June 12

Hitting the Bull’s Eye

June 12, 2017

Personal Growth

In my younger, crazier days, I used to paddle a large open canoe down some fast and turbulent rivers, including Class III-IV rapids—the kind that often turn canoes over, dumping people into the water. On one occasion I took my canoe to a river with Class IV-V rapids that were generally considered navigable only by experienced people in closed kayaks. There were places on the river, for example, where my canoe shot over waterfalls six and seven feet high.

At one point the flow of the river was divided by a large concrete bridge support, and the strong current seemed to draw everything afloat right into that support. So many canoes had been destroyed there that someone had finally painted a bullseye on the concrete. Significant rapids are often given names—Buzz Saw and Tornado, for example—and of course this one was called Bullseye.

I had heard about Bullseye, so I was cautious and pulled my canoe ashore about fifty yards upstream from the rapids. On the shore was a man throwing small branches into the water in various locations. When I asked what he was doing, he said that he was watching the sticks approach the bridge support in order to learn the path—the safe "line"—a canoe would have to take in order to avoid danger. He said that on that particular day—with the water at that height and speed—he could see only one narrow line of approach that would allow anyone to safely traverse the rapids.

Perhaps sensing my anxiety, he offered to guide me from the shore as I paddled, and of course I was eager to accept his help. I carefully obeyed his every word and gesture, and I shot through the rapids with relative ease. I didn't feel irritated at his telling me what to do. I didn't feel limited that there was only one way to safely negotiate the rapids. No, I was quite grateful for the meticulous guidance my new friend offered.

There are a great many ways to live our lives, but most of them result in our boats wrapping around concrete pillars of various kinds, where we become stuck and miserable. We can't live just any way we wish—treating people selfishly, for example—and expect to sail through the rapids. Finding genuine happiness requires that we follow the principles governing that condition. And it's likely that we'll require the guidance of those who are familiar with the line that produces a safe and even exciting journey through life. We are wise to listen to such guides.

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