Monday, April 25, 2011

Flowing upstream

I spent this weekend in Hocking Hills, Ohio, a place that amazed me by its beauty the first time I went there, and continues to do so every time I return.

We've been having a lot of rain in the Midwest, so the streams have become rivers, and the trickles of water over the cliffs have become waterfalls.  I spent a lot of time watching the water down in the gorges.  Streams, rivers, waterfalls, rain, mist, clouds, and droplets everywhere...  So many forms of one thing!

I'd like to write here about one particular moment I experienced.  As I was standing, quietly contemplating the river, I suddenly noticed a small black object underwater, swimming upstream.  It looked like a jellyfish, but I knew it couldn't be that.  It wasn't a fish, fact, it wasn't even alive.  It was a leaf!  Now, how could a leaf be moving at such high speed upstream?  I marveled at it for awhile.

If our life is a river, which flows constantly in a certain direction, we seem to think there is only one way to go.  In a certain sense, that's true, of course.  For instance, in every moment we move closer to death, and everything in our lives is swept downstream in that direction.  And no matter what our specific goals are, if 'A' is where we are (upstream), and 'B' is where we want to go, it makes sense to aim our whole selves towards 'A' (downstream).  But what is happening under the surface, below our conscious awareness?

It could be that there is a very strong current flowing in the opposite direction, as well, for better or worse--or maybe it's just neutral, because that's the way life flows.  In any case, it can be very interesting and potentially helpful to pay attention to what's going on under the surface.

  • As you sit at your computer, do you notice gravity aiming you towards the earth? Do you notice your body tending in that direction?
  • Now, remember that your blood is flowing through your body at high speed, even in the direction away from the earth and towards your head.  There is an upwards flow in addition to the downwards flow.  See if you can pay attention to both (this is not the same as feeling; this is just about conscious awareness).
  • Next time you have a goal today, notice if part of you wants to go in the opposite direction.  As you get to work, is your whole self in agreement, or is part of you resisting your work?  Does the resistance make your work easier or more difficult?
  • Acknowledging every direction is a key towards accepting our general direction, and letting ourselves flow where life takes us.
There is no point in asking the river to flow in only one direction.  The river is what it is.  It flows downstream, and also upstream.  Sometimes fast, sometimes slow.  And sometimes it makes whirlpools that stay in one place.  Sometimes the water gets stuck in a corner.  But the river always flows, and even if we interfere by creating a dam, the water will eventually flow around it, over it, or through it, unless we make it so high and thick that the river dies and becomes something else: perhaps a stagnant reservoir...

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