Welcome to this week’s wisdom for the Inner and Outer You.
This week I would like to share with you an experience that happened in my childhood. It has all the markings of tragedy yet somehow turned out to be a profound life lesson that I would cherish always. Please enjoy and write to me if you have had any similar experiences and would like to share them with me. Thank you.
Wisdom to Know the Difference
By Terry Hodgkinson
Have you ever noticed in life there are times when you need to take charge and other times where you should let it be? Or another way of saying it is that there are times in life where you would benefit from utilizing focused intent to achieve a goal and yet there are other times in where it’s better to surrender and simply be humble and open to whatever the experience brings you. I think the skill is in knowing which you should do at the right time.
I remember when I was a kid I literally fell into an experience where I discovered that these two opposing states of mind bore the consequence of life or death. Let me continue on and share with you how I almost paid with my life learning the immense value of these two very different ways of thinking.
When I was around 11 years old, I often swam in a popular creek a couple of kilometers back in the bush behind our family house. The swimming place was known by all who lived in the area as “the Dam”. It was a large concrete structure that regulated the water flow at a point along the Etobicoke Creek next to a golf course. The golf course would use the dammed up water, pumping it onto their expansive grounds keeping them nice and green.
It was a favourite swimming hole by many because it provided a platform to jump into the water from a height of no less than 15 feet. It was popular place where many kids would find relief from the summer heat and it was even more fun when a storm occurred. On a normal day, creek water would pass through controlled holes that slowed the flow of water and built up a reservoir that the golf course would tap into and pump. When a rain storm came, the dam was totally ineffective. The swelled creek would not be held back and burst out over top of the dam, rushing over the whole cement structure at quite a flow, then falling down and the water continued to rush onward from below. Only now it was falling from a much higher distance than when it was controlled. On these rainy days, it made a loud thundering sound as it crashed below. I couldn’t have told you what the weight of the water was falling down from that height; at age 11, it just wasn’t something I thought or cared about. I was far too enthralled with the raging water. After all you could take an inner tube and ride with the rushing water like you were white water rafting, for a good kilometer or two. Back then I remember the only thing we really cared about was how much fun it was. Looking back now though I realize it was also incredibly dangerous. We would often smash our legs or arms into massive rocks that were visible under normal conditions but now with the swollen creek were submerged just under the waters surface. We always hoped that we would zip around them or avoid them somehow while traveling at un-controllable speeds! At times we were not so lucky and would run right into them and suffer with cuts and bruises.
As a pre-teen, it all seemed like daring fun that brought with it a sense of adventure. All you had to do was watch a little television and you knew that fun and adventure came from facing the unexpected or the unknowing of what might happen next. Or at least as a kid that’s the way it seemed. Seems strange to say it now, but back then you could feel a rush, and tremendous sense of adventure from knowing that you could actually get hurt if you were not careful or lucky enough. Now this was something our parents never realized when we were swimming at the dam on those stormy days. Otherwise without a doubt, it would have been altogether forbidden! There were times I would go home with cuts and some pretty bad bruises, being very careful to make sure my parents did not see them.
Where we swam at the dam there were these large hallowed out spaces behind the waterfalls. Like in the movies where you see someone disappear behind the waterfalls into some sort of cavern; this is what we would do. These were like hidden forts for us kids and we often hang out in them, living out some wild imaginative adventure fantasy. During sunny days with the normal flow of the creek it was a piece of cake to penetrate the water and move into these cave like spaces, no problem at all. However during stormy days, this was an all together different matter. With ten times the amount of water rushing over the top of the dam, plunging down from a much greater height, it made the force of the falling water intensely more powerful!
To this day, the sound of the falling water on stormy days is etched into my memory, it was rather deafening. It sounded like the water was angry, screaming and yelling hence you could hear nothing else. This particular day it had rained out for two days solid and the volume of water pouring over the dam was the greatest I had ever seen. I stood by the bank of the creek for some time and watched some older and much bigger kids jumping through the falling water. They had some difficulty doing it but they made it. So I decided to swim out and jump through to the hidden caves too. I had a heck of a time even getting close to the falling water: the current was so strong it just kept pushing me back. I was determined and I wouldn’t give up, I persisted with all my focus, with all my intention and finally got up close enough to propel myself in and through the wall of falling water. Up to this point I had only ever known this task to be an easy feat. This day however, I would learn that the consequences of my actions could have easily turned out deadly. As I jumped into the falling water, I can still vividly remember what happened next. The moment I came into contact with the water it struck me hard, instantly I felt a total lack of control, no matter how much I tried to move one way or the other it was futile, I was simply powerless. I had never felt so afraid in all my young years. In my attempt to breach the water wall, the raging falling water grabbed me like I was a Raggedy Ann doll and pushed down upon me with what felt like it’s massive hands baring down on top of my back and head. Before I knew it, I was pushed down so far that my head disappeared under the water’s surface.
The only thought I had in that moment was “I have to get up!!” With a ton of water pushing down on me and the sound of thunder now beating into my head, for the first time ever I felt incredibly scared and utterly desperate. As hard as I tried I still couldn’t get up; the water had me pinned, like being trapped under a massive wet blanket, I couldn’t get my head up above the water surface to breathe. I struggled harder, kicking and pushing with my arms profusely. Harder I thought, “I must get up!” I was determined like never before, I tried and tried as hard as I could but still with no results. I was running out of breath and scared. At that moment my heart seemed to leap up into my throat; I’m not ashamed to admit it either, I was totally freaked out. I gave another desperate push only to end up deeper down now and then I felt my feet hit the bottom. Immediately, I gave one last explosive push with my feet upward, my legs feeling like rockets blasting off from the bottom and at the same time I forced my arms to push as well, providing that little extra bit of acceleration. Finally my head cracked the surface just for a second and long enough to gulp some air, but I was immediately plunged back under the surface once again. then a thought; “I can’t escape the clutches of this angry waterfall.”
I remember I struggled a bit more, then I had another disturbing thought; “This is it, I’m done for, I can’t fight this. I don’t have any more strength left to fight. My life is over and I’m not even a teenager yet.”
I was totally exhausted and I remember I simply stopped struggling at that point and sank downward, thinking I was finished but still holding my breath for as long as I could. Further down I went feeling once again my feet hitting the bottom, only this time I didn’t push off, somehow I had accepted my fate. It was but a few seconds later that I was grabbed again and quickly whooshed away with the current. Feeling a little disoriented and not exactly knowing what was happening but figuring it couldn’t get much worse, so did not fight it. I let go and went with it. To my total surprise the strong current at the bottom had grabbed and pushed me outward where I then surfaced downstream about 15 feet away. I remember my head came up and I started to gulp air frantically. I couldn’t believe it, I was free! I wouldn’t even know how to begin to tell you how ecstatic I felt at that moment. I remember feeling bewildered that I had made it out of that terrible predicament. Damn I felt like the luckiest kid alive.
That brush with death has never left me and many years later I still have a cold tingling sensation run down the back of my neck when I think about how close I came to drowning. I am thankful for the many lessons that had befallen me that day. As I grew older I gave the experience I had that rainy day some further contemplation and came to realize that it was not only a lesson about being lucky, but one that held a significant deeper meaning. A gem of an insight that I would not fully grasp until much later but that would eventually come to be an important guiding principle in my life. Later as I traveled though life I would hear the principle I had discovered back then expressed in the form of prayer I came across, maybe you have heard it? It goes like this:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Quote for the week:
“In order to improve the mind, we ought less to learn, than to contemplate.”
– Rene Descartes