I run guided kayaking trips with my company Wild Root Journeys in British Columbia. I started this business as a way to bring the community together in the outdoors. My focus is to really allow folks to drop into nature, self, the group, and get real doses of medicine provided through nature and adventure. I feel honored to do this work and am absolutely in love with what I do. Every trip is a whole new experience and many folks come back year after year, sometimes even to the same destination, as there is just so much to see and experience each time around.
I wanted to share a story about one specific experience, and there are truly so many of these life-changing moments on trip, so it’s hard to choose just one. This story is about a conversation I had on trip around being vulnerable, getting out of our comfort zones, and freeing ourselves from some of our fears.
I had a lovely human on one of my trips who was very afraid of the ocean and wanted to stand up to this fear. He dug deep and said he wanted to join a four-day guided trip in the Broken Group Islands. I asked him what his specific fear was, and he said, “I may fall into the ocean.”. This fear came from him not knowing if he could get back into the kayak, and the fact that the ocean is such an unknown place to him. The ocean is dark and he felt that the great number of living species who call the ocean home could bring harm to him if he fell in. The perceived risk was peril in the sea. I gently shared with him that we have life jackets, that he could swim or tread water, and that together we could get him back into his kayak if needed.
Choosing to push the bounds of our comfort is not something that offers immediate ease; rather, it often comes from a desire to expand our worlds or even create more expansive comfort thereby. We are seeking to evolve in these moments. Sometimes this can evoke fear, anxiety, tension and perceived or actual risk. When this feeling comes up for people in nature, I often like to encourage exploration of what this really feels like for them. What part of their body does it lie in? Is this feeling a common one? Next, are we in actual risk, or is this more of a perceived risk? What’s the worst possible outcome in that moment and what actual harm is possible? Amazingly, the actual risk is usually far less than the perceived.
Perceived risk can take our minds to the farthest reaches of our imagination. Asking ourselves about the actual and perceived risk is a valuable exercise in moments where we begin to feel nervous. Trust your body and mind in those feelings, and also take pause to see what the root of these feelings are. Yes, there can be an actual risk in our endeavors, but if we view the probability and level of risk, the overall risk usually becomes much lower and more digestible, thus aiding us in our decision-making process.
When I am up against my nerves, I consider if I am benefiting or hindering myself by either taking or not taking these life leaps. I begin to think about how many times in a year, month, week, or the day we really put ourselves out there to these vulnerable opportunities and wager the balance of risk vs personal gain. I’ve noticed how living in a city, we can just let the traffic signs tell us where to go, we can move from a warm house to a car, to a store and not really have to experience the elements. Many of us do not have to endure the fluctuations in our surrounding environment and some of our senses or connections may become dulled. This feeling of anxiety and fear that is becoming so heightened in our world is perhaps not accurate at all of what is truly going on. We may be mistaking fear and anxiety for its true power. What if it is just that we are disconnected and what we think is anxiety and fear is in truth our bodies telling us to wake up?
Back to my client, who by day three had perfected his paddle stroke and had been following along in his kayak but was still not fully feeling in his element. He rarely looked up while paddling and instead always made sure he was perfectly stable and in stride. We ventured from sheltered waters into more exposed waters and I checked in with the group’s comfort level. He stated that he was a six out of ten but wanted to continue. I offered to paddle alongside to offer that extra support as we started into a crossing that was exposed to the endless open ocean on one side. The swells got bigger, the wind was blowing sideways and we all had to focus on maintaining a healthy distance, staying together, while avoiding crossing each other’s path. Again, he had his head down and was hyper-focused on his perfect paddle stroke.
This is when I had asked about the fear he held, and I delved into the idea of perceived and actual risk. I acknowledged his courage in taking part in this journey, and shared the evolution that I had observed up to this point. I was honored to be in my role, to witness his growth and to be of support. I then touched on what I thought the feelings of fear and anxiety were really there to do for us, and I shared that my perspective was that these emotions are not the negative ones we make them out to be.
I shared with him that these anxious moments where we are really out of our comfort and element, may actually be moments where our minds are awakening and taking in more information. Our bodies are feeling and sensing the air, energy, and place; our ears are listening acutely. This is more reflective of what it means to be alert and aware. In this moment fear can mask what truly is a beautiful, real feeling. This is, a feeling of fully being alive in a moment, being fully open to an experience and something so new. Perhaps we have kept ourselves away from this too long. Perhaps it’s a reminder to push through and feel the power of our wild souls.
The potency of having this conversation amidst this fear with this client was one I will never forget. Something in this conversation clicked for him. He lifted his head and started taking in his full environment. Even though we were in the roughest waters we had experienced to that point, he noticeably dropped his shoulders and visibly became relaxed. He pointed out an eagle on a rocky islet up ahead who was seemingly barely able to hold his position with feathers blowing to one side.
He started taking lead ahead of me and was just there, in the moment, and it was so clear that something big had shifted. I was in a new world too. The energy became electric and we all let out a holler to the elements. This was a special moment for the whole group. We all supported each other and collectively felt the power in this shift. He gifted us all this experience to witness and embrace him because he was so open from the start. He was open about his fears, and about his desire to take the journey to acknowledge and face them anyways, knowing the results could vary. This vulnerability was so powerful, and it opened the door for growth and support!
I invite you to take risk, to pause, to embrace resilience, courage and inner power and to again bring on a reborn you. I invite you to take these chances more in your life, to be vulnerable, to be alert and aware and to grow in who you are. Personally, I see this as one of the gifts of true nature. Here you are asked to be present, to listen, to feel deeply and to experience what being human is. Here we are, here we grow.