Sep 14, 2022

Don't go chasing waterfalls

A lesson in paying attention

Recently I was caught in an unexpected flash flood and learned an extremely valuable lesson about paying attention.

Accompanied by a few friends, I set out deep into the woods of southern Indiana for some hiking and camping. I knew that rain was in the forecast, but not until well after our departure.

At camp, some of my friend’s apps said that rain was coming overnight. I didn’t believe it. My forecast looked good. We went to sleep and when we woke up it was perfectly dry. No rain had come. I told you guys!

I could hear thunder far off in the distance but I didn’t give it a second thought. I was sure that the forecast I read the previous night was still accurate.

Half-way through our hike out, there came a light breeze accompanied by a significant drop in temperature. This feels wonderful! Another missed sign.

It was only a few minutes later that I found myself in a sudden downpour. Within 30 seconds, I was completely soaked. Within two minutes, the trail was completely flooded.

So here I am, standing in a valley, on a trail that’s become a creek, watching the steep climb ahead of me transform into a waterfall.

By this time, my friends and I are all separated, hiking at our own paces. All the worst case scenarios begin to play out in my mind: Did I pass the trailhead already? Are my friends ok? What if one of us falls and bust their heads open? What if we get struck by lightning?

Then, for some reason, the 90s pop R&B classic Waterfalls came to mind. Don’t go chasing waterfalls. Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to. I steadied myself and pressed on. I made it to the trailhead and fortunately we all made it out safe!

It was an incredible lesson. And reflecting back, I understand why Waterfalls came to mind. The song is about the traps we run into in life, and not taking it for granted. While we may not be actively chasing waterfalls, we might find them around every turn if we aren’t paying attention. There are always signs, we just have to be willing to remain open and pay attention.

A flooded trail

We walk through life blissfully unaware. Caught off guard, we fall victim to fear, anger, anxiety, etc. and from an emotional place, we literally lose our ability to choose. Our familiar reactive patterns can leave us stuck in disorder, trudging through flooded paths and over hazardous waterfalls when there are alternative paths available.

Breaking those patterns and reclaiming our agency starts with awareness.

What signs are you taking for granted that might be a clue to some impending chaos? When you do find yourself there, do you fall into reactive patterns or can you ease into choicefulness?

An exercise:

  1. Think about a few times you were thrust into chaos, whether at work or otherwise.
  2. Write it out as a story, in full detail.
  3. What repeats? Re-read it and look for the patterns. Circle them.
  4. Reflect further. Ask yourself: What is the significance of these patterns? What’s my responsibility in this situation? Am I reacting out of emotion or allowing time to respond appropriately? How are these patterns showing up in my life today?
  5. Set an intention to pay attention. Watch as these patterns show up again. Set a recurring timer on your phone if it’s helpful. Commit to regular reflection so you can track your progress.

We have the power to create the life we want and grow out of habits that don’t serve us. It starts with a skillful awareness and endures with consistent effort.

I say the system’s got you victim to your own mind. Dreams are hopeless aspirations in hopes of coming true. Believe in yourself, the rest is up to me and you.
— Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes

A portrait of Jameal Ghaznawi

Jameal Ghaznawi

Hi, I’m Jameal and I'm on a mission to help people and organizations on their path toward mastery. As a teacher and certified coach I help people increase their awareness, tap into their innate wisdom, and find creative ways forward. Find yourself at a sticking point? Let's grow together.