Last week, I took a day off work to join my sister and a handful of kids to celebrate my nephew’s birthday at Schlitterbahn, an award-winning water park in New Braunfels, Texas. I hadn’t been to Schlitterbahn since I was a teenager, and I was excited to get to experience it again, especially with the kids’ enthusiasm and sense of wonder and adventure.
Most of the rides require you to be in an inner tube. Some are lazily slow-moving rides and others mimic mild rapids, with twists and turns and spins that elicit whoops and cries of glee. The rapids also create vortexes, little areas of whirlpools that cause you to stay in one place while you watch the other riders pass you by. I helped one boy in our party who kept slipping into these vortexes. “I’m stuck! I’m stuck!” he cried as I was coming by, and I would reach out with a hand to pull him along or bump him out with my inner tube. Sometimes, bumping him out would free him but put me in the stuck spot, and other times, I found the vortexes all on my own. It is a frustrating place to be, and given that you’re stuck in the tube with minimal access to your limbs to help you, it’s difficult to get out on your own.
The experience at the park was such an obvious metaphor for me; I couldn’t help but think of the vortexes and stuck places we experience in life outside the water park. When I found myself stuck and not moving forward, I could struggle and tense my muscles, kick off from the side or paddle with my arms, or…I could relax, and enjoy being in the water on a beautiful day, remembering that eventually, someone else would come along to bump me out and that the water would carry me down to the end of the ride where I would meet up with my friends again.
I’d like to say I took the Zen approach more often than the Workaholic approach, but my sore muscles the next day were an obvious sign that that wasn’t the case! However, when I noticed my frustration and sense of mild panic — accompanied by thoughts of, “Everyone’s ahead of me! I need to catch up! Ah, I’m stuck!” — and in noticing, I could take a breath and calm myself, deliberately focusing on something else — like the fact that I’m floating along at water park and not working! — I enjoyed myself so much more. It made the whole ride more pleasurable, and after all, isn’t that what it’s about? Enjoyment.
Back on dry land, I’m looking for the parallels between the water park vortexes and the parts of my life that seem stuck: relationships not working the way I’d like, projects stalling or failing, not being able to reach the next level of fitness I aspire to… I’ve been trying to push my way through these, and to be honest, it hasn’t worked so well. While accepting that where I am is where I’m supposed to be isn’t as pleasurable as realizing I’m floating in cool water on a warm day, it does take the self-imposed pressure off. And maybe, for now, that’s enough. I’m not going to be in this place of stuckness forever. I will continue to work towards my goals, and I know I’ll eventually get there. Acceptance isn’t about giving up, it’s a state of allowing. Because whether I struggle against it or not, where I am is where I am. It feels a lot better to accept it rather than fighting against it.