There are trips that show you the world, and there are trips that show you your heart. Sometimes you are just lucky enough to find a trip that journeys you to the best of both.
When I first heard about a white water rafting trip down the Grand Canyon with a kirtan (devotional chanting) musician, I was not grabbed.
I love adventures, but kirtan is not really my thing.
But it came up again in my Facebook feed a few months later, and while I don’t now remember why it seemed like a much better idea the second time I saw it, suddenly I had to go.
The trip turned out to be everything I hoped, everything I dreaded and so much more in between. Twenty-two participants, eight guides, seven paddle boats, a few instruments and varying personalities and expectations all melded into 16 days of joy, challenge and growth.
The canyon is like nothing I have ever seen.
The raw rock soars over our heads once we get in the canyon proper, and the sun bakes down on us in the relentless desert.
Blue sky, red rock, scatterings of green plants—this landscape might seem barren at first glance, but the plants and wildlife are adept at creating their own havens in the harshness.
Small lizards scamper everywhere, bags mysteriously develop mouse-sized holes overnight, great blue herons, ravens, horned sheep and even a few deer supervise our journey at different times.
The music is a surprise to me. Unlike everyone else, I was not a follower of either of the musicians—Kevin Carroll, kirtan master or Peia, singer extraordinaire. The simple chants and songs are a pleasure to join in, the more complex tunes divine to just immerse myself in.
With guitars, a harmonium, a violin and the voice of an angel, we spend two weeks floating, drifting, sometimes rushing though the vast, raw hug of the majestic rocks. The music ties us, lifts us, dreams us and connects us to the elements that dominate our days and nights. The crystal bowl sings through me as the flute tones a melody that echoes the wind.
This is spiritual music in the Grand Canyon.
I am journeying with an extraordinary group of people. Young and old from all over, we come together with open hearts and a willingness to see and be seen. It is not always easy. I am up when others are down; I need quiet just as mass frivolity breaks loose.
But we dance and flow with ourselves and each other; with the river, with life. We share our fears, we hold hands, we spend time bathing together in the river.
A group turns into a family.
Baking sun, full moon, hot winds, cool breezes, essential water, stinging rain, soaring earth and drifting sands. The angel and the violin dance with the canyon, like a magical tango in the cathedral of the earth. Each day brings magic, alchemy, transformation.
Again and again, the whirlpools of the river toss us sideways out of our beliefs—a half billion year gap in history between two touching layers of rock, a sudden rain shower in the desert heat, a waterfall peeking out of the raw cliffs, a level of resilience or courage we didn’t know we had.
We grow, we settle, we become more ourselves.
And just when I think I know what the canyon is, she becomes something new. New layers of rock, new colors, new shapes emerge at regular intervals. And this goes for many of us on this journey also. A discovery of a voice, a newfound joy in the rapids, climbing out of fear, letting go of inhibitions.
The river dances us, the wind sings us and the canyon holds us.
One day, it rains. On us, around us, and apparently far more heavily above us. We see small trickles on the riverside rocks, then thin waterfalls on the cliffs. Suddenly, a huge waterfall bursts over the horizon high above us. And another. And another. We are in exactly the right place at the right time to witness a rare and spectacular sight: the birth of huge waterfalls on the canyon cliffs. Some pound down in a massive column of water, others feather their way down in different directions to form a curtain of angel hair across the cliffs.
This adventure is at the mercy of the elements.
We are lucky to have mostly clear days, except for the one day the canyon gifts us not only with rain, but with that phenomenal magic of waterfalls being created. They are mostly gone as fast as they come; by the next morning, only a few trickles remain, but the memories of that particular day will never leave me.
The quiet of row boats, plus lazy days in the side canyons, using the soaring walls and trickling creeks to avoid the hot days, forces us out of our heads and into our true selves.
This is the slow canyon—the slow life—rolling with the rhythm of the sun and river. We reset ourselves back to the natural world, the real world.
This is a journey to the heart of the world and a journey to the world of the heart.
(Contact Kevin Carroll or visit his website for details of future trips!)
Author: Tui Anderson
Editor: Toby Israel
Photos: Author’s Own