat and we both began to empty out the water that had invaded my little boat. “You put yourself in a dangerous situation.”
I argued with him as I usually did, stating that everything would have went fine. I would have taken the rowboat to the stranded little island and crossed the harbor channel from the stranded island to the main land, walking my way back home. He replied “Oh, yeah? You think you would have crossed that channel between the two lands just fine, do you?” “Yes,” I said, and asked him to drive over to the land where my rowboat was headed a day earlier. When we arrived, I jumped off the boat and headed towards the other side to demonstrate my plan and show him that I was strong enough to swim across the inward flowing Napeague Harbor channel. Halfway through my arduous strokes, I tired out and felt myself getting pulled into the heart of the harbor. I didn’t know what do to, and panicked. “Just let it take you in!” My father yelled out to me. I listened and surrendered, as the channel violently hugged my entire body and brought it out to the center harbor. Once I reached the calm waters, I swam to land and my father picked me up in his boat.
In this lesson, I learned to never underestimate the strength of the sea, and that safety always takes priority in my water adventures. When faced in a situation where I am struggling in the core of a current, that it’s generally best to save my strength and surrender, letting the current take me where it wants until there is an opportunity to swim back to shore.
“Don’t look at the rock!” That previous command kept replaying in my mind, as I found myself struggling amongst the merciless rapids of the Chattooga River. I knew at this point that my only option was to surrender as I did inside the Napeague Harbor channel, many years ago. So I took a deep breath and embraced my fate, my arms at my side and feet in the air as my body drifted amongst the rapids.
There I was, approaching the rock. Suddenly, the rapids turned my body in a swift, 360 degree turn. And finally…my back felt the impact of the vicious rock boulder.
The feeling was similar to a tap on the back. As if your friend had approached you from behind and given you a nudge on the shoulder to get your attention. I was lucky to have been turned around, as this had brought my body into the perfect position to be cushioned by my life jacket. While I drifted down to the calm river, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. Partly from the outcome of the event and my dramatic “life flashing before my eyes” anticipation, and also to calm my worried paddle mates. They knew these waters were unpredictable and that the outcome could have been much worse. They were as relieved as I was.
“What did you mean when you said “don’t look at the rock?” I asked my expert paddling friend, as I leaned my body into the canoe and flipped it on it’s back again. She then explained the term “Point Positive” to me. Point positive means that you maintain your focus on the direction that you’d like to go, rather than the direction you are avoiding. Therefore, when you’re in the rapids and need to dodge the rocks along the way, keep your gaze on the path that you want your boat to continue on. Where you keep your focus is where you will end up.
I reflected on the incident and remembered how I couldn’t stop looking at the rock monster. If I would have simply relaxed and kept my gaze on the left path, my desired direction, then perhaps I wouldn’t have come into contact with the rock.
Years have passed and I still live by the practice of Point Positive. It just so happens that it’s also been useful when applied to life. As I encounter life’s boulders, I acknowledge their existence, but then I look the other way and paddle towards my goals. I keep my focus on the path that takes me to my desires. And then, I surrender to life’s rapids without expectance, still looking towards my goal.
I now sit in my little green rowboat outside of Napeague Harbor and observe the gulls as they dive for their dinner. They’re not made for swimming. But when they go under, they know exactly what they’re going for. That is their focus. The fish are their “point positive.” And since this is their only focus, the fear of going under doesn’t get in the way. I watch one break out of the water and back into the sky, a small fish dangles from its mouth.
The tide rises and the current is drifting my boat out to sea, fast. I want to stay close to shore, so I pick up my oars. “I’m coming for you,” I say to myself as I keep my gaze on the land and paddle while my boat gets closer.
There have been some set-backs this year, but all I can bring my attention to at the moment is two things: first, gratitude for where I am. I watch the orange sun sink slowly into the Amagansett bay, it’s mystical rays shining brightly wherever they can. The sea sparkles hypnotize me and I sit in peace, as the wind gently brushes up against my skin. Second, where I’m headed next.