Rivers are a dominant motif in my personal journey, so it’s no wonder I woke up Wednesday morning with them on my mind. In fact, of all my contemplations, rivers are probably my most frequent.
So what’s the big deal?
I wasn’t sure at first, until I stopped thinking about the purpose of these rising thoughts and simply let them happen. That’s often our first mistake throughout daily life: over-thinking situations and circumstances.
“Great, a flat tire. My whole day is screwed up now.”
“Why did uncle Joe die in that car wreck instead of that drunk? He was such a good person.”
“I’ve worked here 12 years and that newbie gets the promotion instead of me? It’s not fair…”
“Why won’t God let us have a baby we’d love and care for when all these cracked out mothers who don’t care have them all the time?“
Sound familiar? I’ve had plenty of chances to over-think my situation in the past year, and each time I did, it got me nowhere. And that’s what the subject of rivers taught me.
Think about rivers, take a look at a few photos–or better yet–go visit one. There are a few things most rivers have in common that speak volumes about our personal and/or spiritual lives.
1) Rivers do not strive to be. They simply are.
All over the world, rivers behave exactly the same without any coordination, will, or effort. Rivers are mighty, yet they do not try to be mighty. Rivers cut through miles of rock, yet their substance (water) is soft and patient. Rivers always seek the lowest topography, so while they nourish life itself, they are supremely humble.
In the Taoist scripture, the Tao Te Ching, it says:
“The highest good is like water.
Water easily benefits all things without struggle.
Yet it abides in places that men hate.
Therefore it is like the Tao.”
–Tao Te Ching, Chapter 8
Lesson: Stop trying to be who you are, and simply be. Stop trying to be who/what you aren’t and accept yourself. Do not struggle with life, flow with it.
2) Most rivers flow into a greater body of water.
The mighty Nile River in Africa flows north and spills into the Mediterranean Sea. The Amazon in Brazil pours into the Atlantic ocean. My local river and source of much of my inspiration, is but a large creek which later joins with a river that eventually flows into the Atlantic.
Rivers seek out their source without will or struggle and in most cases, find that source.
How is it that rivers do this perfectly without a mind or desire, and yet we often spend our entire lives missing the trip altogether? Many of our religious and philosophical writings describe a journey to the “Source” or becoming one with the divine. In the Bible, Jesus speaks of himself as the “true vine” and that the church are his branches. To go further, even Jesus’ journey is like a river that eventually flows toward the god whom he calls “Father.”
Lesson: Many of us recognize a source of our spirituality, yet we struggle to get there. What can you learn from the natural flow of a river that finds its source without even thinking? Stop thinking so much and simply flow!
3) Rivers are humble yet life-affirming.
Take a look at some of our greatest religious leaders and philosophers. What’s one thing most have in common.
As the Tao Te Ching showed us, rivers occupy the lowest space, but fulfill one of the highest goals: sustaining life. Rivers do not seek out life, but life travels for miles, starts wars over rivers.
Jesus was born a lowly peasant, yet billions have proclaimed him as God and king. Muhammad was a simple merchant who never wanted to be a prophet, and yet Islam rapidly spread throughout the world. Baha’u'llah spent most of his adult life in prison for his teachings, yet people flocked from all over to hear/read his words. Lord Krishna was nothing more than a humble chariot driver, yet revealed himself as the very life and scaffolding of the universe.
The list goes on. Like a river, these folks and many like them attract the hearts and minds of people simply because they humbled themselves and accepted who they were. Lord Krishna’s name is often translated as “the attractive one.” Emmanuel, the name the angel Gabriel gave to Jesus means “God with us.” These people, through humbly embracing their true reality, became like gravity.
We may not always see ourselves clearly at first. Father John, the pastor of my local Catholic church in his homily Wednesday described our personal journey as if we’d taken a old school Polaroid. It takes a while to develop, but with patience, over time you get a clear picture.
How can you become more like a river today? Will you thrash and struggle and try to over-think, over-define your life, or will you slip into the flow of who you naturally are?