In the introduction to The Art of Possibility, Roz (co-author of the book) tells the story of falling out of a boat as it’s navigating Class 5 white water rapids. It’s too good of a story to pass up. So I decided to adapt it and retell it here…
The Story of Roz & The Rapids
The story begins as she’s getting initial instructions for the trip:
“If you fall out of the boat … it is very important that you pull your feet up so that you don’t get a foot caught in the rocks below… Think toes to nose,’ [the instructor] stressed, and [giving] a precarious demonstration, bracing herself and hoisting one foot toward her nose, “then look for the boat and reach for the oar or the rope.'”
She thinks to herself, “Got it. Toes to nose. Look for the boat.”
As they load up into the van to head down to the river…
Repeated again. Toes to nose. Look for the boat.
As they zip up their wet suits and don the life preservers…
Toes to nose. Look for the boat. Really?!#!
By the time they reached at the river’s edge, the group had heard the two phrases so many times that Roz saidshe felt slightly crazed and wondered to herself if someone involved is mentally challenged. Again, as they stand together for their final instructions, the instructor asks what they should do if they fall out of the boat. “Toes to nose. Look for the boat,” the group repeats in unison, a little annoyed, but humoring the instructor one last time before they’re finally sent downstream.
All is well until partway through the journey when the group enters the only class 5 rapids, and Roz is sent flying overboard into the white water. She says of the experience:
“I vanished into a wall of water that rose up at the stern of the raft, as into a black hole. Roiling about underwater, there was no up and down, neither water nor air nor land. There had never been a boat. There was no anywhere, there was nothing at all.”
Thanks to the instructor’s crazy repetition, Roz summed the words, “Toes to nose. Look for the boat,”as she was being tossed back and forth under the water. It was as if the boat appeared from nowhere right when she looked for it she said.
After what must have seemed like an eternity, Roz safely reemerged from the churning water, was pulled back into the boat, and quickly found herself traveling safely down the river through the rapids again.
Getting Back in the Boat
Being out of the boat is now a metaphor Roz has adopted and applied since the experience. Not only did the feeling of being out of the boat resonate with me when I first read it, but the metaphor itself has stuck with me too. According to Roz, being ‘out of the boat’ is more than beyond just being off track. She says:
“[I]t could refer to something as simple as losing all memory of ever having been on an exercise program, or it could refer to floundering in the wake of a management shake-up. When you are out of the boat, you cannot think you way back in; you have no point of reference. You must call on something that has been established in advance … like toes to nose.”
I had to laugh when I read that! Thankfully I can only imagine how it would feel to be out of the boat in class 5 rapids, but still I think it’s the perfect metaphor for those times where you’re blindsided by life’s challenges. I can definitely identify with being out of the boat, and I tend to agree that you can’t simply think your way back in. It involves some thinking, but mostly it involves doing. I have a tendency to believe I can think myself out of any situation. This made me stop and think about how much more important the automatic, conditioned response of doing can be when taking the first steps toward change. Cutting through all the unnecessary clutter.
With all the talk of resolutions this time of year, I can’t help but recommend The Art of Possibility. It walks through 12 practices that can serve as metaphorical reminders throughout life, like Toes to Nose. I love their approach and have been giving copies of the book to many friends and family members, even a few of you here. It’s definitely worth a read, especially if you’re feeling a little less than engaged by your resolutions!
Since reading it, I’ve come up with my own Toes to Nose style mantra for when life is crazy, and I feel like my hair is on fire. I’ll share it with you in the next post, but first…
What do you think? Does this “out of the boat” metaphor resonate with you? How do you get back in the boat when you feel underwater?