“There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel 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, keep our eyes open and our heads above the water. And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.”
~ Oraibi, Arizona Hopi Nation
When considering how to navigate life, I look often – and often look first – to nature. She has been doing her thing since the beginning, and doing it quite well. Left to her own devices, nature finds her way, evolves, and expands. She has her rhythms and cycles, ebbs and flows, seasons and themes that all work well individually and together as a whole.
Though nature is perhaps the best teacher to reference when considering how to navigate our own lives, we have forgotten that her nature is our nature. We have veered away from the nature of things, and as a result we experience a sense of separation. When we separate ourselves in our minds from the nature of things, we lose our built-in points of reference. We get disoriented. We need to remember her secrets - that her nature is our nature - and emulate and apply that knowledge in our lives. We need to reconnect with the nature of things.
When I feel clumsy or lost, I remind myself that nature, including me, was created by a far wiser mind than mine. There is something – God, Spirit, Consciousness, Life Itself, call it what you will – in the cosmos that created and orchestrates nature, and did a good job at it. Getting all of the planets spinning just right and all spaced out so that they’re not bumping into each other, breathing life into matter - things like that are no small task. Nature might just know what It’s doing.
By looking to the Source, to the Creator of nature, we can remember how to navigate life organically, with less struggle and less suffering.
I remember distinctly a time that I found myself standing by a lake, in awe of the beauty of it. I was alone with the breeze, the water and the trees, and the breathtaking orchestration of life before me. Standing beside that lake, I had a realization. It was as if the lens of my perception zoomed out and I saw The Bigger Picture. I realized that I was not separate from the nature of things, was not just an observer of the beauty before me, but was included within the picture. I existed within that grand panorama. I realized that I was just as integral an ingredient in the whole of that picture as the trees and the wind and the mountains. I had a place within the Whole. I was not separate. I was viable and valuable and had purpose, even if I wasn’t sure what that purpose was, because everything in the picture had purpose. In that moment of realization, I also had hope, for I realized that maybe I did belong. Maybe there was a place for me, after all.
The River ~
The river is one of my favorite metaphors, the symbol of the great flow of Life Itself. The river begins at Source, and returns to Source, unerringly. This happens every single time, without exception. We are no different.
Within the river there are long, calm stretches, much like a summer season, that find their way easily and effortless across the landscape. In these calm stretches there are deep, placid pools, the river slowly finding its way. There are shallower stretches, without the depth, but they are no less river because they are shallow. They are just shallow, that’s all.
There are rapids, when the flow is turbulent, almost violent as it finds its way. Yet we don’t judge its turbulence. We marvel at its power, at its ability to find its way over, around and through whatever obstacles are in its way.
There are eddies, when some part of the river seems almost trapped, going round and round upon itself, off in a corner, going nowhere. Sediment and various and assorted flotsam accumulate in these eddies, creating a stagnant appearance. Things settle in these places, and often it feels like the flow of the river has gone wrong, taken a wrong turn. But given time, and knowing that the river always finds it way, eddy’s dissipate, and what was once going round and round is once again absorbed into the greater flow.
In the river one can only see as far back as the last bend, and as far ahead as the next bend. We cannot see beyond that. Nor do we need to. Ours is to navigate, as best we can, the stretch of river that we currently occupy. It is the only thing that we can do, the only thing that we need to do. We cannot go back, and what is ahead will present itself soon enough, in good time.
What we can do is be present. There is, truly, nothing else. We cannot go back and change anything. Behind us is not the same river that we navigated. The current has carried us beyond the last stretch, and it serves no real purpose for us to ruminate again and again about how we would have done it differently had we known what we do now. We did the best that we could, knowing what we knew at the time. We came through the other side, into this new, present stretch of river. We have another chance to navigate, perhaps in a slightly different way than we did yesterday. We cannot go back. But we can learn.
Nor can we go forward, around the next bend, into tomorrow, or next week, or next year. That is not where we are. We are where we are, and that is the only place that we can be. The river is already there, around the next bend. We can trust that, if we will. The river knows where it is going, even when we do not. We can trust the river, for it has and always will know where it is going. It is not required that we know all of the details about every stretch of the river. Indeed, were we to know, it would not be an adventure, and I wonder if there would be much point.
Perhaps M. Scott Peck puts it best, “An adventure is going into the unknown. If you know exactly where you are going, exactly how you will get there, and exactly what you will see along the way, it is not an adventure... If we know exactly where we're going, exactly how to get there, and exactly what we'll see along the way, we won't learn anything.”