Mighty cascades pouring from mountain shelves in Iceland, turbulent rapids sculpting the rocks of the Grand Canyon, or the numerous mini waterfalls that animate Devon’s rivers: all embody a sudden rapidity of movement; a step-change. Travelling down the river of life, we each encounter personal waterfalls that must be navigated.
Mini-waterfalls are usually quite safe. Mallards paddle and forage undisturbed close to water that slips between, or arcs over, small granite boulders. They pass down, twirling in the gentle current, only if they decide to. Choosing an experience that feels edgy is to choose the waterfall: to dive in and learn to play the violin, join a group, shop somewhere different, speak to a stranger, or try unfamiliar food.
You can usually get out of a mini-waterfall half way down, if you decide you don’t like it – though if you follow through, you’ll probably arrive in the calm pool below relieved, exhilarated, and wondering what you were so anxious about. To inexperienced or nervous ducklings, negotiating even a tiny waterfall can feel like passing through rapids. But the more falls they successfully negotiate, the less afraid and more resourceful they become.
Rapids are like a dare: you enter them knowing they’re potentially dangerous. Typically you’ve made your decision and planned for the rapids some way upstream, but there can be no assurance you’ll emerge safely. Your heart is racing, but a strong voice (inner or otherwise) insists you make the attempt. Once you’re in, you’re committed to the ‘trial of the soul’ you chose.
Rapids are significant, unpredictable experiences: taking a test, facing an audience, moving home, a career change, leaving a relationship. You’re on the far side of short rapids quite quickly; others require endurance. Your task is to ride the buffeting twists and surges like a skilful goosander: relaxed but aware, ready to adapt your tactics in a moment, prepared to seek help from rescuing wings if you get into trouble.
Mighty falls, however, are seldom of your choosing. They may come as redundancy, disease, betrayal, bereavement, or death. Believing yourself to be in still waters, you gradually become aware of a deep roaring; of a strong, smooth undertow pulling you inexorably towards the edge – beyond which may lie oblivion. There’s no point in fighting it: you could hurt yourself more if you struggle, and you’ll need all your energy to heal and recover. Besides, it’s taking you anyway.
You may get smashed and deluged during the plunge, but at the end of most falls (except maybe the last) you’ll eventually rise to the surface. It’s possible you will never fully recover, at least never be your familiar self again. A way to endure mighty falls is to submit to them like a precious, cushioned seed: to deeply accept that you’ve left behind all you knew; to trust that the next quiet stetch of water will offer you peace and time to grow in your soul something new, resilient and beautiful, ready to meet the next waterfall.