The Language of Capacity Saved My Life
The first days rafting along the Middle Fork had everything you could think of in terms of a meaningful vacation in nature. Picture bald eagles flying, bears eating berries and wrens filling the majesty of the river and mountains with exquisite songs. If that didn’t move you, add to this image several dear friends and their children.
Conversations were deep and connecting, everybody respected the ethic of leave no trace behind. We all kept the river and its banks pristine. The people I didn’t know were friendly and kind. All the kids got along as if they were old friends. Our friend and the guides masterfully taught us how to commune with mother earth and had everything we needed, including a happy birthday banner!
There were 30 people total in this group. We traveled down the river and its more than 100 rapids in 4 big rafts, a standup paddle board, three individual kayaks, and a double kayak.
Double kayaks are a bit difficult because you have two, not one person going through rapids. You have to paddle well together, communicate effectively, and follow directions from the person in the back of the kayak to have an enjoyable experience. The guides sometimes call it the divorce kayak!
I must tell you that river rafting on the double kayak was my birthday request to my husband.
At this stage in life, I’ve been working on facing my fears of inadequacy in sporty/adventurous activities. My family was not particularly outdoorsy or adventurous when I was growing up.
On top of not being raised by a physically adventurous family, the messages I heard from my second-grade gym teacher that I was “bad at sports” reinforced my parents who steered me towards intellectual rather than physical endeavors.
Being on a double kayak was a great way to deepen the healing of physical inadequacy.
Saying Yes to Facing My Fears
On the fifth day, after many miles of successfully navigating rapids without a single incident, we were told the upcoming rapids were trickier. When the time to decide who was going to take the double kayak came up, in keeping with my desire to face my fears, I volunteered us.
You may say, Alejandra, you’re crazy!
We were going back home the next day, and I had a sense that it could actually be fun. Plus, I wanted to look back and be able to say to myself “I tried it. I faced my fears. I did it.”
One thing I learned about rapids is that once you’re in them you have to paddle aggressively. You have to try your best to face waves head on. If a wave catches you on your side, it will throw you out of your kayak in an instant.
It was actually all fun until Weber rapid came along. Rapids are classified by the International Scale of River Difficulty, where whitewater is divided in six categories ranging from the easiest and safest class I to the most difficult and dangerous class VI.
Our next rapid was Weber rapid, a class III, sometimes IV also known as the Maytag rapid because it you fall, you may feel you’re inside a washing machine.
Matthew and I headed to Weber rapid saying “We can do this, Love!” And a minute later we got stuck in a hole of water, which meant a big whitewater wave was created and quickly taking our kayak and us in all its intensity.
Matthew got thrown out of the kayak and seconds later, the kayak capsized keeping me under it while it hit a big boulder that acted as a washing machine and had me in the role of a rag doll.
I couldn’t come up for air because I was being thrashed and turned and the kayak was still above my head.
The Words that Saved Me
Suddenly, I heard a voice. It was a familiar voice. It was the voice in my internal dialogue. “You know how to hold your breath. You are practiced in holding your breath. Hold your breath. You can hold your breath for a long time. -the voice said. In my mind scenes from yoga classes, pranayama (breathing) exercises and meditation appeared supporting the evidence that I knew how to hold my breath.
I held my breath until the next kayaker who happened to hit the same water hole dislodged the kayak. I came up for air and the river took me under again with another large wave.
Once again, the voice appeared in my internal dialogue. Its tone was calming and firm. “You know how to hold your breath. The water will take you. You can hold your breath. You can hold your breath for a long time.”
I extended my legs and let myself be carried downstream, watching from behind miraculously still attached sunglasses, white water crashing above me.
Then something yellow appeared. It was another kayaker who skillfully made it through Weber rapid. She yelled my name! I held on to her kayak and she brought me to the big raft boat where Matthew was so happy to see me.
Everyone cheered! I got on the raft shaking from the experience and the cold water.
Later, I learned that people were worried about me because I was under water for a long time. The river guides said that if I had tried to fight, my breath would have been shallow creating anxiety from the unnecessary exertion. I would have not made it!
The next day, the kayaker who had brought me back to the big raft told me she saw me floating under water looking so calm. “I thought you had given up,” she said.
If you had told me a couple of decades ago that my internal dialogue was going to save my life, I would have laughed in disbelief. Back then, my awareness of what my internal dialogue was vague at best. I did know I had a harsh inner critic at times, but I only had a slight clue about the messages that often flooded my mind. And I had very little knowledge about how this internal communication shaped my life or my relationships.
The Difference that Made the Difference: The Language of Capacity
I had to learn to speak what I call the Language of Capacity in my internal dialogue. Being able to know and direct my internal dialogue to speak a language of capacity is a practice I do daily.
Like the story of the man who disintegrated a big rock by hitting it with a pebble, When someone came up to him to ask him about this extraordinary skill, the man responded that it wasn’t his power or the pebble, but the thousands of times he’d hit the rock before. It was practice that helped the rock be ready to break. It was practice that helped me turn my inner critic into a calm and reassuring inner coach.
You, too have the power to learn to listen to, understand and direct your internal dialogue so that your internal dialogue speaks the language of capacity.
Warning, it takes years… yet, it’s one of the most important things you can do to overcome limiting habits, express yourself authentically and thrive. Here’s how you can do it. Keep in mind that each one of these steps takes time and practice to learn and master.
5-Step Language of Capacity Practice for Your Inner Dialogue
Have a clear understanding of your core values, qualities and capacities
Listen to your internal dialogue
Explore your internal dialogue’s unhelpful stories, unrealistic fantasies, self-sabotaging and self-alienating messages
Learn to speak the language of capacity
Direct your internal dialogue towards a language of capacity
Repeat this practice throughout the day, especially when you engage in what have habitually been uncomfortable experiences.
Let me know how it goes. I’d love to hear how you are experimenting with your language of capacity. If your inner dialogue is saying you need support to learn this practice, email me. I didn’t learn all this by myself, so ask for help! You’re worthy of it!