Don't Push the River...
…it moves all by itself.
There is an obsession with doing in our culture. One that gets under the skin of most people, and demands that they occupy every waking second of their day doing something that may somehow someway someday lead to something. This way of living gets slapped with labels like “productivity,” “efficiency,” “determination,” “accomplishment,” the list goes on… If you’re not doing something you’re not justifying your existence.
Essentially, that’s what is communicated to us. It’s also what we communicate to ourselves on a regular basis. Well, at least it has been that way for me, my clients, and a lot of my friends and family. At some point we decided that life wasn’t so much about living as it is about doing, and having others see that we are doing. “If I am busy, then I’m worthwhile. I’m important.” So the subtle voice that underlies our incessant running around.
Do stop to actually witness what you are living? Do you take the time to look at the world around you? Smell the blooming trees and flowers of Spring? Feel the warmth of the Sun as it shines down on your face? Or are you always running ahead, trying to catch up to that future that seems to get away from you no matter how hard you work to chase it?
I had this conversation with two people this week. I have been struggling with this for some time, not realizing the absolute abundance in my life because I feel the whip across my back to be doing more, writing more, speaking more, helping more… In my conversations it was like the two people I was speaking with were telling me everything that was going on with me, down to the fine details. Except they were sharing about their lives. They were sharing the exhaustion and frustration of “never enough.” The feeling that there is some standard where their life should be that they are somehow falling short of.
Ceremony is a big part of my life. A week ago I was in a sweat lodge led by a friend of mine. I walked in carrying the many burdens that my heart and my head can conjure: some of them understandable (those of the heart), others blown out specters of expectations gone awry (those of the head). It was a heavy couple of weeks that led me there. In the sweat I was quickly laid low. Brought by the heat and the emotional weight to the ground. Kissing the Earth. And there I made an offering of all of the fears and frustrations that have repeatedly assailed me over the last few weeks.
Something in there snapped. In that timeless time that is the sacred space of the sweat, time stopped mattering. And with it, so went the incessant chatter of “you need to do more.” In waves of emotion it broke as I realized that everything that I have been pushing myself to do, to accomplish, to be is about the expectation I have of what I need to do to be seen, to be witnessed, to be welcomed as a worthy member of the human community. It is born of a fear that just being, breathing, loving, laughing is not enough. And it is a fear that is deeply embedded in all of us. Well, at least the vast majority.
But life is not about earning the right to live, and in more mature cultures, neither is community. It is about marveling in the fact that we are living, for this briefest of instants. It is about leaving something beautiful, nourishing, and nurturing behind for what follows when we are no longer here. It is about learning to be the essential spirit that we were born as, not the production machine that screams out to the world in desperation of not being witnessed. This spirit cannot grow and flourish in busy time. It needs space. It needs silence. It needs stillness. Essentially, it needs us to stop.
I have learned many things over the years of how spirit speaks to us. I have avidly sought that calling all of my life. But the irony of it is that in seeking there is the trap of doing.
“Don’t push the river, it moves all by itself.”
Someone once told me “Don’t push the river, it moves all by itself.”
It took me a while to sit with this. At first, I thought it was just some lazy baby boomer rich hippy crap. Then it started to sink in. Like all big truths, this one hit me by degrees.
Life is that river. It is flowing from origins you can’t begin to imagine, towards a future no one knows. It has you and me. It has all beings, places, and things. It is much older, bigger, wiser, and deeper than any philosophy, religion, personal development strategy or spiritual tradition can put into words. And in our way of seeing life we believe we are the ones shaping it.
This is at the heart of the displacement that so many people experience. It is a part of the misunderstanding of our inter-relatedness with all things. When we attempt to push the river we find ourselves in places of anxiety and self-judgment. We become critical of the life we are blessed with, and we stop acknowledging the blessings we receive daily for the illusions of what someone else has or what we "should" have.
My Offering for You Today
Just for today, I invite you to put down all of the expectations that you have taken upon yourself that bring you unnecessary fear, anxiety, and mistrust in the life you live. For a day, take stock in everything that is going well in your life, in all of the gifts that you have been given (starting with your first breath this morning). See that there is an abundance of everything you need in your life and that you are supported because you are alive. Remember, there is no obstacle or challenge that you have not survived. Otherwise, you wouldn't be reading this now. You will be challenged throughout life, it is an essential part of this blessing of living. However, your challenges don't need to be magnified by beating yourself up for not being somewhere other than where you are right this moment.
*Originally published as Inlak'ech Transpersonal Coaching