Searching for Clarity in the Muddy Waters of our Lives

This past summer (June/July 2019) Chauna and I had the opportunity to spend a bit of time in the Canyonlands of southern Utah and northern Arizona.  As we worked our way to Arches National Park, we found ourselves spending the night along the great Colorado River as we stayed the night in Moab.  The river was very high for late June, the locals were excited as the year before river tours had basically ended that same weekend.


I like my river, lake and ocean water clear, the Colorado that day was anything but clear. The river water, brown and silt-laden, flowed quite rapidly past us as we boarded a riverboat for a sunset – early evening cruise up the canyon.  Earlier that day we’d driven up the canyon and observed more than a few people floating downstream, they certainly didn’t seem disturbed or distracted by what I saw as dirty water.


Two days later and some 270mi/439km later we pulled into Page Arizona, the southern-most tip of Lake Powell a man-made lake filled by that very same Colorado river.  I’m not sure I can describe just how clear the water was in that lake, the colour, temperature, the entire experience was beautiful.  It’s obvious of course but it was essentially the same water.  I can’t tell you how long it takes the water to travel from Moab to Page, or how long it takes for a specific cup of that water to make its way through the dam at Page and continue on through the Grand Canyon to Lake Mead.


It is not rocket science, it’s pretty elementary stuff really, given time to settle, to calm down, if I’d scooped a bucket of water out of the Colorado River in Moab and let it sit, I’d eventually see the water for what it is, separated from the noise, silt and particles that clouded my view as it rushed by. Ryan Holiday (2019), in Stillness is the Key, wrote of this when he suggested, “The world is like muddy water. To see through it, we have to let things settle. We can’t be disturbed by initial appearances, and if we are patient and still, the truth will be revealed to us” (p. 47)

In our lives, well at least in my life, there are times where the flow of the day, the conversations with others their messages and directions leave you thinking you cannot see clearly.  It’s easy to say they are the problem but really folks do what they do.  It can be a boss, an organization you work with or for, your players, coaches, parents, teachers, students their actions and choices present a less than clear path in the moment.  They muddy the water in the relationship and in the work.  They may even be demanding an “immediate” decision or action on your part.

In the rush and pressure of the world, there’s no doubt that some decisions must be made in the immediate, but not most.  There is so much that some suggest has an urgency when really a bit of time for the dust to settle, adjust the pace, expand the depth of understanding for all involved and you’re likely to arrive at a much better position.  I’d say a better position for all but really sometimes folks seeking a decision for their own advantage will resist the push back that invites greater clarity. Push back just the same.  Legendary basketball coach John Wooden was fond of the adage, “Be quick, but don’t hurry”.  I suspect coach Wooden liked to be able to see clearly and had prepared to the point that even when others thought they saw chaos he saw structure.

As with the Colorado river – Lake Powell experience search for ways to slow down.  Seek a level of stillness that actually comes from depth of understanding.  Sure, it can be fun in the roiling river with category 5 or 6 rapids at times, but not for long, and not without some serious expertise.  Lake Powell has a maximum depth of 170m, over 500 feet, that depth contributes to the clarity of the water.  If you don’t have the depth of understanding to decide or take action, slow it down and dig for depth.


One last point to ponder, all this moving water rushing, rising, settling works with everything it encounters to create the landscape in which it resides.  Antelope Canyon, just outside of Page, is created by all that interaction with water and wind.  As you push back on those pressing for decisions when your head is above water with a straw in murky water, remember that all this is part of the journey, everything is contributing to the final product that is you for that day, week, year and ultimately life.  Embrace the flow.


Holiday, R. (2019). Stillness is the key. New York, NY: Penguin Publishing Group.

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