Lessons from the Deschutes on flow and connectivity
I’ve been reflecting on a passage from the book Siddhartha, by Hermann Hess. Siddhartha tells his ferryman how gorgeous the river is which the ferryman runs each day. “Yes,” says the ferryman, “a very beautiful river. I love it above all other things. I have often listened to it, I have often looked into its eyes, and I have always learned from it. You can learn a lot from a river.”
With this suggestion, I have begun to re-examine my time spent with rivers….
I was recently inspired to write this sermon while floating through town on a paddle board. After lugging the 32 lb board 5 blocks to the Deschutes River (from my house), leaving the shore, and following the current downstream from McKay Park to Mirror Pond, a few questions began to percolate through my mind.
The first was, am I crazy to have purchased a paddle board despite the fact that I don’t own a car? And I know the answer to that question. The second question was, wow, where did all this water come from?
I explored many different ways this question could be answered…
I thought of gravity, I thought of rain, I thought of how meanders form and I thought of the molecule H2O. For this river to be here, for me to paddle on, infinite, tinny, seemingly invisible molecules had to connect into this massive body, and flow together. What reverence to acknowledge this simple truth. What greater good these tinny molecules were serving to nourish the plants on its shore, to move sediment around, and to provide a path for my float trip to follow. And then I realized the river is just a part of an even bigger system including lakes, ground water, glaciers, and water stored in the atmosphere.
I imagined the Deschutes upstream. I thought of Fall River and the Cascade Lakes, Wikiup, Craine Prairy, and finally the headwaters, Little Lava Lake. And then I thought, how can all this water run from this tinny lake? And that is when I remembered the water cycle…
The water cycle is the complex system by which water is transmitted through out our planet. In Central Oregon, looking at the Deschutes River seasonally, one could say the cycle starts in the Winter when we get a cash of snow, snow melt through out the year fuels ground water flow, subterranean rivers which fill the Cascade Lakes which then fill the Deschutes and other rivers. Then, the rivers flow on, out of Central Oregon, they make there way to the next largest conduit, the Columbia George. And after this, all the way out to the Ocean. From here, water is evaporated into the atmosphere and rained down back onto the Cascades and the cycle starts a new… You might notice that the slides in the show follow this path.
What would it be like to be a molecule in this larger system? One drop of water flowing with the pack, separating where channels demanded, transforming changing ones whole state of being with evaporation or freezing. What would it be like to unconsciously flow? To accept, yet not fully understand the great forces which guided your path…
Through a prophecy given in 2000, the Elders of the Hopi Nation in Oraibi, AZ encourage us to experience flow and connectivity in a world context. The Hopi Elders state: “My Fellow Swimmers”
Here is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those
who will be afraid, who will try
to hold on to the shore.
They are being torn apart
and will suffer greatly.
Know that the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore.
Push off into the middle of the river,
and keep our heads above water.
And I say see who is there with you and celebrate.
The time of the lone wolf is over.
And I thank the Hopi for this prophecy.
This passage beckons many questions: Am I letting flow happen in my life? Am I holding on to the shore? What am I afraid of?
As a child I was intensely afraid of water bodies. I never liked to go deeper than I could touch and I definitely didn’t stay in for more than a few minutes. These fears culminated when my father got a boat and wanted my sister and I to learn to water ski. I will never forget the terror I used to feel waiting for the boat to circle around to come pick me up after my run on the skis. My imagination went wild sitting there alone with all that water beneath me, fantasizing about all the horror that might lie below the surface. This fear continued into my college years when on outdoor adventures friends would want to jump off short cliffs into water. Standing there, at the edge, looking down, my adrenaline would build, I would panic, and I would adamantly refuse to jump, not knowing what might lie beneath.
It wasn’t until I experienced this same fear two and a half years ago as I was getting divorced, losing my house, and searching for employment that I realized the fear was never about the water at all. It was about my attachment. My attachment to what was safe, my attachment to what was comfortable, my attachment to what was “Normal”, my attachment to the shore.
I will never forget the day when I first let go of the shore. 2.5 years ago in the midst of my divorce, accompanied by my youngest brother, floating down the Deschutes, he challenged me to jump off the foot bridge just down river from Mckay Park. In an instant I was on the bridge, crawling over the rail, looking down at the water below. From my perch on the lowest beam, all the fear rushed back through my veins. Standing there, at the edge, looking down, my adrenaline would built, I began to panic, I wondered why I agreed to do this. I looked over at Tommy terrified, and he started counting. 1-2-Somehow at three, I let go, my grip on the railing released and I jumped. In another instant I was emerging from the water. Climbing back on to the raft and finishing the float, I felt the gentle nudge of the river, I drifted with the current, and I realized the rewards of letting go of fear. If someone would have told me 2.5 years ago, standing on that foot bridge, preparing to jump, that I would come to love the water through paddle boarding, I wouldn’t have believed them.
Examining the concepts of fear and flow presented by the Hopi and applying them to my own experiences, what I am called to remember each time I pass under the foot bridge, each time I let go of the shore, is the 7th of our principals, “respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are all apart”. The Deschutes River and the water cycle are just one example of the endless systems operating around us daily, of which we are apart. You are a molecule, a segment of a larger body and you have a responsibility in that larger body. Just as the water cycle is integral to the operation of the planet so is your participation in whatever course lay before you. Flow isn’t just about letting go of the shore for yourself it is also the best way to honor the connection you have to everyone and everything around you. Where ever you are in your path as a family member, as an individual, in your community, as a professional, whatever course has been set, don’t let fear of the unknown prevent you from letting go of the shore.
This address was delivered June 30, 2013 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Central Oregon.