Stillness on the River

Written by Joe Hawley 

I woke up to the most soothing sound. I may have still been in the dreaming state or possibly somewhere in between. It was still dark out, the dim light from the rising sun was just beginning to slowly light up the canyon around me, revealing the beautiful red rock formations of the cliff face that shot up a few hundred feet above where I was sleeping. I heard the rushing of the water from the river I was sleeping just a few feet away from. My sleeping bag felt toasty warm and cozy as the chill of the open air kissed my face. I’d spent the night under the stars, in the middle of a beautiful canyon, in nothing but a sleeping bag. It was the first night I’d ever slept in the wilderness without a tent. And it was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. 



The sound I was waking to grew closer as my eyes slowly began to open. The stars from the night sky were still shining bright as dawn started painting shadows along the cliff face across the river. The sacred canyon I found myself in began coming alive. It felt like I was waking up into a dream rather than from one, into a magical landscape of natural beauty. The melody of the sound grew more distinct as I heard the soft footsteps on the path that split the sites of the campsites where the other members of our expedition slept. The sound that softly woke me from my slumber was a flute played by one of the musicians attending the experience with us. I thought to myself: “if only I could wake up to this magical sound everyday, what a gift!” 



It's hard to fully explain the feelings that accompanied that most majestic and unique wake up call. The words that come to heart are peace, presence and a profound gratitude. The type you feel so deep in your heart, it reverberates throughout your entire being and provides a clarity so familiar and clear, it can only be described as a remembering of a truth so inherent to who you are that you find it strange to think you could ever forget it. 

  The gift of remembering, it seems, is in the forgetting.  

It was the second day of a 4 day rafting expedition down the Green River through The Gates of Lador Canyon in Utah. I began to hear the ruffling of others waking from their slumber, wondering if their hearts were expanding as much as mine through this magical experience. 

The delicious smell of coffee caught my attention so I went to grab a cup before finishing packing up my campsite. I sat with my fresh cup of coffee on the edge of the river bank as the sun continued to brighten up the canyon around me, revealing the beauty of this untouched piece of mother nature that so few humans have laid eyes on. I felt a reverence for the sacredness of this land; the power of the river; and the graciousness of mother earth. There are few times in my life where I’ve experienced a sense of awe equal to this. 



It wasn’t just the beauty of this canyon that triggered these deep emotions of awe within me. I was also reflecting on the journey I’d been on to get to this point, where I felt confident enough to lead such an experience. To be clear, I wasn’t leading the actual expedition, that was done by an incredible group of highly trained wilderness rafting guides. I partnered with one of the best rafting companies in Utah called ADRIFT. How that came to be is a synchronicity I’ll share a condensed version of for the sake of brevity. 

In September 2020, I attended this same wilderness rafting expedition with my partner Sarah. She had been invited by some of her wilderness junky friends from Colorado. I’d never done anything like this. Not only had I never been white water rafting at this point, I’d never even done an overnight camping trip. But I was ready for the adventure into the unknown. Because I knew that’s where I felt most alive. 

While on this rafting expedition, I had a profound experience. Not only did I experience a level of presence that provided me with deep clarity of purpose and direction in my life which was something I’d been searching for after my retirement from the NFL. I was also blown away by how amazing this rafting company was at making the seemingly uncomfortable, treacherous experience of a multi-day wilderness rafting expedition so enjoyable, safe and exciting. At this point, I’d been to countless experiences in search of deeper healing. Things like plant medicine retreats, breathwork ceremonies, yoga festivals, men’s group work retreats, etc. and nothing provided me with the depth of clarity I experienced on this river. 



On the 3rd day of this life altering experience, once we made it to our camp for the day, one of the leaders of the expedition took us on a hike up to a secluded waterfall. While on this hike we got to chatting. I began sharing with him a vision that was coming through. I told him about my journey retiring from the NFL and how I was on a path of self-discovery and healing, looking for my purpose in life. I told him about the healing power of community and my intention to put all of my energy and gifts into curating community; to provide a wide variety of experiences for people to connect with the deeper parts of themselves; to bring self-discovery and healing to people in search of deeper meaning and purpose in their lives. I shared how impressed I was with the experience I was having on this river and how amazing ADRIFT was at facilitating such an adventure. We shared about the state of the world and how we (humanity) have become so disconnected from mother nature, each other and ourselves. I told him how I’d love to facilitate a retreat type experience out on this river and how profound I thought it could be. At this point, I’d never hosted a retreat or led anything of the sort. But I knew I was being called to share this river and this medicine with more people. I desired to create an intentional retreat type experience on this river in order to bring individuals closer to their own remembering. I knew how profound it could be; how profound it was for me.



