Boils and Whirpools—Challenges and Unexpected Stress

Walt Schafer
(photo KM)
In late June, I will embark on a sixteen-day kayak trip through the 225 miles of the Grand Canyon to enjoy the incredible beauty of the canyon, to meet the challenges of the awesome river, and to look for new lessons. In the first part of this column which appeared in the April 22 issue of Inside Chico State, I listed several lessons I've learned from kayaking. I continue that list here and suggest that, as you consider these lessons I've learned from kayaking, ask yourself these questions: What are my strengths and weaknesses among these tips for thriving under pressure? Which skills might I improve?

Part 2

• I can think of no better opportunity than white water kayaking to practice positive self-talk and visualization. Chances are far greater of flipping if I am flooded with self-doubt and negative mental images than if I feel confident and in control. The same holds elsewhere.

• When moving through a demanding rapid, success depends on simultaneously maintaining a short-term view (sharp focus on boulders and waves immediately ahead) and a long-range view (being aware of rocks, pour-overs, and river bends farther ahead).

• Vital to successful kayaking is composure under pressure—for example, when moving down the smooth tongue to the first big wave, when negotiating tough turns or drops, and when preparing to roll up after a flip amidst turbulent waves. When entering an extreme challenge, it is vital not to freeze but to keep doing what I normally do in less extreme circumstances. This applies in many situations such as handling a tough interpersonal conflict, making a major presentation, or making an important decision under time pressure. Another form of composure is holding steady and not over-reacting. If I do over-react, I increase chances of losing my concentration, making a wrong move through boulders, or flipping. Considerable personal distress in life—for self and others—results, not from the original stressor, but from over-reacting to events.

• When furiously moving through waves in the midst of a long rapid, it helps to slow down my perception, taking one wave at a time. This way, I can avoid feeling overwhelmed and out of control.

• Boils and whirlpools like those I have encountered in the Grand Canyon are like unexpected life stressors. I know they are coming but not when or where. They usually surprise me. They can be relatively easy to handle or they can unexpectedly stop me dead still, suck my boat under, flip me, or shoot me sideways 50 feet. Like in stressful life events, I try to anticipate them and then hold steady, responding as needed.

• I have learned the value of resilience after a bad rapid or a bad day, quickly putting difficult experiences behind me, learning from them, and moving forward to new challenges.

• Finally, I have learned to be as open to beauty back in my everyday life as on the river. I have learned about opening my senses and being fully present in the here and now.

Editor's Note: Although Walt Schafer is in superb condition, it is the superb condition of a 59 year-old, not a 63 year-old as reported in the first column. He will be celebrating his 60th birthday in late May.

Walt Schafer, adapted from Stress Management for Wellness, 3rd Ed. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers, 1996, p. 434.

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