The River of Well-Being.
Updated: Mar 5, 2018
The river of well-being is framed by two grassy banks. The left back is CHAOS. The right bank is RIGIDITY. Life on the left bank can feel messy, disorganised and out of control. While there’s room to be creative and free spirited, there’s not much of a scaffold to anchor us in safety. Life on the right bank can feel a little dull and monotonous. Our world there is safe and predictable, but with all the rules and responsibilities, there’s little room for spontaneity, creativity or fun.
Of course we can’t reside on either bank and make progress down the river. One bank is defined by chaos, the other by rigidity. What we can learn to do is to tune in and use our feelings as guideposts to navigate our way forward between the banks.
In times when we find ourselves caught in the monotony of tedious routines and weighty responsibilities, we can tune in to feelings of boredom or entrapment to set our boat toward the other shore. In doing so, we invite, and make room for, moments of spontaneity, impulsiveness and joy.
In times when we find ourselves spiralling into chaos and losing our emotional balance, tuning in to feeling overwhelmed or unsteady can help us navigate towards the alternate bank. We can reconnect with the structure that offers the security that we need. We can make plans, construct to do lists, and ask for help.
We all follow our own path down the river. Our lives and experiences dictate the extent to which we travel to the left or right of the river centre. Sometimes, we'll need to hug one bank of the river more closely; we'll need the safety of a well-established routine to hold us safely (rigidity) or we'll need the reckless abandon of throwing our plans to the wind and letting go (chaos). At other times, we may find ourselves diverting from one bank to the other, in an exhausting serpentine.
Wellbeing resides in finding our comfort zone in the river and in being flexible and responsive to our feelings as guideposts. Our feelings become powerful, inbuilt navigation systems if we are willing to tune in. I first heard Dr Dan Siegel speak of the river of wellbeing in 2010 and it's been a guiding principle in my life since. The river metaphor, outlined in The Whole Brain Child (2011), helps me to pause, drop anchor, and identify where I am and what I need to restore my emotional balance. I'm encouraged to trust my intuition, to learn from my mistakes, and to attune to cues that I am losing my way. Quite often, these cues are experienced as emotional chaos or stifling rigidity. These cues are guideposts to show me the way back to safety.
As we learn to tune in, and connect with our feelings to identify our needs, we become more flexible, adaptive and responsive. We recognise that we can develop a tool kit to help us return to the centre of the river when we lose our way. One of the most effective of these tools is mindfulness of the breath. Mindfulness encourages us to pause and to tune in to what is happening in the present moment. Mindful breathing is supremely effective in calming our limbic system (our emotional brain) and engaging the higher cortical area of the brain that help us to consider alternatives and thoughtfully respond to challenges. If you would like to try some mindful breathing for yourself, there's a free Mindfulness of the Breath meditation, under resources/meditations. Try it for yourself and see if you can use the power of your breath to find where you are in the river.
Wishing you well x
Siegel, D. J., & Bryson, T. P. (2011). The whole brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child's developing mind, survive everyday parenting struggles, and help your family thrive. New York: Delacorte Press.