Swimming Upstream


upstream the-road-to-authenticity-and-connection-is-much-like-the-swim-upriver-it-is-the-process-of-taking-time-to-go-under-the-current-into-stillness-while-life-rushes-around-you I had a fascinating and energizing day yesterday playing in a branch of the South Yuba River in Bridgeport, California. 

I walked alongside a sweet river, watching the currents as it flowed. The river—not much more than twelve feet wide—wound around corners and connected with tiny tributaries. The banks and riverbed are what I’m learning is referred to as placer, sandy deposits within which precious minerals can be found. The area was beautiful, but my feet were uncomfortable as the small gravel filled my sneakers through the mesh fabric. I looked forward to getting to a spot where I could clean them off. 

I didn’t bring my swimsuit or water shoes. I wasn’t really planning on swimming, but once I reached my turning point on the riverbank, I had a strong desire to do something contrary—to swim back to my starting point, against the current. I wanted to swim upstream in the middle of the river.

I decided to swim, sneakers and all. Luckily, my companion was content to walk the path back, carrying my pack.

As I dove into the cool water originating from the Sierra Nevada range, I immediately felt refreshed. I felt not only the sweat wash off my body but also any tensions from the week.  I quickly became present. Facing upriver, I could feel the rush of the water running over me on its way to the sea. I popped my head up and opened my eyes to see only the brush on the riverbank, the redwoods towering into a blue sky, and the distant mountains.

I couldn’t see what was below me, but the bottom was rocky and slick. I quickly realized that if I were to maintain my footing, I would have to be fully present and feel into what was beneath me, step by step.

I swam against the current. At times, the rush of the water hitting me on my chest and shoulders kept me perfectly in place. 

Although I was a bit tired, I was feeling playful and safe. I had come down the river on the pathway, quickly and eagerly looking to see what lay ahead. Now I was swimming the return, slowly and more present. Swimming back upstream felt a bit like coming home—weightless and exploratory, knowing exactly where I was headed. While swimming upstream, I could check out the rocks, bumps, and pools that weren’t obvious to me on the walk down. 

It dawned on me that sometimes swimming upstream, against the current, is really important in life. It gives you the opportunity to be present, to stay in place, to be focused on yourself, and to check out the obstacles and bumps that perhaps weren’t obvious while you were rushing forward. 

It reminded me of many clients who seek me out because they are exhausted by their lives. They report that they feel they are walking the same path over and over—a career that isn’t feeling relevant, unfulfilling relationships that require more than they provide, chronic pain, and that questioning of what was I brought here to do? Generally, the call begins with something like, “I can’t believe I’m dealing with this same feeling again. I thought I grew past it.” 

They are walking alongside the river, moving to the next destination, but when they look outwardly, the river appears to be flowing beautifully for everyone except for them (especially according to Facebook postings!). Then the moment comes when they are finally ready to strip down to their sports bra and shorts and jump in—not for the easy float downstream, but for the trip back up. It’s a trip that involves really feeling into the crevices, rocks, and obstacles that aren’t obvious from the riverbank but that keep cropping up to stall us from what we desire. These are the obstacles we speed over or around on the way down the pathway. The trip upstream, against the current, is the place to wallow in the deep pools and to climb up on the rocks to rest in the sun. The current rushing over us is the way to let the thinking errors, myths, and patterns of behavior that no longer serve us wash away. 

I find that the resistance to swimming upstream, which I also experienced, is huge. What might I miss? How might I get left out? What if it feels too hard? And most of all, what if I don’t like what I discover?

As I swam, I was so taken by all that was under the water, including the car-sized boulders and deep pools that the rushing current and reflection of the sky had camouflaged. I experienced the joy of submerging my entire self in an unexpected deep pool, where all seemed to stand still except the streaks of sunlight cutting through the water to reach me. I lingered in the weightlessness and total silence under water. I felt for the submerged boulders hidden from the shore but just beneath the surface; I climbed up on them and rested in the sun in the middle of the river. 

I work with several people who want to find the joy and playfulness they felt in childhood and to reconnect with the peace they had as a sleeping infant. They want to find the confidence and love of self they had before the messages received during school or from the media, or the experience of adolescence itself began to change their self-perception. They desire to connect back to the energy of their earliest hopes, dreams, and passion.

Most of them want to do it while continuing to walk the path on the side of the river. They want to keep moving forward at a fast pace while returning to their original joy. They tell me, “I think a new career will bring me happiness!” or “I’m considering moving to a new city where I can find joy!” Or, they are considering leaving their current relationship for a new exciting one. On and on. 

I get it. I also spent years trying to change the path I took alongside the river, instead of diving in to the peace, joy, connection, and love that is resting just under the current. The truth is that finding what you desire doesn’t require doing anything new. The road to authenticity and connection is much like the swim upriver. It is the process of taking time to go under the current into stillness, while life rushes around you. Metaphorically, what is above the water (and easily visible) represents your thinking mind. 

The journey to authenticity takes place below the water. It is a feeling journey. It is about letting the current pull off everything that no longer serves you, including negative self judgments, pleasing others first, comparisons, should’s, etc. Returning home is about feeling love in the moment—love of self and love of the journey. Authenticity and connection is about experiencing deep gratitude for what presents itself under the river waters, whatever it is, knowing it is perfect in this moment. 

When I got to the end of my swim upstream, I felt wonderfully tired and amazingly refreshed. I had a smile from ear to ear that just would not go away. I felt playful and spontaneous, with a true sense of joy. There were many moments when my friend on the path was out of sight behind trees, while I was in the middle of the river, completely alone. It was in these moments that I felt most connected. 

When my swim ended and it was time to step out, I noticed that all the tiny gravel that was making walking so difficult had washed out in the river current. Walking, which I anticipated would be harder with soaking wet sneakers, was actually more comfortable. 

When you are feeling disconnected, anxious, or shredding yourself with negative thoughts, do something contrary. Temporarily step off the path that promises the fastest forward movement, and swim against the current. Return to the play that brought you joy as child. Fall into the deepest sleep. Daydream. Or sit—do nothing but feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your face. Swim upstream.

Are you hurrying down the river so you can FINALLY be happy, content, and connected? Let’s talk. It may be time for you to journey upstream for a bit! I will be your companion, carrying your pack along the riverbank! Beth is available for:

  • One-to-one coaching with those experiencing frustration or lack of passion and purpose in their work.
  • Team building and coaching for improved collaboration and communication.
  • One-to-one coaching for individuals who are questioning what is next in life.
  • Small business development, organization, and leadership consulting.

Where you’ll find Beth in September:

  • September 8: Talley Vineyards, Arroyo Grande CA – private management team training
  • September 21: Case Managers Society of America, Sacramento, CA –  chapter meeting
  • September 21: Society of Human Resource Managers Conference, Sacramento, CA
  • September 28: California State Bar Association, San Diego, CA – leadership training

Contact us to bring Beth in to speak to your group at beth@bethwonson.com or 978-614-5405.