Here is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift there are those who will be afraid, who will try to hold on to the shore. They are being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
The River is a fine metaphor for this thing we call life. It has been used as such by many, to describe many of the stages and events through life. I’ve even used it to describe how meditation changes your life. The quote above I found in a fabulous book called Perseverance by Margaret Wheatley, which is a collection of ideas and thoughts that help you to remain present with how life is. The full poem is at the bottom of this post, but for now I’m gonna share a few thoughts upon this wet metaphor!
A Philosopher’s thoughts
Heraclitus (530 – 470 BC), the philosopher said that life is like a river. The peaks and troughs, pits and swirls, are all are part of the ride. Heraclitus, where he here to advise you might say, “Go with the flow. Enjoy the ride, as wild as it may be.”
Heraclitus observed that nature is in a state of constant flux. ‘Cold things grow hot, the hot cools, the wet dries, the parched moistens’. Everything is constantly shifting, changing, and becoming something other to what it was before.
Heraclitus concluded that nature is change. Like a river, nature flows ever onwards. Like a life, the river flows ever onward.
However, the metaphor is taken further. The trickle that is the source of every river is related to the beginning of life. From there the river picks up speed, soon becoming a torrent of energy and change. Maybe a slower phase, maybe a meandering phase, maybe even an almost still phase where the pace is so slow you can imagine that the change has stopped.
In the current of life
Of all of these metaphors it is the current of the river, and life, that interests me. For if we return to the quote at the beginning of my post, it is the idea that it is the current of life that will tear you away from clinging to the bank that most resonates.
The current of life is beyond our control. We believe that we have control of our lives; we exercise free will, make choices and follow our heart. And then life takes you away. The current becomes irresistible. Just when you thought you had it all taped down and huge swell of powerful current changes your course.
At that point you cling to the rocks, or to a floating branch. Maybe you attempt to swim to the riverbank, cling on for a while, before being torn away. But all you have to do is keep your head above water, swim a little to avoid the major obstacles if possible and feel where the current is taking you.
With your head above the waterline you can see the terrain. You can see where you are headed, feel the current taking you and notice how you are. You are alive, you are travelling forwards. You are breathing and change is taking you downstream.
Calmer water will be reached. You may even reach some shallows and be able to stop, take stock of how far you have travelled and notice how you are now. Eventually you will reach the sea, we all do. Whilst you are travelling that way, keep your head above the water, you eyes on the journey and breathe. You are alive.
From the Elders of the Hopi Nation
Oraibi, Arizona, June 8, 2000
To My Fellow Swimmers:
Here is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are
those who will be afraid, who will try to hold on to the shore. They are
being torn apart and will suffer greatly.
Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the
shore, push off into the middle of the river and keep our heads above water.
And I say see who is there with you and celebrate. At this time in history,
we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves. For the moment
that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.
The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves. Banish the word
struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
For we are the ones we have been waiting for.
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