The Guaranteed Formula For Having An Agonizingly Wretched Life

Holding on no matter is an inbuilt knee-jerk life skill programmed into us. While letting go of safety is terrifying - it can also be life giving. Here's a story of my time rafting in the rapids which taught me the wisdom of release.

“Paddle! F***ing paddle!”

I knew we were in trouble when I heard him curse.

Our otherwise pious Hindu Nepalese rafting guide, Daya, never cursed. During the five days we had been rafting down the Sun Kosi river in Nepal – he had been the epitome of propriety.

Now, we were facing a massive grade 5 rapid. 

Daya was cursing.

The next thing I know…I saw a massive wall of water approach us. It was higher than anything we had ever faced on this trip. The water was rising, rising, rising up in front of us. 

That’s all I remember. 

It crashed over the entire raft. Powerful, strong and chaotic.

Even though we had scouted this rapid for at least twenty minutes planning our path, something had gone wrong. Horribly wrong.


My entire body was under the water. I couldn’t breathe. 

When I finally emerged, I was surprised to see that I was still on the raft. In fact, there were two other people on the left side of the raft too. 

Everyone else had been wiped off. 

As we came to consciousness, we began to look around us. I noticed my oar had disappeared. The only thing in my hand was the life-line; a thick wet rope which snakes along the raft. My knuckles were white from holding on so tightly to that life line. 

The oncoming rapid was turbulent. The river was swollen and violent. Sitting on the raft, I could see the heads of our fellow travellers being tossed about in the waves. We tried to pull a few people onto the raft – but the water was too angry for that.

The only option was to steer our way to the end of this rapid – without paddles or balanced weight. It was tense and difficult. But we got there.


We started retrieving bodies from the water. 

Everyone was in a somewhat conscious state. 

I saw my sister being pulled up. Her eyes were closed. Her head rolled on her neck dangerously. 

I screamed, ‘That’s my SISTER! That’s my SISTER!’

When I stumbled over to her… she slowly came to. 

Eventually, we pulled up to a bank. We climbed the rocks up to a green mountain. There we waited for the rest. I wondered where my other sister was…? I was sure something terrible had happened. After all this was the Harakapur rapid. The terrifiying rapid of the Sun Kosi river on which several people had died over the years. 

We didn’t know that at the time – but it turns out my eldest sister and another friend had drifted to the other side of the bank where they were helping to flip the overturned cargo raft.


That night we shared our experiences of the terrifying day around the campfire.


Still shivering, even though we were in dry clothes, each person shared versions of their stories. A picture began to emerge.

Those on the right side of the raft were completely wiped off. Their bodies were taken off the relentlessly hungry rapid. They were all scattered to the left and the right.They didn’t have a hope. 


Being trapped under the raft

Then… Jenna spoke up. 

Our new friend was sitting on the right of the raft.

When she felt the huge wave come over her, she held on tight to the lifeline.

While everyone else had let go off the life line, she was still holding on. Her failure to release the lifeline meant her body was submerged under the weight of the raft. She tried to release the line and to come to the surface for air. 

But now, she was trapped. 

It felt like minutes although it was probably seconds. And finally she was able to surface. 

Jenna was terrified and traumatised by the experience. Even though we had a few days left of the trip, every time she saw a rapid, her body began to stiffen. Her breath became fast-paced and she begged us not to go through them.


The ones who let go were helpless… but they were free

My sisters, who sat on the same side as Jenna, told a different story.

They were thrown off the raft. The wall of water was far too furious for them to contend with. And so, they let go as soon as they could. 

Helpless, their bodies were thrown helter-skelter like rag dolls in the spin cycle of a washing machine. Violent, turbulent… but they were free.. They were able to breathe. With helmets and life jackets on, all they needed to do was go with the flow of the furious rapid. 

Eventually they made their way down.



I learned so much. And by now, you should know I am going to tell you what I learned.



It’s the luck of the drawer where you land up in the eye of a storm. 

It was sheer luck and coincidence that I happened to be sitting on the left side of the raft. In my position, all I had to do was hold tight, and never let go of that life-line. If I did just that, I was able to make it through.

On the other hand, the people on the right side of the raft – they were facing the brunt of the wave. The best thing for them to do was to let go. Even though they were thrown into the eye of the storm – they were able to breathe. Jenna, however, was still holding on. Even though she needed to let go. Part of it was fear I suppose or maybe part of it was just a default reaction. And Lord was she punished for it.

No preparation can ever determine when or how the raft may shift, the wind may blow and the rapid may swell. Your response is far more important.


Holding on to the lifeline is an inbuilt knee-jerk behaviour 

For me, that inbuilt bodily determination kicked in. Without even thinking, every single part of me just held on to that lifeline. There was a sense of deep fear that just kicked in and told me, hold on as tight as you can. The phrases: holding on for dear life and ‘life-line’ – made so much more sense to me after this day. 


AND holding on when you have to let go – is traumatizing. It can even be fatal.

If it so happens that the odds are stacked against you (through no fault of your own),  you better let go. If you insist on holding on when your side is tipped over, you run the risk of being trapped under the colossal weight of the raft. It will get too heavy or too powerful. And then you are neither at the surface nor on the raft. 

You’re deep under. The weight is far too overwhelming to overcome.


Letting go of ‘safety’ is terrifying. 

It takes a lot of courage to let go. Why should I leave the raft when the waters look so violent? What if I hit my head on a random rock lurking beneath the surface? The fear is real. And still, there are times when letting go is the only thing to do. While the swollen insanely terrifying waters are scary, it sure as hell beats being trapped under.


There are a ton of ways in which we hold on. 

Some of us hold on to our possessions.  

Others hold on to our jobs, relationships and friendships. And we need to hold on to these things because they are important. 

BUT… there comes these points in our lives when the things we are holding on to are as turbulent, powerful and disruptive as the Hakapur rapid. 

Sometimes they envelope you and throw you into the water. Sometimes they battle you but you manage to stay on. 

Do you need to let go of something? Check in with your heart? Do you need to let go of that job? House? Relationship? 


Trust yourself 

Ultimately, you are the only one who knows whether it is time to release or hold on. Trust yourself. Trust your instinct. 

And – if right now – your heart is whispering…in the tiniest of voices: Let go… trust your voice.

Remember, even the scariest rapid – is easier to go through than being trapped under the raft. Hold on as long as you need to and as long as it makes sense. And then, after that, please.


When the voice says

Let Go.

Let The Fuck Go.


Editorial village credit: Thanks to Fiona Proctor for revisions and input on this piece & to my sisters who have always accompanied me on ridiculous adventures even when it put their own lives at risk!


Eva writes about creativity, social justice, spirituality and feminism. She is a Pro-Justice storytelling coach who supports social justice conscious entrepreneurs, leaders & visionaries in speaking up after years of conforming and playing small.

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