The River

Most of modern society has been hypnotized into thinking that this life is a very real, serious and important thing. We have been taught that playing is unacceptable. We must all be very serious as the consequences for not are dire. For a “real” adult does not play. They take care of things with a grave sense of urgency and attention. This will ensure not a single mistake is to be made.

This is the human psyche getting out of focus. If we take a step back, we realize that our existence is a mere blip on the timeline of this planet, or really any cosmic body. Their lifetimes are on the order of billions of years. Our lifespan is a century at best. In the end, we all die. Not in the least bit of a morbid sense. We will simply stop existing. It is when we fixate on moments, or time periods of our lives that we become caught up in the illusion of how important we are.

“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.” - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

As we move through life, we are taught that we are individuals. This individual has a great sense of importance. We come to believe that this individual is like a billiard ball and life bounces it around with the experiences that it “throws at us”. As Alan Watts often says, we believe in a universe that is fully automatic. We like to think it is happening without any influence by us. We want to believe that we are external to these events. We are under the assumption that the universe simply goes. We assume that it is something that happens to us.

When we believe that the universe is fully automatic, we believe in determinism, and fall into the viewpoint of fatalism. If we are not careful, this turns into nihilism. We create here a false separation. If we cannot agree on a big bang, we can surely agree that time is going forward in one direction. We can then begin to see that everything since the beginning of time, whatever that may be, is all part of the same event. We are all part of the same event that had dinosaurs wandering the earth. There is no way that these are distinctly separate. Time is a continuous phenomena.

We really want to believe that there is some sort of external actor, or agent who is responsible for all of this. We want to assign the blame to someone beside ourselves. It would be an extreme viewpoint to believe that in some large way we are responsible for the experience that we are having. This implies that we have a very large responsibility and generally, no one in this modern day wants such a thing.

What we must realize is that we as humans are not external to anything. We are just as much the result of the “big bang”, or whatever started this process, as anything in the universe. Life is largely a series of causes and effects. The way most people perceive this is as some cause and effect that happens to me. We all too quickly forget that like in a river, we are part of the flow.

There is no one piece of water that we can call a river when it is by itself. The river has many causes, and many effects that make it up, that define it. If you capture some water, it is no longer a river. If you isolate a human, they become much different. They do not have social inputs which are a set of causes and effects. They do not have certain surroundings which are another set of causes and effects.

“Nature is really formless, in the sense that it is one form. Naming a cloud a cloud does not separate the cloud from the sky. Just as when you pick up water into a sieve, you don’t succeed in separating the water into strips.” - Alan Watts

Humans do however have complex things called feelings or emotions. If we are attached to and identified with those feelings, then life can be a roller-coaster. We can learn some lessons from the river here. There is no one piece of water feeling bad, upset or duped by other parts of the river. There is no one piece of water angry at a rock for being hard, or a piece of sand for being soft. These properties of external objects not only affect the water, they are necessary to define it as a river. The river takes the lesson, adjusts and flows in a way that allows it to keep going no matter the circumstance.

Let’s cast some common human discontents in terms of a river. There are no pieces of water in a river that are upset because other water is ahead of them. There is no place in the river that is deemed better or worse. There are no pieces of water that look better than the other. There are no pieces of water that are trying to out do the other. There are no pieces of water that are trying to be righteous in any sense. There are no pieces of water that are seeking any sort of truth. The water does not need any of this. It simply flows with the way of things. It flows by way of it’s surroundings. It simply and wholly takes on any part of it’s surroundings in order to define what it is. It rejects nothing and accepts all things.

Life is a flow. It is not a thing, it is a process. A flow, much like a river. The level rises and falls. The water flows over rocks and passes by without holding on. Each second the river is different water, yet it looks very similar. Each piece of water is part of a larger flow. There is not one piece that exists without the other. If you try to capture the river by putting some water into a cup, you fail. That water is now no longer the experience we call river. It becomes docile, and stagnant.

We as humans have been endowed with a thing called consciousness. We are not positive if other beings or things have this consciousness as well. We know that we as humans can become aware of being aware. We are able to realize that we are thinking. We are able to watch our thoughts and not be attached to them. This is our unique gift. We can observe this process that we call life. It is when we pay attention to this awareness and bring mindfulness to it, that we can become more like the river. The less attachment we have, the easier it is for us to flow with this river of events that we call life.

“The world belongs to those who let go.” - Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

We exist within this process of life. Like the flowing water of a river, we as humans change with each and every experience. We are not who we were minutes or seconds prior. We become different based on our surroundings and past experiences. This is much like water flowing over different rocks. The water looks different as it flows over larger or smaller rocks, yet it is the same water. In a truly peaceful life, we can try to become more like water. Flowing over rocks, or tough spots in life and yet not resisting the experience, or being attached to an outcome that is different than the one that we are experiencing.

Pete WilletteComment