Freeing yourself from the keeper hole of conflict

a kayaking story about radical acceptance

Conflict is filled with resistance: Resistance to their wishes, resistance to their perspective, resistance to the anger we’re feeling, resistance to continuing, resistance to stopping, resistance, resistance, resistance. But the real way to free yourself from a conflict that’s keeping you stuck is not to resist, but to practice radical acceptance.

Here’s a story about radical acceptance: One day after a big storm, an expert kayaker named Walt went out in his kayak and found himself in much more dangerous water than he anticipated. Then the worst happened — Walt got stuck in a keeper hole, a type of deadly, circulating current that can suck down a kayak and paddler for good.

Walt tried desperately to fight his way back to the surface as he was sucked down into the keeper hole. Kicking himself free of his kayak, he tried again and again to keep himself at the surface, but each time he was sucked back beneath the water. He was going to drown in that hole.

Then Walt did something that seemed crazy. Fighting his way to the surface one last time, he took a gulp of air and then let the current pull him under. Down he went into the cold, dark depths of the keeper hole. A few seconds later, Walt felt himself pushed to the surface and emerged about 20 feet away from the keeper hole, free.

Psychologist Steve Flowers, relating the story of his friend Walt, says, “He saved his life by an act of radical acceptance — diving into what he feared the most.” He goes on: “It’s not that we can meditate fear, anxiety, or pain away; it’s that we can come into a different relationship with these inescapable aspects of the human condition and find new ways to respond to our fears, rather than react to them with aversion.”

What does it mean to practice radical acceptance of your conflict? What does it mean to stop resisting and allow yourself to be drawn into the keeper hole of your conflict? It means to stop resisting their point of view and to allow them to pull you alongside briefly, long enough that you can see it through their eyes, feel it through their heart. Resisting, after all, only draws you down under the surface.

It means to stop clawing your way out of the conflict because you hate conflict and to allow yourself to be part of something beautiful, the clashing of ideas, the dance of strong wills.

It means to stop resisting your anger and allow yourself to feel it fully, because your anger is trying to tell you something important. There is a difference, of course, between feeling your anger fully and using your anger as a weapon.

It is an act of courage, certainly, to allow yourself to be pulled down into the keeper hole of conflict instead of fighting it to the point of exhaustion. But in that single act, in that moment of deliberately releasing your resistance, you give yourself the chance to change your relationship with the conflict…and with your dance partner.

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