Whitewater Goddess Weekend


The first ever Whitewater Goddess Weekend was held at the Nantahala Outdoor Center October 10th-12th. My vision for the weekend was to use whitewater kayaking as a vehicle to help women transform their lives in some way by facing fears and building confidence. It was open to all levels and it was wonderful to watch beginners learning from more experienced women and vice versa. The weekend was co-facilitated by Sharon Mitchell, a wise and compassionate woman who guides women in healing transformational work. Anne Sontheimer, a long-time NOC instructor, added her insights, skills and experience to the weekend. We enjoyed beautiful weather, delicious food, yoga, meditation, kayaking, friendship… and the list could go on. It was an amazing weekend and I’d like to share my thoughts and experience on the event.

I’ve been tossing around the idea of combining yoga, kayaking and transformational work for a few years now. Kayaking has taught me many lessons that enrich my day to day life. Whitewater kayaking is an exceptional teacher because it brings up, as one woman this weekend put it, “emotions that you didn’t even know you had.” I’ve witnessed many women over the years grapple with the fears and emotions that come up in kayaking — with the wet exit, the roll and pushing their limits on the river. Some women get so scared that they think about quitting, but there’s something very exhilarating and satisfying about facing those fears which is why many of us choose to stick with it.

In my opinion it’s not enough to just stick with it and ‘push through’ or ‘attack’ the fear. It’s important for us to understand that the fear never goes away because it’s there for an evolutionary reason to make us pause and think about what we’re about to do. That can be very healthy. The key is to learn tools and practices that help us to move through the fear and focus our attention on what we want and where we want to go. When we learn how to manage the fear it doesn’t overwhelm us and we can choose to respond to our nervousness instead of immediately reacting to it. I feel that retreats like Whitewater Goddess weekend that combine kayaking with transformational practices like yoga, meditation and Native American spirituality can go a long way in helping all of us transform our lives for the better both on the water and off the water.

Although I wanted this weekend to assist the women who attended, I ended up with a really big discovery and transformation for myself that I’m grateful for. It was a bit painful at the time, but seeing our shadow selves is not usually pleasant and is often necessary for change. During the weekend I was very concerned with the logistics and making sure that all ten women were getting enough attention and instruction for their skill level. I wanted to make sure everything was awesome. Although these are important things for a leader to work out, there were times when my worry and concern took me out of the moment and out of the joy of the moment. Instead of acting with compassion and patience I felt as though I was being impatient and thinking about what I had to do next to make sure everything was o.k. Instead of allowing myself to enjoy the weekend and the people around me I felt worried and tired. There was no reason for me to feel that way because everyone was having and did have an amazing time!

The piece that I got for myself is to relax, slow down, enjoy the moment and recognize that I don’t have to control everything for things to go well. And things don’t always have to go as planned. How many times have I learned that on the river!? There’s always enough time, especially when you’re focused on the moment. And when I’m focused on the moment I give better attention, instruction and experience to my students. This is actually very similar to what I wrote about my Grand Canyon trip. Interesting how things keep coming up until we really get them… I’m also reminded to be gentle and compassionate with myself as I face my shadow self, learn and transform. We’re all perfect right where we’re at and we improve by realizing and focusing on where we want to go from here. These are all teachings that we explored during the weekend and I’m grateful for the reminders and the opportunity to apply them in my life.

So, I’m very grateful to all of the women who participated: Carol, Carol, Caroline, Deidre, Shannon, Shelly, Joyce, Helene, Erin and Rose. Thank you for your energy, your insight, your openness and your presence. I also want to thank Anne for being the awesome, mellow kayak instructor who always has a solution for everything. And of course to Sharon who gently and compassionately guides us as we learn and grow. I look forward to many more Whitewater Goddess Weekends in 2009. For those of you interested in learning more click here. 2009 dates will be up soon.

Below are some photos that Helene took from the weekend: