Snapping my skirt around the packraft’s cockpit combing, I got that deep anxiety in the pit of my stomach that I am all too familiar with these days. Floating in a nice eddy, I was moments away from easing into the current and rushing toward Bathtub falls. The river was flowing at 850 CFS (Cubic feet per second), and this particular rapid was considered much more difficult and dangerous at flows below 1000 CFS. And it was easy to see why. At the lower water, the river became three narrow channels – each one too small for a raft. Our smaller pack rafts would fit through two of the slots, but at the bottom of each channel was a small turbulent drop that led into a waiting boulder ready to flip an unskilled boater. And the worst part – after the drop all the water wanted to force the boat into a tiny slot with an undercut rock – a textbook location to pin a boat or boater.
But it didn’t look impossible. Which means it looked possible. Which means we were going to try it.
Anyone who has been around us enough as heard of “pointing positive” in one form or another:
- “Don’t look for a way out, look for a way in” – our slackline/highline mantra
- “Follow your line – ignore everything else.” – Chelsey’s sage mountain bike advice
- “Make success your story” – YogaSlacker Life coaching 101
- “Look where you want to go, cause thats where you’ll go” – my first driving teacher
- “There is no hope”. – advanced partner acrobatics 101
“Point Positive” is a term we use on the river – signifying that when a lead boater is assessing danger ahead, they will always point toward the safest place – the place that they want you to go toward. They will never point toward the danger or the things that we want to avoid. In the last several years, “Pointing Positive” has come to mean so much more to us – as we find this idea so powerful across such a wide range of physical and emotional activities.
Life is full of distraction, and it is useful be able to maintain unerring focus toward our goals. Especially the goals where one outcome is significantly more desirable than others. We’ve used this in our relationships, our acrobatics practice, to survive scary climbs. It is essential in overcoming fear and doubt.
Not that fear and doubt should be avoided, they are immensely important during the planning phases. Fear and doubt will keep you alive and healthy by help you say “no” to certain things. But once you have decided to take an action, fear and doubt just get in the way. During action, commitment to the course is key.
This last November in the Adventure Racing World Championships, we were faced with crossing the Pantanal – one of the world’s largest wetlands – and home to a high concentration of crocodiles. We spent plenty of time in the “fear and doubt” stage, but once we decided to race, we ignored the crocodiles. Rather than look at them and wreck our nervous systems with the anxiety of wondering when the attack would come – we simply stopped worrying and got on to the business of racing. During the middle of the night, when my resolve weakened and we were swimming neck deep through the croc infested waters, I made sure to keep my headlamp focused straight ahead and pretend that the beady reflections all around were not eyes attached to powerful reptilian bodies.
But back to the present. Dan’s initial exploratory attempt ended up with him being swept into the narrow chute – but we were able to help him climb out and eventually rescue his pinned boat. Then I’d watched Stephen, Chelsey and Kadee successfully run the section. I’d seen exactly where I wanted to go, and exactly where I didn’t.
Whitewater is interesting – especially running committing sections where it is impossible to stop once you start. Time and again it has proved a visceral example of the power of pointing positive. But the chaos all around is difficult to ignore. It calls to you, demanding attention. It roars out, a cacophony determined to defeat that focus. It splashes you with concern and throws turbulent waves of heavy water-logged doubt from every direction.
I watched as Chelsey ignored it all. Keeping her eyes fixed on the place she needed to get to. Even when the final drop twisted her sideways and the current sucked her towards the thing she had to avoid. She never wavered – 100% of her attention was given toward going the right way. 0% of her attention was given to avoiding the wrong way.
Sounds like a good metaphor for life to me.
As for my run – I’ll let the short video below speak for itself.
Suffice it to say – I am happy to be supported a team that I trust. I am also happy that I have chosen to define success in such a way that growth by learning from mistakes and failures is one of the ultimate ways to succeed.