Thrilled to Feel Alive

I remember first time I tried white water rafting. It’s maybe the first time I felt totally and completely immersed in “now”. I let myself fall through the cascades of raging waters—or so it felt. There was something magic about being in control, or maybe not at all, of both my own anxiety and the run through the roaring river. Maybe it was in that first white water rafting attempt I experienced my life’s most ecstatic seconds.

Part of the seduction is the intensity and the thrill that chase away anything else. All thoughts of yourself, your life outside of what is happening on the raft, any worries—except those for the forces of the river, whom you are and what you need to do tomorrow; all that is blown out of your mind.

Out of the river I live many lives—as I think we all do. One life at home, another at work, yet another when I am creative, a fourth life out with friends and so on. It can be pretty arduous. All thoughts that go into this can be like a clamp on the head. Thoughts, desires, worries, demons and daydreams behave like hectic sparrows in the fall. In my daily being, I am faced with many demands, many of which I create myself.

Down the roaring river, it was different. There it was just this one. The river and me. The water that squeezed in from all sides. The body that through the paddle fought with the raging water. It’s a reminder that resistance is a sure way to feel that we are alive. Resistance prevents us, but it also provides presence. That is why we are quick to seek it out.

Creativity in many aspects resembles the experience down the river. It’s encompassing—when you enter flow. Then nothing else exists. Just like with white water rafting or any other exhilarating experience. But you need to expose yourself to resistance, get out of the safe zone, out of the box, take chances. Only then will flow come and take over you mind, like when bumping down a boisterous river.

And like any thrill, when you get used to it, the thrill of creativity fades when what was first encompassing, becomes routine. We have to keep raising the bar, keep pushing ourselves out of the box as it widens, keep taking new chances.

60 thoughts on “Thrilled to Feel Alive

  1. I loved WW rafting when I was in Turkey many moons ago, it was totally exhilarating and immersive. That river looks great for it Otto, and yes we need to raise the bar ever higher.

    1. Yes, but this is kayaking—and that’s quite a different animal! Did ever tell you I so much enjoy both Clapton and Cale, and what better than having them together, as on the album The Road to Escondido.

      1. The boats may differ, but that river’s the same. You didn’t tell me about your fondness for Clapton and Cale, but The Road to Escondido is one of my favorite road trip sound tracks. Even if a car’s the conveyance, we can “ride the river” with a little spirit!

  2. I don’t think I could do white water rafting. But I’d fight for your right to do it! 🙂 I love love love that last image. I agree about creativity. I started water color painting little postcard sized paintings when we were told to stay home. Been doing it almost every day, getting better, not to say there aren’t still failures, but if I try something that I think is too hard and it works I’m thrilled. Even when it doesn’t work I learn something. I had two failures a couple nights ago and today I did one of them over and it’s much better. I hope to do the other one again too when I get a moment. Same with my photography. So many failed attempts at things outside my box…but each time I learn something and eventually I’ll figure it out. A couple nights ago I tried to capture images of fireflies in the backyard. No real luck, but I learned and next time they’re out there and I’m out there with the camera it will be better. Good post, Otto, thanks for sharing it!

    1. Failing is part of the process. And we can’t challenge ourselves without failing. We just have to get up on our feet again, and keep doing it. You beautifully described the process. Fail and fail again, if necessary, and then finally get it right. Until next time. Thanks for sharing your experience, Dawn.

      1. I once had the opportunity while biking in the Blue Ridge Mountains but passed on it. I’m sorry I did. I feel sure was no more dangerous than riding through the clouds on a motorcycle. 😊

  3. I feel most alive and creative when I am out in nature looking at birds. It’s maybe not as heart-pounding and scary as white water rafting, but it grounds me in the presence and I forget about everything else. It’s nice that there are different ways we can reach this state.

  4. Otto, interesting analogy! Doing something out of your comfort zone is empowering for sure, with white water rafting you are trusting yourself, the team, and nature. With creativity, you have to trust yourself, your feelings, your gut instinct or sometimes just have the courage to try something different. Certainly, both feel like a challenge, and when you succeed a great sense of achievement. I have done white water rafting in Brazil, a few years ago it was scary and exhilarating at the same time. Was the last photo taken at Briksdalsbreen? I loved that place.

