Wigston less the effort: photo Evan Stafford
On the valley floor of any river with a sizable drainage, when you’re looking pensively upstream, you can feel the force of the water droplets collecting. Gathering in the watershed. Flowing into each other. Forming the river from above and below ground. Eventually reaching you, they culminate into a pulsing artery carrying the lifeblood of the earth, inches from your feet. You might as well be scouting the crux rapids of their entire effortless course.
Wigston Apple Saucin': photo Tommy Hilleke
Will Rawstrom slicing into Scissors: photo Evan Stafford
Intention is a subject thoroughly explored in many martial arts philosophies, and also in many forms of Eastern medicine and science. In the discussions water tends to play a significant role in defining the ideal of action without effort. Water knows how to get it done without even trying. The human mind is extremely powerful yet it has a hard time not tripping over its own feet. When we concentrate too hard, or try to force our actions, our oversized intentions can get in the way of our execution. Water does not intend to carve granite into polished bedrock waterfalls. Water does not intend to carve mountains into deep and gradient filled canyons. It just does.
Tommy doing without doing: photo Evan Stafford
The cliché is to “do without doing,” but does water not embody this idea perfectly? Water is soft when you enter a foam pile with the proper angle from heights as tall as large buildings, but from the roof of a flooded house, with all of the rivers power rushing past your feet, threatening your life, not to mention demolishing an entire town, the softness is gone and well, out comes the beast. The river though is neither beast nor angel. It doesn’t care. It is as ceaseless as it is formless.
Eddy above the chaos below Scissors: photo Evan Stafford
Relax. Stop straining. The river isn’t straining to create that perfect 30-foot waterfall. It requires no effort for it to gracefully arc off the lip into that emerald pool. The conscious mind is a mere mechanism for deciding which larger and more encompassing actions to take. The conscious mind is not there to dissect which stroke to take next or when it should be timed. If your training is sufficient, your unconscious mind and your body will take care of the rest. Do not think about your paddle, just stick it in the water and take a stroke.
Tommy taking the meat at Tunnel: photo Evan Stafford
But damn, isn’t that just harder than it sounds. The revolving door between conscious decisions about your odds of gracefully descending a rapid, and the walk back to your boat, the few deep breaths and the pushing off into the unconscious strokes of action and reactions, is easily jarred from its hinges. The key is the greasing of the hinges. The training, the lessons, the gathered experience of having let go before for long enough to feel a few fleeting moments of inspired paddling. Choose your line, but then paddle free of effort, be the droplets of water on your charted course… even when you’re chartered course gets turned a wee bit upside down. Be the water, flowing without effort.
Thinking too much about taking the stroke and not enough actually taking the stroke: photo Tommy Hilleke