After returning home late Saturday night, which was truly early Sunday morning, from a short and beautiful river trip down the Salt River Canyon in Arizona, I am reminded of the beauty with which nature teaches us to be in the flow with something bigger than ourselves. River canyons in the southwestern part of the United States are spectacularly beautiful and awesomely isolated. For the most part they move through a wasteland of dry desert, where life is harsh and everything is fighting to stay alive. It is no surprise that in such an environment the creatures and foliage develop means of protection that mimic the harshness of their environment, water is scarce, safety is scarce, shade is scarce, every aspect of the character of the desert spurs its inhabitants into survival mode. The view of the desert from the bottom of some of the most beautiful canyons in the world is only accessible from the surface of the flotation device that is carrying you on the current of the river. Because the wilderness is so remote, it is pristine in its wild nature, and in the spring time life is busting through all over with bright green, yellow, orange, purple and red against the rose and sand colored canvas of the desert.
Running the river feels like a relatively new part of my life, though it started in the Salt River Canyon just over seven years ago. In the southwest of the United States it is something people grow up doing, I however did not. Truthfully, I was deathly afraid of drowning in fast moving water, I still am, though I no longer let the fear inhibit me from enjoying these extremely beautiful parts of the world around me. Meeting my now husband, opened so many doors of risk and wonder to me, that I continue to be humbled in gratitude for our relationship, it was he who introduced me to the view of the world from the surface of the rushing river.
My first river journey opened my awareness to the many ways nature can guide us through our journey of life. The river, in it's essence, is the current of the life force that sustains and nourishes all the life on the banks through which it flows. It is undiscriminating in its generosity, flowing through verdant green pastures as well as the dry harsh desert. It takes the path of least resistance, making its way downward to the greater pool of water from which it's cycle of life will begin again. I remember that trip, sitting on the bow of the boat, thinking of what it would be like to be a water molecule. Traveling through rivers, being held behind dams, moving toward the center of the earth, remaining locked below in underground aquifers, finding a crack in a rock, moving at a very slow pace, eons of time, out through the spring, back into the river, out to the ocean, trapped in a glacier and after melting finding its way into the belly of a fish, out the canal of a human, into the sewage of a city, evaporating eventually back into the atmosphere to be released by a cloud and make the treacherous journey back to earth, what an existence that would be! Like a water molecule we to, get into the flow of the current and move downstream, moving endlessly back to the source, from which to begin life again.
I am fortunate to have the gift of enjoying the ride down these long rivers. My husband generally does the work of guiding the boat, which is truly work and requires skill and awareness. He always says that the trick is not fighting the river, but rather to put yourself intelligently where she wants you to go, he always calls her a she, I like that. Luckily for me, and my fear of drowning, he is very competent and slightly conservative. In all these years I have only fallen out of his boat once, and he has not yet flipped with me on board. I am grateful. Flipping a boat full of gear is one of the scariest things I can imagine experiencing. If you are lucky enough to not be trapped by something in the boat, not get knocked in the head by any flying objects, and not get trapped under the boat, you more than likely still have a scary swim ahead of you in freezing cold water. If any or all of the previous things happen before your swim, the likelihood of survival in much slimmer. There is a real and present danger in the fun of running the river. Not all rivers have such dangerous challenges, however most of the really beautiful places do.
Like a spiritual practice, the river teaches us how to be in the flow of something greater than our self. The metaphor is an easy correlation to make; Using the best of our ability, knowing our skills and liabilities, being mindful of our surroundings, allowing ourselves to be in the flow of the current, to not fight it but rather intelligently place ourselves where she wants us to go. To acknowledge the eddy lines, where the flow of the river moves in different directions, and to sometimes pause and hang out there. The journey down the river allows us to know the courage of our hearts, the resilience of our bodies and spirits, and the grace of rest. Sometimes you loose people along the way, sometimes the storms are huge and seeing the beauty is challenged by the need to survive. The river reminds us how everything is connected, that it is always changing, and the best we can do is stay in the boat, stay in the current, stay aware and open. This is the essence of being spiritually connected to our "higher selves", knowing everything is connected and always changing, knowing that it is in our hearts that we can stay buoyant in the current of the powerful force of spirit which is greater than ourselves, allowing the awareness of our minds and their functions to stay connected to our hearts and open; these practices lead us to freedom and teach us to experience the beauty in our lives despite how it may appear.
There are many ways to connect to the part of ourselves that is bigger than the small minded nagging ego identity that can dominate the experience of how we appreciate the world we live in. May we all find our way, down a river, on a yoga mat, in a temple or mosque, in the arms of a beloved and anywhere else we may experience the spaciousness of the spirit of our hearts.
Always with Love,