“Who holds the river?”
— LG (“Life is Good”)
My friend LG cupped her hands as if carrying water and repeated her question – which did not quite compute, striking me as somehow extremely beautiful and unfounded. Over the next couple days, I kept seeing LG as if through a telescope, forming the question with her hands. Each time, I felt my insides clear into light, easy warmth.
And then I left for the Northwest. My travels happily began with Alaska Airlines’ nationwide computer crash which allowed me plenty of time to soak in the Billings airport’s strangely soulful landscape and pull out my new operating instructions. Without any occasion, LG had given me a present: The Second Half of Life by Angeles Arrien. She said it was my manual now. The book flopped open to page 31 and this poem by John O’Donohue:
The other passengers likely thought I was crying because of the airport coffee (how would they know I love all coffee because it’s, you know, COFFEE) rather than the perfect non-answer to LG’s gorgeously unanswerable question.
And then the java kicked in. I went all left-brain, casting about for the hydrological truth. What REALLY carries the river? Each river is pulled by gravity, but that’s not the same as being “carried.” And each river is housed by this planet, but so is everything else – surely there’s a more uniquely riverine basis for the depth of O’Donohue’s insight.
Things That Could Be Said To Carry A River:
Option 1 – The Water
Technically speaking, stream water carries sediment – little pieces of earth.
Option 2 — The Channel
The channel – that specifically-shaped mass of earthen material – carries water.
So the water carries pieces of earth, and the earthen channel carries the water, but…
… wait – what IS The River anyway?
Some would say the water IS the river.
Yet we call an empty stream bed “a river” — albeit a dry river. Perhaps the channel IS the river.
Or maybe the river is both water and channel?
I say no. It’s the interaction between the two. The river is the container plus what the container holds plus the making of that container BY and FROM that which it holds.
The river is a phenomenon — ETERNALLY BUILDING ITSELF with anything and everything that crops up along the way as it moves through time and space.
A river’s evolution is a surprise because it totally depends on what happens. It depends on the river’s fine interface with its surroundings — on how much water the river receives and how fast that water comes, on the buried boulders and roots encountered along the way, on the loads washed into the river by storms, on the lay of the land — and on the stream’s own power.
It’s no wonder scientists can’t predict a river’s journey or a human’s destiny, for as O’Donohue describes (in the introduction to Arrien’s book, not so coincidentally):
“… each of us has to inhabit his or her own soul in order to find out who he or she is and where the intimacy of his or her heart touches the world. No one else can tell you that; the maps that others have are of no use. Each life must find its true threshold, that edge where the individual gift fits the outer hunger and where the outer gift fits the inner hunger.
Experience is the arena where this whole adventure happens. The hidden structures of experience become the windows of being. This is how we unfold and enter deeper into knowing.”
This is the astonishing, ongoing realize-ing that carries us… just as fluently as it carries the river.