What the river says


. . . We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.
~ William Stafford, from “Ask Me

When I go out into a forest with awareness of my senses, I find myself being called by one of the Others who dwell there. A hawk may circle overhead. A spring wildflower may signal its curiosity. A stately poplar tree may entice me with its craggy bark. Whatever encounters I have will leave me with a sense of wonder, marveling at the intricacy of this tiny part of the animate world. At its unique perfection, a beauty that extends far beyond physical qualities. It is an invitation to the peace of belonging.

A marvelous thing happens when I compare what I have heard in wild places with what others hear. When we gather for Restorying retreats and send people out on the land, they return with movingly personal stories that are also messages to all of us, individually and collectively. It is not unlike working dreams with a few friends. Even though the dream may seem at first to be meant only for me, after some consideration its universal themes begin to emerge. There is the distinct feeling that the dream was sent through me to benefit others, as well as myself.

At a recent retreat, when a few people returned to our Council Circle with messages from a stream, I was amazed at how similar their experiences were to my first encounter with a different stream. Two of them had the same response when they asked the stream what is it like to have life-giving capacities. It’s what I do. My stream had also sung of its certainty of purpose:

I have no ambition. Those trees are not yearning to become typewriters. I do not desire to enter a PhD program. I am complete, whole, moving, timeless.

We are so used to thinking the world revolves around us, that it’s all here for our use and entertainment. It requires some effort and humility to sit in stillness and wait for a response, and then to set aside skepticism and trust what we hear. Certainly, these places have much wisdom for us, but they also extend a welcome. And it’s clear that they will go on being who they are and doing what they do, whether or not we pay attention. Whether or not we notice, make an offering, or express our wonder and gratitude. After even one encounter, it’s clear that we’ve always had this choice, and that choosing to engage is far more rewarding than blundering around in ignorance as we’ve done for the last few hundred (or thousand) years.

After my encounter with the stream in Wyoming, I had a clear sense that the slate is clean. There was no “Where have you been all this time? You don’t write, you don’t call. And what’s this about melting the polar ice caps, anyhow?” There was only absolute acceptance, an invitation to connect, to experience and immerse, not to stay on the banks and look on from a remove. It’s exactly what the people at the recent retreat felt as well. One man told this story of asking the stream, What’s it like to be water? and What do you want us to know?

It’s fun. I can go anywhere I want. You have taken so much. Now is the time to give back. We love it when you come and share stories.

When he then shared Langston Hughes’ poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” we all felt the hidden currents flowing from the land, eddying in his story of the stream encounter, and bubbling through Hughes’ lyrical voice. For me, hearing his story and the poem, the current emerged as joyful, awestruck weeping. Another woman reported this encounter:

Feel the stream between my toes
You are me and I am you
What a beauty you are
I am beautiful in each of my stages
I bloom beauty, just like you
Then I release, fully, beauty.

And another woman also asked What does it feel like to flow forth, to house and nourish life? When she stepped barefoot into the stream, she felt she was being shown something precious. As she stood listening, tears welled up from inside, stinging her eyes and flowing down her cheeks.

You know. It feels like this. You know because I am in you and you are in me. It feels like this. Like letting go. I let go and I flow forth. When I flow over the rocks my song grows louder. I break through the mountain, I flow to the Source, always to the Source. Always letting go. I house life because that’s what I do. I nourish and flow, cleanse and curve, purify and refresh because that’s what I do. That is what I do.

My song is your song. Go ahead, dive into my current and I will take you home.

There is a playfulness to my depth.
See the sun dancing on my surface? See the fish, how they tickle me.
Do not take me too seriously. Know that I am the Source. Know that I live inside you too and we will always be in harmony.

Take a moment and really feel that message. Do you feel a sense of relief? It’s easy to get caught up in the state of our world, and feel frustrated and hopeless about the Big Problems that we are not only unable to solve, but seem to be making worse. And yet we can always choose to turn from that overwhelm, attend to the living world around us and find peace. More than peace, we can find belonging, reciprocity and deep wisdom that leads to spontaneous gratitude and awe.

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