The symbol of the river has been used for centuries across cultures and traditions to remind us of the flowing, fluid nature of all that is existent in the cosmos. From ancient Chinese Daoist texts, to Buddhist parables, to Pharaonic rituals on the Nile; our deep, spiritual connection to water transcends time and place.
It is the flow of the river that brings life its changing currents and tides. Stagnant water loses its oxygen, its ability to support complex life. Similarly, in traditional Chinese medicine, it is felt that ailments of body, heart and mind occur because energy (chi) becomes stuck, stagnant, or unable to flow. The unfolding of life, of the whole cosmos, is dependent upon constant change from one state of matter to the next.
For many of us, our tendency in life however is to try to hold on to the things that are pleasant. To try and put an artificial hermetic seal around experiences, relationships, and circumstances. To keep the good stuff in and the bad stuff out. But this is contrary to nature and contrary to a deeper understanding of reality that may be arrived at through our meditation practice.
Whatever our point of contact in practice is; breath, sensation, thought, feeling – all of it is in constant flow and flux. Through curiosity and lightness, our embodied sense of this flow increases with our practice. Slowly, and not all at once, we can begin to resist the flow less, and to find ease in the currents of life, even when circumstances may not be to our preference or liking.
In the stillness of our practice, the whole experiential universe is found to be alive, shimmering, dancing. Like sunrise reflecting and rippling across the great vast surfaces of rivers connecting to an infinite ocean.
We Are a River
Our life has not been an ascent
up one side of a mountain and down the other.
We did not reach a peak,
only to decline and die.
We have been as drops of water,
born in the ocean and sprinkled on the earth
in a gentle rain.
We became a spring,
and then a stream,
and finally a river flowing deeper and stronger,
nourishing all it touches
as it nears its home once again.
Don’t accept the modern myths of aging.
You are not declining.
You are not fading away into uselessness.
You are a sage,
a river at its deepest
and most nourishing.
Sit by a river bank some time
and watch attentively as the river
tells you of your life.
– The Sage’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for the Second Half of Life, William Martin’s free-verse interpretation of the classic work by Lao Tzu
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