As I continued to share this vision, I could feel this man’s energy light up. He shared his vision for a more beautiful world as well and how nature has been a massive part of his healing journey. It was one of those moments when souls connect, and the deeper purpose begins to reveal itself. This man’s name was Scotty and he happened to be one of the owners of this rafting company. He was so excited about our shared passion for the river and for bringing this medicine to more people that we decided to stay in touch. A few months later, after a couple more conversations, he decided to sell me one of the few permits he gets each year so that I could make this vision a reality. That’s when our collaboration began.


The Härt Collective hosted its first river rafting retreat last year in collaboration with ADRIFT and it was a huge success. Here are some of the experience shares from last years attendees: 

“The connection gained with myself, the earth, and every person on this trip is something I will cherish for the rest of my life. When I say the connection with every person on this trip, that includes the river guides, the production team, and The Härt Collective.”

“The (river rafting) retreat was a profound experience for me. One of the most beautiful moments I had was our silent float portion on the river. What came to me was this realization that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be, right here, right now, at this moment in time.” 

“The level of presence and inner silence was like nothing I’ve experienced before, being in such a beautiful environment with such amazing people!”

As we prepare for our second river rafting expedition, I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunity to experience this sacred river again. This year is proving to be an even more magical experience with the addition of two of my good friends and co-facilitators Melanie Joy and Robbie Ryan. 

Melanie is an incredible leader, speaker and author whose passion lies in sharing the principles and feminine aspects of leadership. She is a breathwork facilitator, yoga instructor, musician and will be bringing her sound bowls for special healing experiences out in the canyon. 

Robbie is a multi-instrumentalist, author, healer and true mystic with over 20+ years as a healing practitioner. He will be bringing a few of his favorite instruments to serenade us around the camp fire each night. This man is special and one of my favorite humans on the planet. He will be providing us with his unique gifts as a musician, poet and healer. 

As I reflect on the journey I’ve been on over the last couple years, it's hard to believe how much I’ve grown as a leader. The first time on this river I had a vision, one that felt unattainable at the time. I didn’t know how I’d make it happen or how it’d unfold. But I continued to trust. And now, over two years later, as we prepare for our second annual river rafting retreat, I’m blown away at how this experience has continued to attract the most incredible humans. How the universe is continuing to support the vision for healing, growth and connection through The Härt Collective. As I continue learning how to lead from the heart, our mission is to support others who are passionately pioneering the same. 

This is so much more than a healing retreat or river expedition, it’s an opportunity to co-create alongside other incredible heart-led leaders who are focused on building the foundation for a more beautiful world. We’ll be having facilitated discussion, workshops and campfire chats around what it means to be a heart-led leader. We’ll be exploring deep into the wilderness and even deeper into ourselves. If you are doing things differently and desire to lead yourself from the heart, this retreat will provide the transformational adventure you’ve been seeking. 

And maybe you’ll get a wake up call from the sound of a beautiful flute in the morning. 

Dates: September 2nd - 7th

Where: Fly into Vernal, Utah

What to expect:

- Everything is included (except air travel)

- No wilderness experience necessary

- All camping gear is provided

- Private Chef out on the River (the food is incredible)

- Shared discussions around fear, letting go, leadership & building a more beautiful world

- Sound healing and music

- Felt sense of community and belonging

*You will not be paddling, we will be using big expedition rafts, you just have to show up and enjoy the ride.

*Did I mention that I've never seen so many stars!  

Learn more about the retreat here: 

Watch the  "Stillness and Surrender" guided meditation to activate a felt sense of stillness as experienced on the river.


With love and gratitude,

Joe Hawley

Founder, The Härt Collective  


Just a heads up about a new series of conversations we will be offering:

The Stillness Surrender Series:

Heart-led Leadership Conversations

5 weeks. 5 conversations.

Join the FREE live event on Zoom, we'll be sharing some of the discussions and energy we'll be cultivating out on the river together. Stay connected on the Telegram group to join the conversation and get the links and details for the live calls.


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