Last week as part of a small group conversation, I was asked to think of a person who remains calm, balanced, and open amid conflict or change. The question unlocked a memory of a rafting guide from Upstate New York. On brand for a summer camp in the Adirondack Mountains, one day of our staff training involved white-water rafting. One of the rafting guides grew into an icon among staff members not only because of his spoken leadership on river but also because of the wisdom he exuded along the way. He called himself Link, but we called him Saint Link.
It is perhaps unsurprising that an Adirondack rafting guide would double as a professional in levelheadedness, but his example amazed me. In high-stress situations, some people are too relaxed – so much so that their checked-out calmness creates more stress. This was not Saint Link. His ability to stay grounded on the rapids helped each of us remain grounded, too. His openness to the journey and ability to respond with care and levity made us trust him more. In retrospect, he introduced me to lived equanimity. Below are three lessons I learned from Saint Link that apply to rafting and life.
We’re all in this together.
“This is a participatory sport,” Link would say on the river. Obstacles, challenges, and surprises arose that required everyone in the raft to work together in order to get through as safely and easily as possible. A hidden rock would suddenly spin the raft, and he’d yell for those on the left to paddle one direction while those on the right paddled in the opposite to reorient us in the right direction. One person not following his instruction would be felt by all.
Christian action is a participatory sport. Whether it be your voice, your money, your prayer, your service, everyone has something to offer. Creating a world that is more whole and balanced requires all of us to work together. When there are choppy waters and unexpected turns, we listen for the voice of our guide and lean on one another knowing the river eventually bends toward justice for all.
Wear a life jacket.
Before boarding the boats, a significant part of white-water rafting training has to do with preparing for emergencies and using resources to stay afloat. One of the easiest and most effective resources is a lifejacket. Wearing a lifejacket really is as simple as putting it on, ensuring it fits securely, and then letting it do its job. In the event that anyone should “go swimming” (fall out of the raft), the swimmer had one job: get on their back, point their feet downstream, and allow the lifejacket to keep them afloat until the rapids subsided or the raft came to their rescue. This taught me to ask the following: how can I equip myself with resources to keep me secure, safe, and supported in turbulence? How does my practice ahead of time prepare me and lessen the impact should I fall out of my boat?
It’s all good, man.
Finally, and what I remember most because it became a camp staff mantra for more than one summer, “It’s all good, man.” If we came upon unexpected rapids or if we couldn’t turn the boat to face the right direction or if someone went swimming, in the space between his instructions for how to get through the situation, we’d hear Link saying, “It’s all good, man.” In fact, Saint Link said it so many times that for us it was a core part of his identity. Even when he wasn’t saying it out loud, he embodied “it’s all good” energy. I didn’t experience it in a Pollyanna sort of way, but in a most helpful, encouraging way. It was an shining example of being a non-anxious presence in the world.
Certainly, the list of “not good things in the world” is endless, but I’m keenly aware of the effect that long-term cynicism has on my own wellbeing. I think there’s a way to be aware of what’s “not okay” while trusting that one day it will be okay. We can live in the present with some assurance. Perhaps that’s what Advent is for: a season where we get to cry out from the wilderness while trusting a way will be created through it. An acknowledgment from God that things are not the way they ought to be, accompanied with a promise to restore all things. A glimpse of a guide who would lead with ease, grace, and “all shall be well” assurance. A reminder that abundant life is possible when we live into the values of the coming kingdom: inclusive love, healing justice, radical welcome, and out-of-this-world peace.
If you were asked that question above, how would you answer? What have you learned from the most equanimous people in your life? Where are Advent promises bubbling up in your surrounding? How might we all be a little more like Jesus and Saint Link?