moving the river home

Fleet Maull & Jimmy Santiago Baca’s talk, which is available here, was rich with Baca’s stories about his encounters with disenfranchised youth who attended his writing retreats.  One retreat was held at a ranch where previous (wealthy) owners had moved the river that flowed through the property closer to their ranch house so they could enjoy a cooling swim without having to go too far.  The original course of the river had dried up and the land became a dead zone.

Baca pointed out that this is often what happens to us.  Somewhere in the course of our lives, the river of our growth is re-channeled, sometimes through the direct actions of others, sometimes through unintended tragedy or catastrophe.  The ground where it might have nourished a different growth dies and we feel misaligned with our landscape.

I know that dead zone intimately.  There are words, scents, textures that evoke a deep grief that runs from the center of my chest up to the edge of my shoulder.  I used to think I was having a heart attack but now I know it’s just a flash flood in the riverbed of grief.  Both Baca and Maull punctuate their teachings that one way we cope with the dead zone is through addictions that give us the edge of feeling alive; we can be addicts to physical substances as well as the drugs of greed, ignorance, and anger.  This is dharma at the edge: the dark edge between who I was meant to be and who I am.

This is also where dharma can slice across the edge to give light to who I am as a creative, generative and prosocial being – if I can remember the antidote practices of generosity, wisdom, and tolerance.  Maull speaks of this, our luminous Buddha nature, who we really are, and points out that we lose sight of it because of our tendency to flip into survival mode when we are on the dark side of the edge.  I felt that flip over and over through the week as I contracted into the solidifying, narrowing, and rejecting mind to prevent falling into the abyss of the dead zone.  Then slowly, I found a way to meet the contraction with respect for its power to dislodge my footing and to say a quiet “farewell and well met, my friend,” as I moved a little less fearfully along the edge,  a wobbly but willing warrior.

I haven’t figured out how to move the river home.  Perhaps, after all these lifetimes, it doesn’t matter.  As I noticed in the New Mexico landscape, there is a powerful beauty in the volcanic rocks that hold up the sky – and on some are tufts of living green.

Thank you for practising,


Note bene: The title of this post is borrowed from Baca’s documentary of the same name.  for more information go here.

5 thoughts on “moving the river home

  1. Such a lovely lyrical post. I love the story and appreciate your brave transparency. I do wonder about the karma of the events that redirect the river. Something in them says each misdirected channel and dried up river bed is perfect for us (albeit painful), offering us what we need, either to resolve some karma or to offer us some personal teaching we need. Perhaps I am being Pollyannish about these dark sink holes but that is my sense. If we are fortunate, after all the suffering, a little stream trickles or as you point out dry can be beautiful too.

  2. Perhaps everything, in its current presence, is in its rightful home. Perhaps not the home that it used to have, but in its present rightful home.

    Only . . . we don’t want *this* home, we want *that* home. And then comes the flash flood. Thank you.

  3. Maybe the dry landscape is what we need to get our attention, to allow us to explore. And yet, I know the deep longing and grief that lives there. Maybe that’s all part of it as well – *feeling* misaligned, barren, bereft of “Home” so we can look deeper and find there is a deeper river right underneath that hasn’t moved at all. That only the surface landscape changed – the surface circumstances of life. Maybe we discover through it all that we just need to dig deep, to deepen into the Silent River that runs *through* us – like your Enso.

    Love the Enso! Such a clean and crisp,life affirming energy exudes from it. The Buddha symbol actually reminds me of a little flag – the flag of surrender?

    Heart Hugs…

  4. Flag of surrender?
    searching for water in the dry bed of redirection
    ‘remember the antidote practices of generosity, wisdom, and tolerance. ‘
    wise words

  5. Thank you, my dear dharma friends!

    On our many “escape” drives that helped me keep my meagre sanity during the Chaplaincy Intensive week, we would pass arroyos – dry water beds that fill when it rains. They were as much a part of the landscape as the (very occasional) rivers like the Rio Grande. I love the vision of healing in your equanimity to the dry beds of our lives. It takes away the urgency to move the river back – and perhaps wanting to move that river becomes another grasping or dukkha itself!

    How rich I am to have you all!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.