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In The Words of Brene Brown: Courage is Contagious

Updated: May 3, 2023

Author: Leila Pellegrino

Let’s set the scene, on a gloomy day in May. I am walking into a rafting outfitter in Maine that is nestled up against the shore of the roaring Kennebec River. Through the doors I find a lodge that is old and poorly lit, but is a warm and welcoming refuge from the cold, damp weather outside. In the lodge I find a group of people just like me, a bit lost, a bit unsettled. They are from all different places, of different ages. What connects us is a similar feeling that we had, so to speak, taken the wrong turn at the fork. Some of us may have even been still standing at the fork, in search of a direction. But the biggest thing drawing us here is the itch to be a part of something bigger than just ourselves. We are here to learn a unique skill that will turn us from wanderers into family. We are here to complete a training which, upon guiding the right amount of river runs and passing the final exam, will award us our Registered Maine Whitewater Guide license.

As a new member of the Sherpa of Souls team, it seemed only fitting that I should share a little bit about where I come from, and my experiences as a guide for the past half decade. After finishing my training with that same group of people that I met at the lodge, I completely fell in love with rafting, with Maine’s rivers, and with the long lasting community I became a part of.

When I initially sat down to share a bit about this unique part of my life, I searched for ways that it illustrated our mission here at Sherpa of Souls. At first glance, I felt that my experience during the 10 day training was harsh, unforgiving, and leaning too far towards the “danger zone” that we are so often avoiding in the outdoors, when in search of healthy personal growth. As far as the SOS pillar of stepping away from stressors and prioritizing moments of mindfulness, my training was very much lacking. But in other ways, the 10 days I spent learning to guide rafts in the wilderness of the Kennebec River Gorge, is one of the best examples I have found of the community pillar of the SOS mission. It shows the power of shared experiences in the outdoors, and the ability that those experiences have to foster long term relationships that feed the soul.

Guide training was ultimately about reaching proficiency with the skills; memorizing the river and its features start to finish, mastering the paddle strokes that change the direction of your raft, and learning how to command your crew. But it was also about overcoming the challenges. We were challenged by the river, firstly; the 12 foot waves caused by insane spring flows, the 40 degree water, the currents that we battled as we swam long stretches of rapids. But we were also challenged by our trainers, who used boot-camp-like commands to put the pressure on. They were hard on us because they wanted us to be able to handle anything. They wanted to be able to trust us to save their lives on the river, just as they would save ours.

The training was not for everyone that showed up at the lodge that first day. In fact, a few people left after Day 1. But for some of us, as Brene Brown says in her book Dare To Lead, the “courage [was] contagious”. Those of us that stayed latched on to one another and bonded through our shared fear, and through our belief that we could lead each other through it.

I read Brown’s Dare To Lead in my first year of study for my Outdoor Leadership degree. It is still to this day one of my favorite reads and a great source for leadership advice. Looking back on my training, I wish I’d had Brown’s words at my side, when each obstacle seemed bigger and more challenging than the next. I wished I had been able to hear her voice in my head as yet another wave came at the boat with barreling force; “what stands in the way becomes the way”.

I would not have been able to overcome the challenges of training if not for the people I trained with. “The way” was through them, as much as it was through myself. The people I saw when I walked into the lodge that first day, I was not immediately sure were my people. But who are your people anyway? Why are we so quick to assume? These people knew me at my worst. They shared food with me to keep me strong. They helped me study at night to make sure I would pass the final exam. They shared shelter with me when my tent got wet from the rain.

And, later on, those people knew me at my best. They watched me pass training, start guiding, became a trip leader, and then eventually, become a trainer of new guides.

This type of relationship is unmatched. When you’ve been through something together. When the challenges of the natural world push you to transform, to grow, to lean on others, to lean on yourself. The relationships that began to form on day one at the lodge was how I personally healed, and how I journeyed to become my most authentic self. My healing happened when the challenges of the wilderness stood in the way and then became our way. It happened when we graduated from wanderers to family, and when I realized that that family would always be there.

In an obviously more restorative and less boot-campy way, my raft guide training is a great example of what we are trying to accomplish here at Sherpa of Souls. What we are offering is part mindful wilderness retreat, part avenue for continued long term relationships and healing fostered from memorable shared experiences in nature. From the wild world of whitewater rafting to the restful and transformative journey that can be fostered on one of our retreats, there is much that nature can offer us, and we hope to share all of that and more, with you.

Raft Guide Training Class of 2019

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1 Comment

Add to Leila's skills..a wonderful author! What a gem of a human being!

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