From Dr. Larry

Dr. Larry Gelman is fiercely devoted to each client, with a deep and profound respect for their own self-agency and self-determination.

Rafting the Colorado

Not quite twenty-six years ago, my wife, daughter and I rafted the Colorado River with an experienced river guide. The expectations were explicitly communicated by her advising us to “... remain in the raft at all times and follow my instructions to the letter without fail.” Also, if, by chance, we were ejected from the raft for any reason, the guidance was to “immediately assume a fetal position so your toes or feet won’t be trapped by the rocks below, otherwise, the surging river will then drown you.”

It was exciting, if not, altogether, quite exhilarating as we donned our life vests and were provided real-time role modeling as to how to paddle, shift seating positions and, periodically, to even use our hands to push away when the raft came into gentle contact with larger boulders. The guide forewarned us at the moment of first launch “plan on getting very wet with water that is very cold.”

Early in the voyage, the river was unusually polite and friendly, hardly the stuff of anticipated Class II, III or IV rapids. I wondered if we had been duped by the slick marketing pamphlet into gearing up for what was turning out to be an uneventful ride on still waters. Of course, “all good things must come to an end” and our lazy meandering started to incrementally speed up.

The guide was a weathered, athletic, no-nonsense individual who was clearly in her watery element but with the additional attitudinal caveat that the river was clearly THE dominant force to be reckoned with and mostly on her idiosyncratic, if not altogether autocratic, terms.

At times, we were instructed to paddle going with the current’s flow in order to speed up the movement of the raft so as to go up and over smoothed stone projectiles rising modestly from the water. At other times, the orders were to paddle hard going against the current’s flow in order to retard the speed of the raft so as to avoid crashing into much larger or more jagged boulders in the water. And, at still other times, the exhortation was for all inhabitants to shift their positions so as to re-weight the raft allowing it to partially lift up on its side permitting safe passage through narrow openings.

Only after the river’s fast and furious nature had fully satisfied itself in having its way with us, did it revert to its initial hospitality, eventually, granting us pleasant respite within a completely placid area only slightly removed from the turbulent movement of the river. We disembarked, temporarily, to explore our new surroundings, forage for small rocks infused with thousands of garnets and partake of refreshment before completing the remainder of our trip.

Fortunately, no one was injured, no one was ejected from the raft and no one wore a single piece of clothing that was still dry. However, the memories and experiences of my rafting the Colorado River have continued to reverberate with me for more than a quarter of a century. I have come to appreciate that rafting any river is actually a marvelous metaphor for living one’s life! Sometimes, you must “go with the flow” of the river of your life. Sometimes, you must “go against the flow” of the river of your life. Sometimes, you must engage in a sort of “musical chairs” where either you “assume the position” or, alternatively, “change your position.”

The “river of life” is an heuristic analogy to the “river of your life” and while it may be construed an errant’s fool to paddle upstream a downstream river, sometimes, that is exactly what the circumstance may require, if not dictate, in that particular space and time of your life.

Rafting the Colorado was a peak experience for me and, in retrospect, it remains a great mentor for me as to where, when and how I must always be actively engaged, personally responsible and immediately accountable for all of my words and deeds, at all times, no matter what current the river of my life has in store for me.

Author Note: Dr. Larry B. Gelman is a Clinical Psychologist and a Personal Mentor

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