Experience, or time, is a one-way flow. It’s like standing in a fast-flowing river. Some have their eyes fixed upstream, keeping an eye out for danger and misery. Others stare longingly downstream, remembering that warm water of yesteryear. Some try to grab the water and hold on to something shiny that floats by. Others shout and spread their arms to stop the flow. Some even cry out to God for the water to be more to their liking – or perhaps for it to be diverted altogether. And it’s all futile. For the water just flows. And flows, and flows, and flows past. All according to its own rhythm and its own nature. It comes out of nowhere and returns to nowhere.
And while we’re busy thinking about the gentle stream of summer, a log smashes into our leg without warning, bruising us although we did nothing to deserve it. Autumn turns to winter, and the freezing water makes the skin numb, and, God, do we hate the river for that. A sharp rock makes our foot bleed and we cry out in despair at the injustice. We remember the tree that was blown over during a storm and came crashing down the river making a mess of everything. It was 60 years ago, but a broken branch floating by will make that memory come alive as if it was the whole tree itself, evoking all that stored pain as our senses touch it.
Some brace themselves against the surge, becoming rigid and hard through a lifetime of pushing against that wall of water, not even noticing when thaw turns to trickle. Others have long ago curled into a ball, just waiting for it all to pass and for the current to finally carry them into oblivion. Some find tools to shield themselves from the worst the river can bring, spending their time as sentinels of risk, hardly aware of anything but impending danger. Others are so laden with the changes in the weather that their backs curve and their shoulders slump, defeated and beaten.
And as the river flows, our minds wander to a different river, to tales of ease and relief, to fantasies of a better way. We spin stories of a time when all was good, of a past where the sun was shining and the water was just so, when none of this had happened. When ice forms around our legs we prefer to raise our eyes to the sky to appreciate the deep blue rather than the burning sensation in the body. We’ve learned to push all that away and turn attention elsewhere, to focus on the screen in the mind rather than the lessons of the water.
Yet some have learned the hard way that all the bruising and beating came about as a result of looking to the sky rather than to the flow, and finally they begin to find their balance. Others have straightened up and learned to move with the current, giving up their resistance to become mellow and flexible. Some have let the wear and tear all the way into their experience, and as the pain is felt completely their numbness is carried away by the running water to reveal the splendor that they truly find themselves in. And some have even learnt how to to dance in this river – knowing there is no stopping the water anyway – becoming like children again to splash around, carefree of anything that might be upstream.
We hold on to so much of what the river has carried away, never to be seen again other than in patchy memories on the inner screen. We disappear into reveries about what the river might bring tomorrow or decades from now, forgetting that we are standing in something we have no control over, something that cannot be manipulated beyond the reach of our arms. We forget to turn our attention to the wonder and ever-newness of this existence, to the wild and shifting nature of experience and life.
Only by letting go, letting go, letting go, does the river run its natural course, caressing and bruising, warming and chilling, whispering and roaring. And only then do we learn that it couldn’t be any other way. And we let go. We come alive. The river comes fully alive.
Some let go so completely that they know nothing but the river. Disappearing as there is nothing to move, no one to be moved.
Only the river. Only the river. Only the River…