    1. You have a good eye. Yes, indeed it was taken at Briksdalsbreen. And yes, the feeling of achievement when you succeed crossing that line of comfort is almost indescribable.

  5. My son-in-law loves white water rafting and other physically thrilling activities. My daughter went with him once while they were dating and afterwards told him she would never be doing that again. Last summer on a family vacation he went hang gliding for the first time. My daughter was happy to sit and watch with the children. It’s interesting how some people crave that kind of risky flow experience while others find it in other, more mellow endeavors.

  6. This reminds me of my experience. The rapid was not high intense but nevertheless it was enough for me in trying to stay out of the water for fearing of so cold water. It was a relieve to get to the end for me. I completely understand that you need to go out of comfort zone to get creativity going or to accomplish goals. I think getting your mind in certain survival mode can get out of your comfort zone assuming that it does not freeze and ran away 🙂

    That is a great picture of the rapid and I can see that it was quite rough.

  7. A vivid narrative, superb pictures and an effective comparison made with the creative process. I liked the title too.

  8. I related to a lot of what you wrote about. Although a couple of friends want to buy my cards right now,(my hobby) I am not interested in selling at all, unless they want old stock. NOW is the time to be out shooting-summer and birding season is so short and I want to find new ways of seeing and doing. The thrills I seek are not so dangerous now as when I was younger, but observing birds keeps me in the moment. I like your comment “”finding the balance between uncomfortable and unbearable.”

    1. As you you imply, it’s really not about dangerous as such, but about pushing our limits – whatever they are. And agree, now is the time to be outside – for us in the northern hemisphere (although I like outdoors all seasons).

  9. Very courageous to do white water rafting! I do think I do my best work when I am working on an image and I just loose track of time. Wish I could do that more often!

  10. Water can have a great effect upon us. Just being in that moment, must have been a wonderful experience. It is true though, when the flow of inspiration is upon us you need to open your mind and go with it.

  11. That last image is very powerful and I can almost feel the chill of the mountain water as it churns and froths. Like Tanja, I feel that totally immersive experience when photographing (or trying to photograph 😀 ) birds, especially the small fast-moving kind where you’ve got to move the lens and follow it’s every move waiting for that rare second when it stops just long enough to press the shutter button.
    Even changing the lens to continuous shooting doesn’t always work. You just have to be totally in the moment like white-water rafting.

    1. I have found that continuous shooting is no guarantee for getting the action. Too often the peak of the action ends up in between two photos. I’d rather try to anticipate the moment myself.

  12. I have to watch a movie like ‘American Ultra’ or ‘John Wick’ or ‘6 Underground’ to get out of all my lives…
    I wonder if what you are saying is why people get addicted to extreme sports…
    glad you had fun, Otto 🙂

  13. I was born and raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The Niagara River is part of our life force. Your analogy is spot on with the river’s ebb and flow. There are rapids and undercurrents. It is seductive and intense and out of control. It never ceases to amaze me.

    1. Niagara Falls is one of the places I have wanted to visit for many years, but so far haven’t been able to get to. A question: is it a myth that people have tried to “sail” the fall in barrels? That would be a quite extreme way to doing white water rafting…

      1. There has been people going over The Falls in a barrel from the beginning of our history. It is illegal now so it is often done very covertly. There is one family, The Red Hill Family, that has made it their heritage.

  14. That’s a great metaphor, Otto. The second photo is wild – I had to look again and I almost wanted to step back, to get out of the way. It can be good sometimes, to be forced to allow the forces around you to carry you somewhere new. 🙂

  15. Great analogy Otto! I often think of that song by Paul Simon, ‘Maybe I Think Too Much’! When I am out photographing ‘these days’ I feel my best, the most like myself … I’m not thinking about anything else.

  16. I really relate to forgetting the “real world” and using creativity from nature to inspire our every day lives. I often times forget about all my problems while hiking, camping or traveling. I love that you are able to find that white water rafting. The very first time I ever went white water rafting, I wanted to quit everything and be a guide! What a life of adventure that might be.

  17. I’ve been white water rafting many times, albeit not so much in recent years. While more frenetic at times than photography, that sense of being out in nature and in the moment does cross over, and adds enjoyment to both pursuits.

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