Posts Tagged ‘Heather Herbeck’

ryanA monk set off on a long pilgrimage to find the Buddha. He devoted many years to his search until he finally reached the land where the Buddha was said to live. While crossing the river to this country, the monk looked around as the boatman rowed. He noticed something floating towards them. As it got closer, he realized that it was the corpse of a person. When it drifted so close that he could almost touch it, he suddenly recognized the dead body – it was his own! He lost all control and wailed at the sight of himself, still and lifeless, drifting along the river’s currents. That moment was the beginning of his liberation.


There can be no good without evil, no wrong without right. There always has to be a balance, a point at which things settle into place. You have to take the bad with the good in everything you do. Paddling is no different. I started progressing after a couple years of getting my feet wet. At the point when I became most comfortable in what I was doing mentally and physically, I reached a point of satisfaction in my personal achievements through paddling. Until one day, I became complacent, too relaxed, and took my newly found skills for granted. I had worked hard to get to where I was and I thought I was there. To my dismay, one day the river took control and stripped the confidence and power I thought to possess.

This newly humbling experience shook me to my core and mentally put me back at ground zero. A new realization set in. Concurring a river with whatever skills you think you possess is not an option! As a human you are a very fortunate individual to be lucky enough to pass through vertical walls filled with turbulent water. From then on I greatly accepted the water as my guide for the good, as well as the bad times. This experience was the catalyst for my future progression as well as applying Zen to Paddling.

– Ryan Scott


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chopwoodcarrywaterWhen Bankei was preaching at Ryumon temple, a Shinshu priest, who believed in salvation through repetition of the name of the Buddha of Love, was jealous of his large audience and wanted to debate with him.

Bankei was in the midst of a talk when the priest appeared, but the fellow made such a disturbance that Bankei stopped his discourse and asked about the noise.

“The founder of our sect,” boasted the priest, “had such miraculous powers that he held a brush in his hand on one bank of the river, his attendant held up a paper on the other bank, and the teacher wrote the holy name of Amida through the air. Can you do such a wonderful thing?”

Bankei replied lightly: “Perhaps your fox can perform that trick, but that is not the manner of Zen. My miracle is that when I feel hungry I eat, and when I feel thirsty I drink.”


Bankei was not impressed with the Shinshu priest’s story because, to Bankei a true miracle is Zen.  Bankei understands that when Zen is present one performs at their best and that is when a true miracle can happen.  Kayaking teaches one this by the way we mentally approach a certain play move, rapid, or river.  In Zen a kayaker can perform at his/her best by being totally focused on the task at hand.  On the other hand, if one focuses on an entire rapid he/she will loose focus and perform under their natural ability.  For example, Gorilla rapid on the Green River was one of the first true class five rapids I ran.  When I first starting running it I was extremely intimidated because all I could see was one huge, scary rapid with lots of potential for carnage.  With more kayaking experience I realized that Gorilla was like three, “smaller” rapids instead of one huge rapid.  Further down the line I started focusing on particular moves within these three smaller rapids.  Next, I learned to focus on each individual move within the rapid.  Once, I learned to be in the moment and focus on the present task at hand I started having more success in paddling Gorilla.  Not to say that it doesn’t still make me nervous but it is more manageable when taking a Zen approach.

What is Zen?  To me, Zen is a state of mind where the mind is relaxed yet focused.  Zen is living in the moment thinking about neither the past nor the future.  Because the mind is focused entirely on the present this allows one to perform above their natural ability.  Eastern culture calls this Zen as where western culture would say being in the Zone.

Anyone can find themselves in a Zen state or the Zone.  It could be a musician playing a hard piece of music, a machinist shaving off the last 1/1000 piece of metal off a part, a teacher giving a lecture, a Buddhist Monk meditating, or a kayaker paddling a rapid that is challenging his/her ability.  In speaking of kayaking, or other extreme sports there are three things that must be present to enter Zen or the Zone; a commitment, confidence, and control.

If you kayak long enough you will find yourself in company with someone who is like the Shinshu priest.  This person will be telling you of some miraculous trick they know of and will challenge you to do the same.  It may be paddling a certain river, a particular rapid, etc.  I have found that just because a certain someone can paddle a clean line through a rapid, it doesn’t always mean that I can.  Why is this important?  In kayaking and life it is important to be honest with yourself about your skills and what consequences you are comfortable with.  When you can honestly judge your own skill level you will find yourself with more control that leads to more confidence and this allows total commitment.  When you have control, confidence and commitment you will find Zen more often.

One can find Zen in anything they do.  For me kayaking has been a terrific gateway because kayaking is where I spend the majority of my time.  The Zen I find in kayaking has allowed me to find it more often in other aspects of life.  If you are interested in learning more about Zen I recommend three books.  The first one is, “The C Zone Peak Performance Under Pressure.”  The second is, “The Art and Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance.”  The third book is, “Chop Wood Carry Water.”

– Jason Aytes

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zen-bell1A new student approached the Zen master and asked how he should prepare himself for his training. “Think of me a bell,” the master explained. “Give me a soft tap, and you will get a tiny ping. Strike hard, and you’ll receive a loud, resounding peal.”


With any new sport/movement/activity, we tend to overexert ourselves because the movement and the timing of the movement seems so unnatural to us. Kayaking is no different.

When we start out kayaking, we are told, “When in doubt, paddle harder.”  This allows new paddlers to stay upright, get through rapids, etc, with a better chance of staying upright.  However, if one only learns to “paddle hard” through rapids, they will never create the relationship of “oneness” with the river.
To create the unity between the river and you, you must be able to use what the river is giving you.  Instead of focusing so much on just getting through a rapid, focus on HOW you are getting through the rapid.  Focus on where the water is accelerating, where the waves are crashing, where the river wants to push you.  Once you start “feeling” the river, you can then determine how your strokes, boat placement, timing and acceleration need to be adjusted to be successful.
We’ve all heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect”, and this is true.  Our movement with the water may not feel natural at first, you may feel like your paddling hard and nothing is working out – your boat is spinning, you hit a rock and flip – this is when you need to take a “time-out”.  Pull over in the river, take a few deep breathes, and say to yourself, “Relax, don’t fight what I am out here choosing to do . . . Just feel the water, and dance with it!”

By: Heather Herbeck

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