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It Will Never Be Like You Think it Will Be

In 1960, a little 7 year old boy named Roger Woodward went over Niagara Falls wearing only a life jacket. If you are like me, you are probably thinking it must have been a horrible, painful experience which he could not have lived through. Surprisingly, you would be wrong on both counts.

Roger describes his experience of going over the falls as floating on a sea of mist. Roger was only 7, and didn’t understand what was happening to him, so he didn’t make the assumptions that most adults would have made in that situation. He surrendered to the experience and landed safely at the bottom of the falls where he was picked up by a passing ferry. It was only later, when he flew over the falls in a plane and actually saw the distance that he had fallen, that he became terrified. Did I mention that Roger did not know how to swim?

I was greatly taken by this story and feel it holds an important message for us. It brought to mind deceptively simple statements by the Buddhist monk, Pema Chodron, in her very helpful book: “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”. In that book she talks about how things will never be the way we think they will be. We will always have a concept of what challenges will be like, but they will be nothing like what we anticipate.

The message is not that all “Niagara Falls” experiences will be easy, and therefore we shouldn’t be concerned about them. Clearly, many of our most significant challenges are difficult and agonizing. However, Roger Woodward’s experience can encourage us to stay open to the possibility that the huge experiences in our lives will be different than we imagine.

I am reminded of Deepak Chopra recounting stories of some of the cancer patients he has worked with and how they often often tell him they are grateful for the experience. One man told him he would rather live six months with cancer than six years without it. He said it gave him so many gifts, taught him so much about life and improved his relationships so significantly that he was grateful to the disease. Now that is something most of us would not anticipate.

There is a kind of openness to life which softens all that comes near. Roger had that kind of openness because he was young and hadn’t as yet learned adult defenses. We, on the other hand, have the option of choosing that openness in the face of our challenges. I think it is an idea worth considering.

Hear the story of Roger Woodward’s experience with Niagara Falls:

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