Tag Archives: river rafting

Drowning to the Self

Well, tomorrow is my 43rd birthday and I have a lot to celebrate this year. As opposed to last year when I fell out of a river raft in the Middle Fork of the Flathead River in Glacier National Park near where we live…and got to ride a class 3 rapid, old school– pre-canoe.

It was the worst birthday of my life.

I was in the midst of my marital “adventure” and not knowing at all what would happen with the future of my relationship with my husband. I loved him. And, despite his declarations, I believed he loved me. And even though I had been quite sucessful in practicing living in the moment, letting go of outcome, and choosing, breath by breath, not to suffer…even though I’d become pretty good at contacting some level of happiness in a time so fraught with what could have been interpretated as pain…when I took that rapid, it was the ultimate “challenge” to my new method.

If we’re living in the moment for the sole purpose of receiving something like Grace…then we might just prove that old adage that God has a good sense of humor. (see: 200 mph swirlie!) I do believe, however, that we can create many things for ourselves, and in that moment, being sucked under and swirled around, and sucked under some more, and then shoved up to the surface, only to gasp for air, and be sucked back under, swirled around, sucked back down, and finally popped up like something leftover from a shipwreck…I was forced to really CREATE surrrender.

I’ve done a lot of scary things around here in these last 15 years of rural living, but this was the scariest. I really had a flash of understanding that I could be in my last moments on earth. And in that moment…in that MOMENT…there was no panic. There was no state-of-emergancy. There was a lot of rushing water, and the sense of my body being in it, and being totally powerless. And there wasn’t a whole lot more than that. It was the nothingness I’d read about in so many wisdom texts and not understood. “Nothingness” as a destination sounded empty and sad. But whatever I felt in that moment under the water, was not empty or sad. It was whole. No disturbance fragmenting it into a million disruptive thoughts that tug at the heart and mind and derail us. It was only afterward that all those thoughts and translations of the experience brought on the fear and the haunt of what might have happened on my 42nd birthday on a sunny summer day in Montana.

A lot of people have asked me to let them in on how I achieved some level of inner chill, calm, harmony during my husband’s dis-affection. I wish I had a stock answer. I wish I could give it away free in the streets. But I can’t. It can be inspired by spiritual practice– praying, meditating, communing with nature, one’s sense of the Divine, being with animals– but the place where I felt the most centered and calm last summer and namely in that moment in that river…is more of a state of mind. Almost trance-like.

I wish I could achieve it more often. And yet I’m glad for not having to daily almost drown to experience it. Maybe that’s what Paul was getting at in the Bible when he talked about dying to the Self.

I’ve known it one other time, and that was in natural childbirth– the labor and delivery of my daughter, on Pitocin, which was an experience of one long 12 hour contraction. I knew not to fight the pain. I knew to use the pain. I knew that the pain would open my cervix and bring me my baby. So I just went with it: stone silent surrender. Afterwards, I explained that it was like I was going into the depths of an ocean and holding on to weeds while the waves swelled and crashed over me. Perhaps then, it was no small surprise that being caught in a class 3 rapid brought up the same reaction.

I feel it with horses too, when we’re going fast and doing something dangerous in the woods…and maybe that’s why I ride as often as I can. It’s a way to get to that intersection of living and surrender, when you know you are powerless, and you must go with instead of against. That’s what I did last summer.

Maybe that will help some of you who were wondering. I wrote a book about all this while it was happening. The essay in the “New York Times” and in “The Week” is the short version of it. It should be in print this April. I am hard at work revising it to make sure I get it as honest and powerful and helpful as possible. Thanks for all of your comments. I wish I had answers for those of you who’ve asked me questions. Maybe what I’ve written here will give you a greater understanding about where you’re suffering in your life, and inspire you to imagine the possibilites of what can happen when you decide that even though you are in the line of fire, you can choose not to suffer. Whether or not that heals your relationships with others, I do know that it can heal your relationship with yourself. That’s a good place to begin. It’s the only thing we can control, afterall.

Tomorrow I’m hoping that I will not have to almost drown to feel peace and even happiness. I’m hoping for a nice hike in the mountains with my family. And maybe breakfast in bed! but even that is an attachment to an outcome that may not occur, and so I guess right now, in this moment, I can practice not wanting bacon and poached eggs on toast with a side of spinach and green tea with jasmine in my favorite mug on my grandmother’s old robins’ egg blue bed tray (hint hint)… If I find myself making that breakfast and carrying it up to bed, I’ll do my best at keeping a smile on my face and being thankful for not having to drown a bit to live again.
p.s. that’s me in the back right. pre-episode. still thinking she’s a cool Montana chick.
White Water Rafting


Filed under "Those Aren't Fighting Words, Dear", Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts

Stop the Clocks

Stop the Clocks
by Laura A. Munson
(for Erin and Caden)

