The Power of Powerlessness: Riding the Rapids of Life

group of people riding the rapids in a raft
Rafting over Rainie Falls on the Wild & Scenic Rogue River in SW Oregon. 
Photo: Jeffrey McEnroe, U.S. Department of the Interior (CC BY-SA 2.0) 

Narrated by Billy Joey, AI

Video version

There is a rapid on the Rogue River called Rainie Falls. There are three choices of routes. The main falls is a class five drop through very turbulent water. I have successfully run this rapid as a paddler in our daughter, Rami's, boat, with her at the oars in the back. However, the last two times I tried this, the powerful turbulence knocked me out of the raft. (You can watch the 2-minute video of this here: I have now made a wise choice to no longer push myself in this way.

There is a middle chute that I have also found rather difficult. And then there's the third choice, called the Fish Ladder, a narrow human-made diversion channel that bypasses the falls. It's referred to as the "easy" route. It is anything but easy. It requires skill to reach the top through a maze of boulders, and then set-up, aiming your boat down the channel.

Perhaps, with paddlers in the raft, there can be some control during this run. But, alas, I am usually alone in the back with oars so long that they are completely worthless in the narrow confines of the channel. Joyce, in her infinite wisdom, chooses to walk on the trail with the dogs around the whole messy business.

I have tried shipping the oars (putting them into the raft) and trying to control the boat with a paddle. This has never worked. Okay, maybe a little.

Accepting My Lack Of Control

What really works is for me to accept my powerlessness, my helplessness, that I really have very little control in this situation. I pray for Spirit to guide me safely through this rapid. I ask the angels for their loving protection. And then I trust, or try to trust. (I haven't perfected this yet.)

Do I hit rocks? Yes. Do I bounce off? Usually. Do I feel like a human pin-ball? Absolutely. Do I sometimes get stuck? Yes. Do I get unstuck? So far, yes. The whole thing is an exercise about trust, a clear situation where I'm not in control, where I have a chance to accept my powerlessness.

And when I finally pop out into the main river channel, get the oars back into the water, and head down to where Joyce and the dogs are waiting for me, I give thanks for this all-powerful spiritual presence. But I also take a good look at my whole life, and the truth that I (in terms of my little self, my ego) am simply not in control. It's my Higher Self, God, Spirit, Heavenly Mother and Father, that is in control.

The True Challenge

My true challenge in this life (and perhaps yours as well) is to embrace my human powerlessness, to not just pay lip service to this concept, but to accept it with all my heart. And like the title of this column, I want to find the power in my powerlessness. Because, when I really let go of being in control, I feel the most powerful. It's such a beautiful paradox. Even in the Rainie Falls Fish Ladder, there's an exhilaration when I finally let go and let the raft be guided by higher forces than my human hands.

To understand that all of life can be lived in this way is to live in serenity and joy. Only when we can accept our human powerlessness, can we know our spiritual power. Being in control is thoroughly over-rated!

It doesn't mean sit back and relax, and watch life go by. It's like the famous serenity prayer written by the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference."

Or one of my favorite Sufi quotes:

"Trust in Allah, but tether your camel."

When we wanted to publish our first book, The Shared Heart, we got rejected by every publisher. Then we came across this quote in a book about self-publishing: "There are those who make things happen; those who watch things happen; and those who wonder what happened." Even though we are not ultimately in control, we still must do our absolute best. That one quote empowered us to very successfully self-publish The Shared Heart.

Then there was the time when we were twenty-five that Joyce left me after I had an affair with her friend. I was asserting that I did not need love, and I certainly didn't need Joyce. At the time, I thought it was a sign of weakness to need love. Through my deep suffering of losing Joyce, I not only learned that I needed Joyce's love, but I learned that I needed God's love. And, to this day, as I feel my need for Joyce, for friends, for all of humanity, and for Spirit, I feel the most powerful.

Surrendering To Our Need

The greatest humility is to surrender to our need for this Higher Power. Do all that you can, but know when you are at your limit, then let go of control and pray to God and the Great Helpers to do the rest. Joyce and I sit together each morning for a time of meditation. After this time of silence, we hold each other to thank God, then we surrender our lives, our problems, our burdens, anything and everything that is weighing upon us, into the more capable hands of our Higher Selves, the Presence of God within and all around us. It's the most important part of our day, and the time when we actually feel the power of our powerlessness.

* Subtitles by InnerSelf
Copyright 2021 by Joyce and Barry Vissell.

Book by this Author(s)

Heartfullness: 52 Ways to Open to More Love
by Joyce and Barry Vissell.

book cover: Heartfullness: 52 Ways to Open to More Love by Joyce and Barry Vissell.Heartfulness means so much more than sentimentality or schmaltz. The heart chakra in yoga is the spiritual center of the body, with three chakras above and three below. It is the balance point between lower body and higher body, or between body and spirit. To dwell in your heart is therefore to be in balance, to integrate the lower three chakras with the higher three.

This book contains 52 writings and stories that all illustrate the many facets of heartfulness. That’s one per week. Our goal is to lead you into your heart. Our goal is to give you a feeling experience of the heart in its many dimensions. We could say each piece will make you feel good. And this may be true. But each will also challenge you to grow in spiritual awareness, for there is often a certain risk that must be taken before the heart can open. Sometimes we need to leave our comfort zone to really live from the heart.

Click here for more info and/or to order this book.  Also available as a Kindle edition

About the Author(s)

photo of: Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors, near Santa Cruz CAJoyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors, near Santa Cruz CA, who are passionate about conscious relationship and personal-spiritual growth. They are the authors of 9 books and a new free audio album of sacred songs and chants. Call 831-684-2130 for further information on counseling sessions by phone, on-line, or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops.

Join Barry and Joyce Vissell in their first in-person event in 16 months: Summer Couples Retreat, June 24-27, 2021.

Visit their website at for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.

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