River Immersion

I highly recommend an Immersion. Where you completely immerse yourself in something positive for at least one week, like a yoga/surf/writing/or music retreat. Get out of your routine, separate from typical responsibilities, un-attach from the day to day and become present.

Immersion breeds self-actualization which is quite an eye-opening, barrier-breaking and powerful experience. The above photo was taken on my River Immersion where I literally drank, slept, and breathed the Apalachicola River in its entirety for 7 days. I joined this expedition for the adventure, to support my teammate Gabriel Gray and because I believe in his mission to Fight to Save Our American Rivers. But I left the experience with more than I expected, dropping into my true self, opening up to new perspectives, and discovering a deep appreciation for simplicity and life without muddled distraction.

It was an interesting process that really became apparent to me once I left the river.  On my drive home to Orlando from Panama City I found myself listening to break-up music, my heart heavy as I imagined I had left a piece of it floating down that river.  I felt depressed for almost a week as I attempted to re-integrate back into my "normal" life filled with busyness, multi-tasking, and my computer.  I reached out to my river mates, my support team, and found they each felt the same.  We were heartbroken to be off the river.  That was our home and even though we were only on it for 7 days, because we were 100% immersed in it, we became a part of it.  It was like taking a fish out of water.

Fortunately, the way processes naturally work, the next phase came along which was one of intense reflection.  Why had I been so sad?  I was never a river person before - why was this affecting me so much?  What about my experience had caused this reaction, these emotions?  I remembered my best friend and mentor, Janie, telling me pre-trip to make sure that I journaled during it.  She said "there's something about a long camping adventure, seeing the sunrise and sunset every day - it can be a very self-actualizing experience."  I heard her statement, took her advice and I did journal during the trip, but I was expecting this "self-actualizing experience" to happen to me on the river and I did not feel any major transformation.  I thought I had missed out, maybe that's for some body more enlightened than me.

In this reflection phase when I recalled Janie's prediction I thought, "self-actualization, what the hell does that really mean anyways?"  I looked it up:  self actualization (noun): the process of establishing oneself as a whole person, able to develop one's abilities and to understand oneself.  Ding Ding Ding!  Maybe I had not missed out after all as this was unmistakably the process I was going through!

Reflection turned into revelation.  The answers to my internal questions were rising to the surface and I was becoming clear: because I had removed external distraction from my life and completely immersed myself for a week in the river experience, I had become used to

  • being wholly present - and the mental freedom that comes with it
  • surrounded by nature - and the nurturing of soul that comes with it, and
  • a life of simplicity - wake up, eat, break down camp, paddle, make camp, eat, go to sleep - and the physical and inner peace that comes with it.

I had truly connected with this lifestyle because I was mind, body and soul IN it .  I realized my depression came from the sudden disruption in this pleasurable state of well-being.  Although I returned to a life I was accustomed to, I longed for my life on the river.  Gratefully, my mood was quickly turning from negative to positive as I gained clarity, my emotions were validated and had passed through to make room for proactive thinking.

Revelation led to creation of how I can integrate the joyous style of life on the river to my current lifestyle or future scenarios I find myself in.  The answers came easily, it's the implementation that is a challenge and is why we call this life a "practice."  First - make it a priority to get on the water more often - even when playing "catch up" with work and responsibility.  It's easy to get sucked into the busyness of business, but I am truly more productive, energized and happy when I put it all aside for a bit to move, get outdoors and paddle!  Second - reduce my workload  - I tend to take on a lot of projects which spreads me thin, makes it hard to be fully present in anything, and brings feelings of stress and anxiety.  Implementing this is not as easy as "go paddle," it will take time, creativity, and adjustment, but it IS possible to narrow focus and stream efforts to a few areas versus many.  Third - make a deeper effort to be present in every day activity - when in conversation, while writing, during yoga, etc.  I am a yoga teacher and presence is a big part of what I teach but is one of the MOST challenging personal practices yet.  Still, all these aspects of river life are ones that can be integrated into every day life making my life experience ever more enjoyable and freeing.

So here I am, a girl who was seeking adventure and ended up with an empowering experience of self-actualization.  I left this expedition AWAKENED and that my friends is the greatest gift, a taste of the sweet nectar and authentic substance of this journey of life!  I encourage you all to GO (Gray Outdoors).

PS: If you like this blog, want to hear more or are interested in your own adventure, please check out GrayOutdoors.com.  Gabriel Gray dedicates his life efforts to Fight to SOAR (Save Our American Rivers).  Rivers are the vein of life for all creatures and we must bring awareness to make change to save them.  But you don't have to take my word for it, spend some time on one and you'll agree.

If you'd like to help through donation, visit the Apalachicola River Keepers website (apalachicolariverkeepers.org), these are the paddlers that fight for the river on a daily basis.

Click here to view my photos of the expedition.

Written by Jessica Cichra, Wave of Wellness, Owner/Instructor/Life Enthusiast.

Photos:  Desiree Gardner Photography

Fight to SOAR Apalachicola River Expedition: Gray Outdoors

Gear: Boardworks Surf 11'6 Raven, Werner PaddlesSmall Fit Soul, Geigerrig Rig, Local Honey Designs Corinne top & Tavarua bottom, Rubber Ducky Sunscreen Clear Zinc and Matte Zinc Face Stick, Maui Jim Seven Pools

SUP, Balancejessica