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

W.H. Auden

People die here in ways they probably don’t where you live. To grizzly bear. Mountain lion. Horse…mountain bike…mule pack…off a cliff, launching their humans, avian, for one last adrenaline rush. An avalanche. A capsized river raft or kayak and a class four rapid and a rock or a log jam. A tipped canoe too early or late in the season on a frigid lake. Tractors, chain saws, timbering trees in the forest, no wood for winter for the ones back home. Deer, elk, moose on the lightless almost-empty country roads…right through the window shield into suddenly pulse-less laps. It hurts to think of all the dead in those moments that go so readily from brave to gone. But we like to call these, somehow, good deaths.
People almost die here all the time, and there are hero’s tales at the bar every night that end in toasting and another round and bragging and laughter, like little boys who have stolen something from the school gym. What doesn’t kill you here, does not necessarily make you stronger. It makes you lucky that you got away with being so brave.
Sometimes it makes you a voyageur. Journey-man. Rich in maybe not moral compass, but clairvoyance when it comes to the ways of mountains, creatures, waters, trees, wind, snow, heavy machinery. But still, even with intuition and bravery, in this country, there is an element of dumb luck to your survival. Put it this way: An agoraphobe doesn’t last long in this neck of the woods.
However you choose to describe us in death, there are a lot of ashes sprinkling the forest floors here, sent from not-so-brave, not-so-unlucky hands. Grief hits hard in our little valley. So many ways to live. And die trying.
Shocking then, when the mountains, lakes, rivers, and creatures and trees and machines seem unimpressed. Cold. Cruel. They didn’t ask us to be here. It’s we who came to them. We who invented some things that made it possible to go where we weren’t supposed to go in the first place. Helicopters. Boots. Polypropylene. But they don’t always save us in the end.
You fool.
You beautiful brave unlucky fool. You had a good death. You died with purpose. Doing what you loved. Getting after it, people like to say around here. We’ll say that about you. We’ll need to. We’re getting good at it.
But what will we say about the lives we lost this last day of winter? What will we possibly say?
The Jehovah Witnesses knock at my door and I hide and am glad I’ve got requiem blaring from my stereo. I might not be the only house today that is playing funeral dirges. I hide, still in my pajamas, still without breakfast or clean teeth, and hope they don’t get stuck in the icy steep of my snow-bermed driveway. Again.
Last time I had to spend an hour with them waiting for the tow truck to talk their sedan back from the ridge where it had attempted to jump, head first. I felt like my angle on Jesus might have embarrassed them a little. Trespassing against us, such as they do.
Today the flyer that prowls though the crack in my door has a strapping, well-fed on red meat, Jesus on the cover holding an immodest glass of wine. Blood. Lots of blood in this Jesus.
A car scratches down the driveway without snow tires. I peer out the door at my golden retriever, wagging his tail after it. He liked the man in the long wool coat with the shiny leather shoes. But wonders why he didn’t lean down for a quick good dog and a pat on the head like the UPS driver, the propane guy, the Culligan guy, the FedEx guy, the neighbor who delivers the eggs, the teenager who brings wood with his buddy, mid-winter.
And I wonder if the Jehovah Witness thinks he’s brave. All those doors and dogs. And today, all the dirges. Maybe doors will fling open today, and weeping young people will lift fists at his shiny shoes on their winter-strewn front stoops. Rage at his red-blooded Jesus and all his wine.
There is nothing that helps us with these deaths. They’re deaths we aren’t used to. We have nothing to frame them by—no sense to make of them– nothing that will gather us at the side of a mountain or have us huddled in the woods, somehow thinking about good ways to die. People who didn’t believe in God, are mad at God. People who did believe in God are mad at God.
We reach to out-of-towners for solace and understanding– who live near highways…busy highways…highways that bear commuters and constant chains of serious voyageurs—people who know that there are weak links every day in that chain. It’s their common practice to expect the ringing phone to bring them news they dread…but will swallow…eventually, or maybe even at once, as the way of the world. There will be a proper burial with just family and close friends. They’ll gather in churches, in black, ashes to ashes in a little urn. A party afterward where people will drink wine and plenty of them will get drunk and cry, but no one will talk about a good death. It’s a normal death. A normal tragedy.
Not this.
This was no regular death. This was no normal death. Not to us. Just because it happened on the busiest strip of highway we know.
So I’ll refrain from telling you for a moment more, how she died. They died. How our pregnant she and her thirteen year old son died. On the last day of winter. Here where we live. Because I can’t bear your reaction: Well, accidents like that happen. Dime a dozen. Still, tragic.. And then you’ll launch into all your people, lost on pavement.
I don’t want to feel so normal.
I don’t.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

I’ll add to Auden because it’s the only way I can imagine being brave right now, hiding from the solicitors in a snowstorm on this second day of spring:
Pack up the machines. The inventions.
Bring out the bears.
Wake up and beckon us.
Make us come naked. Without boots.
Make us see how far we can get. And watch us stop and cry.
Because it’s not so very far without boots.
Then comfort us where we fall. By wandering past us.
Sniffing our punctured, leaking bravery. And what’s left of our luck.
Tell us you don’t have the appetite for fools. Even beautiful ones.
Make us listen to the shivering birds.
Who’ve come back, knowing there would be snow and little food.
Make us listen…to the shivering birds.
And mourn now. Normally.
Shivering in the woods.
Knowing that spring will unravel now.
Whether or not we join it.

For however else can we understand a head-on collision on the highway? When a purportedly suicidal sixteen year old, in a fight with her boyfriend, catapults her Pontiac Grand Am into oncoming traffic, and hits a Subaru Forester, holding a pregnant woman, and her thirteen year old son, coming back from a band concert on a Thursday night. In Montana. mother and babe

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Filed under Little Hymns to Montana, Stories