Facing Fear: The Courage to Swim Upstream

How does the journey of wild salmon reflect the path of living an authentic life?

The journey of the salmon is one of the most amazing phenomena in nature.  How is it that after years in the sea, they can locate the exact stream in which they were born and pursue their upstream return home?

The life of a salmon begins when its mother lays her eggs in a stream.  The first food of the young salmon is the special nutrient sack in the egg.   The young salmon spend about a year in the stream.  In the spring, thousands of salmon begin to migrate down the river to the ocean.

A genetic mechanism in the salmon causes a change in the make-up of their bodies enabling them to leave the fresh water and commit to live the next couple of years making their habitat the ocean.

After spending 2-4 years in the salt water they are mature and ready for the final and most difficult journey of their lives. This return requires them to travel upstream reversing the swim they made years earlier to reach the sea.

In the course of this journey they eat nothing, using energy stored while they were in the ocean. Finally, those who survive reach the river where they were born years earlier and lay their eggs.

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We All Have an Inner Compass Calling Us Back Home

Research indicates that salmon have a special sensory system that allows them to find their way in the ocean by sensing the earth’s magnetic field.

There comes a time when their inner compass calls them home to the fresh water and stream in which they were born.

This inner compass is no different than a human’s capacity to trust his/her own ‘knowing’ that often doesn’t make sense to the intellectual mind or even the heart.

Are we listening to the subtleties of our own inner compass and removing the barriers to receive the direction in which it is offering to guide us?

The salmon and human journey requires dedication, perseverance, reliance on an internal radar system and a deep hunger to do what they were born to do at whatever cost, even death.

Returning to our Authentic Selves – Meeting what we fear:

It reminds me of the path that we as humans take to return home to our authentic selves.  This journey back home can be lonely, scary, disorienting and full of ‘obstacles’.

Living and leading an authentic life requires staying focused even in the middle of the ferocious storms, perceived ‘predators’ and swimming against the conventional stream of people unconsciously and innocently racing away from home.

This journey requires a dedication to becoming intimate with the strategies of the mind, the messages from the body and the willingness to sit in the fire of intense emotions and reactions when they arise.

What seems straight forward, intellectually, can feel counter-intuitive and exhausting.  Doesn’t it sound easy to ‘become more intimate with our particular thoughts, beliefs and distracting behaviors that inhibit us from living with an open-heart and with a fierce trust in every moment and experience of our lives?’  Yet, doing so can feel like swimming upstream, jumping waterfalls and lying exhausted on the edge of the bank.

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There are some dangerous obstacles that often interrupt the salmon’s return home.  For example:

  • Pollution: Pollution affects water quality, and thus, affects salmon.

  • Predators: Salmon face ravenous predators like bald-headed eagles, sea lions, whales, sharks and bears.

  • Raging Currents: They swim against raging currents.  Often storms can bring too much rain, which leaves the salmon swimming against a ferocious current.

  • Sedimentation: Excess amounts of silt and other particles entering the water can smother salmon eggs and trap or block salmon.

  • Loss of Cover: Without cover, salmon have no protection or shade relief.  If stranded in shallow waters they can be at risk for parasites and infections.

Becoming Intimate with our Personal Obstacles

How do we cultivate enough presence to identify these ‘personal obstacles’ where we get caught in our own eddies?

What thoughts and beliefs pollute our view, become predators, raging currents or leave us exposed, smothered and trapped?

Living an authentic life engages us to track our immediate experiences and to notice the particular obstacles that impede our ability to abide in our peaceful and open-hearted presence.

As we continue to swim upstream can we learn not to overly identify with the obstacles as they arise?

Innate Tools

Salmon are equipped with some pretty impressive tools for their return home; they can, for example, smell a single drop of their home river in almost 2 million gallons of seawater.

One impressive tool is the fish’s ability to leap up waterfalls. They can jump up to 2 miles high to scale waterfalls.  Sometimes they doggedly pursue their journey for distances reaching close to 2,000 miles.

Tools that Guide us Upstream

What tools do we each find that supports us to stay afloat when the intensity of illusion and suffering seem to take up the space of the ocean inside of us?

The mind and its strategies were born to serve our desire to survive.  On that level we can appreciate its legacy, however, there comes a time when these strategies are outdated and require an honest examination of how relevant they are today.

It takes courage to challenge and bring awareness to their truth and relevancy in every moment.

When we decide to ask questions, challenge assumptions and begin to poke holes in the illusory ideas of who we have believed we were, we begin to swim back home to give birth to our true selves.

Wherever you find yourself in any given moment, I invite you to consider turning toward your immediate experience and to challenge the stories that arise so that you may fine tune your own unique navigation system that longs to bring you home.

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