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Inner Peace: Surviving the ambush

Inner peace is so much more to me than spiritual practice. Or should I say spiritual practice comes in many forms? Sometimes living dangerously is spiritual practice. Surviving extreme danger leads one to appreciate life and thus find the peace that comes from surviving a brush with death.

Before the inferno burning up Southern Oregon and Northern California, and long before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, Terry and I had accepted an invitation to join friends on a whitewater rafting trip today on the Klamath River. The 14-mile stretch was mostly I, II and III category rapids, with the lovely names of Satan's Well, Hell's Gate and other such endearing monikers. The sole category IV was called Ambush.

To clarify and simplify this rating process, all whitewater rapids are rated on a scale of I to VI. The rapids receive ratings based on a combination of difficulty and danger. I don't think I've ever hit a class IV before. Believe me, it is intense. As soon as we hit the deep troughs, I flew out of the boat, along with a visiting German man who was on the same side behind me. The boat had tipped deeply into the trough and we tipped with it. It was a terrifying experience as I wondered if I would survive it. Of course, we were all wearing life jackets and mine kept me mostly above the water, but the whitewater was surging all around me, dragging me under, and smashing me against the rocks. I was frantically trying to get to the boat to be dragged back in.

I had been ambushed by the scariest and most intense class of rapids on this stretch of river. My husband was just as frantically trying to reach me to pull me out of the frothing tumult, which he did with the help of a friend in the raft. All told, I was likely only in the water a total of maybe two minutes, I don't know for sure, but it felt much longer. I wasn't at all sure I would be accompanying him back home after this ordeal. My gold earring which I had worn in one ear for about 15 years was ripped off. Now it lies somewhere in the Klamath riverbed, or perhaps being eventually swept out to sea.

I found this explanation at wetplanetwhitewater.com/rafting/class-system:

"The most important thing to remember with the classification system: It has nothing to do with how much fun a rapid is. The system is based on difficulty and danger, which do not always equate with the 'fun factor' of a rapid. There are plenty of class III rapids that are more fun to raft than many class IV rapids."

I can certainly attest to that! Encountering Ambush was anything but fun. It was terrifying. Fortunately our raft was being steered by an expert whitewater craftsman, without whom I probably would not have survived. Back home, safely ensconced in my sweet home with my man, I am nursing multiple bruises and sores, but luckily nothing was broken.

And I am reminded of the horrific fires burning all around the Rogue Valley, the homes that have burned, the wild animals that have perished, the intense smoke filling our valley for weeks and likely more weeks to come. And I watch the unfathomable devastation of Hurricane Harvey and those people and animals who succumbed to the flooding and my travails seem petty by comparison. I'm just relieved to be safely home. And I'm sad that so many others in more dangerous circumstances may never find that safety.

Just being alive in the midst of such devastation, or having survived a personal brush with death, gives one pause to consider how lucky I am, and we are, to be alive and well. Inner peace can be a result of living through difficulty, whether self-inflicted or as a victim of circumstance.

Julian Spalding is a Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant with CYCLES OF LIFE (www.cyclesoflife.biz). He is an enrolled member of the Osage tribe of Oklahoma. Julian publishes poetry & essays at julianspalding.wordpress.com.