If you feel stuck, bored or depressed for no apparent reason then maybe you need to change your perspective on life. The Hindu concept of the River of Life is one that I find both comforting and compelling. Come with me on a trip to the river …
Picture a beautiful river. The sun is shimmering on the water, dragonflies are kissing the surface, swallows are swooping and circling. Imagine yourself standing on the banks of the river. It is a wide and powerful river with rocks and rapids and you are on the green, verdant bank watching the water move past.
You notice that in some parts the river is still and the water is clear. In those places you can see dappled sunlight on the shingle of the river bed. You can also see where the river passes over rocks and logs as it crashes and gushes in foamy rapids.
The river is both fast and slow, deep and shallow but it’s always moving. Sometimes it flows with force and power and other times in a thin trickle. It never changes direction because it goes with the flow of the land it crosses.
So Where Do You Fit In The River Of Life?
Now ask yourself where you belong in this place. Do you want to jump in and go for a swim? To feel the cold energy of rapids against your skin before floating down to calmer pools? Or would you prefer to just sit and watch, staying dry and warm? Perhaps, the safety of the bank appeals to you more than the unpredictability of the water.
Maybe you are a bridge builder, eager to get to the other side and leave a legacy for others to tread the trail you have blazed? They might name that bridge after you! Or do you want to make a dam, stemming the flow and harnessing it’s power to sustain life beyond the river?
So, where do you fit into the story of the river? Think about this for a moment.
The answer is none of the above because you ARE the river.
You are the torrent of energy that flows through everything. The unstoppable life force that moves effortlessly through every fibre of existence. You’re not a separate entity or a bystander. You are the river.
When Have You Ever Seen A River Pause To Consider Its Direction?
The trees that line the river are also the river. So is the grass. So are the leaves that are carried on it, the animals that drink from it and the fish that swim in it. Nature knows it is all one entity and nothing is individual. That’s why it works in effortless harmony. It’s just us humans that have egos so giant that we believe ourselves to be above nature, always looking to control it.
Yes, you are an individual in that you are a human being with a life and a name and all the accoutrements that make you, you. But that’s just your life situation and your body is your physical casing.
You could lower a bucket into the river and draw it back saying that you had created something entirely new. But of course you’d be wrong. All you have done is stopped a fragment of the river, held it still and claimed that you now own it.
You are the water and your body is the bucket.
Okay, so I’m a river. Thanks!
You’re welcome. Now, let’s explore what this means in the harshness of this thing we call reality.
Your life will ebb and flow because everything changes: nothing stays the same. When you understand this you won’t be scared of boredom or getting stuck.
If you feel bored with life then maybe you have hit a moment of stillness. It will pass when it rains a bit and the river floods. Have you ever been sorry for wishing to be busy? When you look back on the quiet period from your new hectic perspective you long for the stillness again. The river of life swells and shrinks and so does life.
Clinging On To A False Sense Of Security
“A Woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing.
She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and only herself.”
— Maya Angelou
Maybe your dreams didn’t come true. You have been gripping onto a rock amid a torrent. Holding on while life gushed around you, threatening to drag you down. But you can’t be drowned by life, only by your own dogged determination to be ‘somebody’ or get somewhere you believed would elevate you.
If you would just let go of your prized rock you would find that life suddenly flows. You don’t drown, you float and you do so with ease. No, you are no longer able to claim that rock as yours but you will find other rocks all along the river.
As you leave the past behind, new pastures will catch your attention and you will find a different flow from the one you’d spent so long craving.
Let go of the job you stopped enjoying years ago but have stayed in for promotion and bonuses. Set yourself free from the expectations of your parents or your own internal judgments. Realise that seeking status is like swimming up stream to get a boat in order to float back down again. All rivers lead to the sea, after all.
“Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day.”
— A.A. Milne
Your Fear Is Not The Flotation Device It Promised To Be
If you have been sitting on the edge of the river bank, unwilling to enter it for fear of being carried away then you mistakenly saw yourself as weaker than the river. But you are strong and able because you are made of the very same life force as the river. You can easily slip into the water and once you find your flow you will regret having held onto your fear for so long.
What have you been clinging on to? Your thoughts? Addiction? Poor friendships? Your damaged past? We stay on the edge of life, clinging to these things because fear told us it would keep us safe. Insecurity told us we needed these things to be somebody. But in fact they are stopping you from being your best self and experiencing everything life has to offer.
Until You Let Go Of The Shore You Won’t Know How Beautifully You Swim!
I feel the sensation of ‘letting go’ most keenly when I meditate. It’s a feeling of surrendering to the abyss. My thoughts tell me, urgently that I need to stay moored at the waters edge: a worldly, organised perspective, firmly in charge. But my inner calm knows I have to let go and just be. I feel the same way when I do yoga and allow myself to go with that ‘flow’.
When I stopped drinking alcohol it was a type of surrender. A sort of letting go. As a drinker, my over-thinking mind was tired and unfulfilled and alcohol switched the river off for a bit. I had a magic stop valve. But when sober again the water rushed even more ferociously and I struggled to hold on.
Having no stop valve now means that I surrender to that constant flow of life and face the fears that kept me out of it (literally). Letting go of fear and expectation released me back into the water and I discovered that I am a good swimmer. Way better than I thought!
But Letting Go Sounds Like Giving Up
“If you are working on something that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.”
— Steve Jobs
When I wrote about flow and success I suggested that if you could do a job with no obvious reward or outcome then you had found your flow. That’s what it means to let the river of life carry you away.
Your desire to do should be greater than your desire to be seen doing. Your desire to love should be greater than your desire to be loved.
Effort and pain are like the river rapids, which crash and smash against the obstacles they encounter. It doesn’t mean the river shouldn’t go that way. It’s just how the land lies at that moment. The river goes where it flows.
In the height of summer the river may dry up and in the depths of winter it can freeze. Your life will be both stagnant and at times overwhelming but trying to avoid those bad feelings with alcohol, drugs or meaninglessness will keep you stuck.
“But you knew there would always be the spring, as you knew the river would flow again after it was frozen.”
— Ernest Hemingway (A Moveable Feast)
Yes! Allow Yourself To Be Carried Away
Following your instincts is the surest way to know if you are allowing the flow of life to take you where it will. When nothing is going right and you have a gut feeling that things will end badly, then maybe let go of your fixed position. Let go of your attachments and fears. The worst that can happen is you find a new part of the river. It’s all good. Only your ego is telling you otherwise.
Ask yourself what you’re attached to. What’s holding you back and keeping you stuck? Then look at ways to let go and let life take you. It’s waiting for you to jump in!
“Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”
— A.A. Milne