Somewhere in a remote region of the Southwestern United States, a park ranger was seated in his high tower. It overlooked the deep canyons and ravines that ran through the national park where he’d worked for the past twenty years. Looking out over the terrain through his binoculars, he could see a thunderstorm gathering in the west and knew it was only a matter of minutes until a flash flood would come crashing through the canyons below.
Turning his extended gaze back to the east, something caught his eye. Less than a mile away he could see a young woman with a backpack just as she walked into one of the park’s more well-known ravines, called “No Way Out.” It was one of the most beautiful areas in the entire park because over the centuries innumerable flash floods had carved its sandstone walls into colored waves of red and yellow, as if the undulations of an ocean had been stopped in time.
A moment later, his mind put together the events happening at the opposite ends of the canyon. His heart began to race; there was no way this young woman could see the thunderstorm activity over the horizon just above her, let alone know that its storm waters were already pouring themselves into the other end of the narrow ravine she was exploring. He had seen countless such flash floods and witnessed their fury as they gathered everything in their way: boulders, brush, anything and everything — including any unfortunate creature caught in their raging waters. He knew she was doomed; it was clear the flash flood would likely reach her before he could possibly warn her of the danger. Nevertheless, he leapt to his feet, took the pole down to the tower floor, and jumped into his Jeep.
Less than three minutes later he pulled up to a spot on an open edge of the ravine where he knew he’d be able to see the woman below and hopefully shout out an alarm. He reasoned that if she had even a moment’s warning, perhaps she might reach a ledge in the canyon and save herself that way. But, too late: he heard the waters coming even as he saw the woman round the blind corner and come face to face with their approach. He yelled, but the roar of the flood drowned out his voice even as he awaited the same fate for her.
The dark, debris-filled floodwaters were less than thirty yards away from the woman when she finally realized her situation. He could see the shock on her face, and he could imagine the terror she must be feeling. But instead of panicking and running, as he expected she might do, she seemed to go through some kind of shift. The next moment, as the raging waters closed within ten feet or so of where she stood, he could see she was saying something, talking to herself–perhaps a last prayer, he imagined.
He closed his eyes involuntarily, in part strengthening her prayer and partly because he didn’t want to see what he knew was coming. When he looked again, the six-foot-high floodwaters had just reached her feet. Then came the inexplicable: instead of carrying her off with them, the surging waters parted before her. And as he continued to watch, she stood there perfectly still, just looking from side to side as if she was studying all the debris racing by.
“What on earth!” he thought out loud. Two minutes later, it was over. The waters had passed — only a trickle remained — and she was still standing there, bone dry. He shouted at the top of his lungs, “Wait right there! I’m coming to you!” Jumping in his Jeep, he reached her five minutes later.
“Please, by all that’s holy, tell me what I just witnessed. Are you a magician of some kind? By all accounts, you should be dead. How are you still standing here?”
She smiled back at him. “Oh no, nothing like that,” she said.
“Then what — what were you saying?” he fired back, a little surprised at his own agitated state. Quieting himself, he rephrased his question. “I could see you say something just before the floodwaters reached you. Was it a prayer of some sort? If so, please share it with me.”
She paused, choosing her words carefully. “I suppose it is a sort of prayer. And I’m glad to share it with you if that’s your wish.”
“Oh yes,” he said. “Please tell me.”
“Well, when I came around the bend and saw the dark waters rushing towards me, I realized I had fallen asleep to my surroundings; there was no question I’d put myself in harm’s way. So, after regaining my attention, I did the one thing that I knew was in my power to do.”
The ranger could barely contain himself. Half sputtering his next words, he said, “Sure, sure….okay… but what did you say that caused the waters to part at your feet, leaving you there, safe and sound?”
She smiled. “All I said was you go on without me.”
Key Lesson: Every flood begins with a single raindrop; the small streams they create become careening waters whose combined might washes away whatever stands in its path. All dark, destructive interior states begin with a single moment of unconsciously identifying with a negative reaction that soon turns into a torrent of tormenting thoughts and feelings. Your willingness to choose watchfulness over resistance to these surging states is the same as allowing them to pass by, leaving you safe and dry.