Originally published in the Summer + Fall 2017 issue.
“Many men go fishing all of their lives without knowing that it is not fish they are after.”
-Henry David Thoreau
I’m standing in the Colorado River, watching my fishing line catching the swirls of the current, the fly bobbing across the water. The sunlight is beautiful. Its streams are golden and and dancing across the eddy lines in front of me, and I can feel it’s warmth against my skin, shielding me from the chill of the river. Above me, a hawk circles overhead, scouting for a meal.
“You missed it,” my husband shouts to me and points to my line. I catch a flash of silver in the water, moving away from me.
My husband shakes his head, smiles and keeps casting. My inner dialogue begins, “Dammit. Focus Jordan, it’s not that hard. Watch the line, stop being distracted. Okay, count your casts, look where you want the line to go, don’t hold your breath, watch the fly.” A torrent of thoughts and curses fill my mind as I struggle to find the ease and grace of my husband’s casts. “Try not to overthink it, just fish”, he said as he walked downstream.
My early days of fly fishing were painful. Impatience and a strain to conquer the skill dominated my experience as a beginner. My critical inner dialogue made growth challenging. There were days I wanted to never fish again. But something kept bringing me back to the river and urged me to continue trying. What I was seeking, without even knowing it, was a meditative state.
Meditation is the act of coming into the moment, without distractions or expectations. In this way, fly fishing requires the same skills as a seated meditation practice. They both require acceptance and willingness to try. The feeling of immense peace and clarity when you arrive in the present is the same in the river as it is in seated meditation.
Eckhart Tolle states, “When your attention moves in to the Now, there is an alertness. It is as if you were waking up from a dream, the dream of thoughts, the dream of past and future. Such clarity, such simplicity. No room for problem-making. Just this moment as it is.”
Those of us who have set out to master a meditative practice know it is not a straight forward journey. There are peaks and valleys, moments of clarity and breakthroughs and intense periods of struggle. But I have grown as a fly fisherwoman over the past decade. I have learned to let go. I have been able to glimpse moments of focus without forcing or anticipating it. And I have had many challenging days on the river of simply coming back to my breath. It has taught me more about myself than any other activity.
I have learned to let go.
Fly fishing has been my channel to discovering the Now. It’s a powerful experience to be present enough to sense when a fish is on the line. These moments are more meaningful than catching a fish. They connected me to the energy of the universe, reminding me of the power we each have within. Meditative moments, where we come into the present and experience connection to our truest selves are fleeting. But they do exist and are available to each one of us. All we need to do is try.