The never-ceasing, magnetic force of the river has captured our attention since the dawn of time. The ancient Egyptians and Sumerians knew that their physical and spiritual survival depended upon the rivers by which they settled; their rivers- the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates- were hailed as gifts from God. For thousands of years, the Hindus have believed that the Ganges River is so sacred, it is worthy of embracing their burnt remains after death; to the Hindu, life begins and ends with the river. Visit an Ojibwe elder and he will tell you that sitting by a river, watching and listening to the water as it glides past, will heal you. In modern America, we can get so wrapped up in the every day busyness of our lives that we forget to pay attention to our rivers. But the rivers have lessons to teach us, if we are willing listen.
Lesson 1: Trust the Flow of Life
Have you ever seen river water stop in its tracks, turn around, and panic as it tries to flow upstream? Of course not. The water moves onward, without pause, without judgment, without fear. It moves in whatever direction the current takes it. It is unconcerned with its destination. Yet, it never ends up in the wrong place. Likewise, we travel on life's course, guided by forces we may not understand; yet, all the while, we worry about the future, feel anxious about what life holds for us, desire that things be different from how they are. The river teaches us that life is trustworthy, that whatever decisions we make, ultimately we must surrender some control and trust where life takes us. Like the river's current, life ebbs and flows in ways that we can neither control nor understand, yet, just like the water, we are always guided to the place we need to be.
Lesson 2: Nature is Fragile
The Earth's first rivers were clear, crisp, and clean. They offered pure drinking water for everyone, a safe oasis for fish and other water creatures, and fertile soil for agriculture. Over time, we became blind to the rivers. We no longer viewed them as sacred or as forces to be honored and tended to. And as we stopped respecting and appreciating the rivers, they became poisoned and murky. Instead of remembering that the rivers were beautiful, life-enhancing gifts, we started using them as dumping grounds for our waste, as places upon which to over-build. Rivers teach us how very fragile nature is at the hands of our abuse.
Lesson 3: All Things are Connected
River water does not begin and end with itself, just as an individual does not begin and end with him or herself. River water, like life, is part of a much larger cycle. Rain falls and the runoff contributes to streams and creeks, which contribute to rivers, which contribute to seas and oceans. But the cycle neither begins with rain nor ends with oceans. The rain originates in clouds, but the cloud droplets originate from evaporated liquid from Earth, and on and on. Likewise, deep ocean water circulates into shallow ocean water, which seeps into sea animals and vegetation, and on and on. Water has no beginning and no end; it is connected to all other forms of water, just as we are connected with all forms of life in some way. The river reminds us of the interconnectedness of all things.
Perhaps the great Italian genius, Leonardo da Vinci, summed it up best when he said," In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which is to come; so with present time".