A favorite teacher writes:
Lately, life “seems to be flowing very rapidly and creating turbulence. In my case, colleagues, clients, and friends have been living through experiences that pick up the goblet of my psyche and give it a good shake. The mud that had settled has gotten stirred up again. My theory is that by creating this disturbance, I can strain out more of the mud and create a clearer and clearer mind.”
And if our psyches are as much river as they are goblet, then muddied turbulence is especially essential.
A river’s life work is to carry sediment (“mud”) with its water (psyche/soul).
The faster the water, the more muck it can carry.
When the livin’ is easy…
Even in the calmest season, a classic river alternates fast, shallow, sediment-moving riffles with slow, deep pools where all kinds of stuff settles out. The river CANNOT be one long, clear pool. It would not function. It would not be a river.
And when it’s chaos…
The rhythms of stream life seem especially pertinent this month — to my teacher, her friends, me, my friends, PLUS the real-world rivers. During spring runoff, THE ENTIRE RIVER is moving fast and carrying sediment. Turbulently.
Typically, a stream’s annual “peak flow” matches bankfull in two out of every three years. “Bankfull flow” is the channel-forming flow. The river accomplishes the bulk of its work — during this one period.
Think of what you’re accomplishing during YOUR psychic runoff!
Sometimes the turbulent season hurts bystanders
Peak flow is always impressive.
And dangerous for outsiders IF they interact with the stream in the wrong way. Standing next to a swollen river is thrilling; swimming there would hurt.
Warn your loved ones not to swan dive into your psyche just now!
Building a permanent man-made structure in a stream’s floodplain is an even worse idea because about every three or four years, peak flow SHOULD exceed bankfull and flood the adjacent lands. Organic structures, like trees, weather runoff perfectly.
I leave YOU to decide which parts of your life feel like trees and which feel more like artificial constructs.
Because of the risks, humans try super hard to control rivers’ normal flooding — like with a dam that collects peak flow and releases the water gradually. Or levies that laterally confine flood flow in a skinny, deep canal.
The consequences of trying to avoid chaos
The river suffers.
- Dammed rivers clog with silt because the channel never gets “flushed.”
The resulting deposition not only increases bank stress BUT ALSO suffocates fish eggs right in their redds (best fishery word ever — here‘s a nice diagram).
How many of us have buried our dreams in un-flushed psychic sediment?
- Confined rivers run so deep and fast that their own artificially increased power requires they cut down into their own foundations.
It’s a desperate feeling.
- Immediately downstream of both a dam and a confined channel (especially one lined with concrete), a stream does not have enough natural sediment load to match its speed. It’s hungry. It devours its own edges.
We have the energy to carry our life’s work too — we’re built that way! Without our own unique load, we turn our energy in on ourselves.
The living beings that surround the river also need the floods.
- The most ironical consequence occurs when a dam breaks and kills people with the deluge. There surely were times when I held in my fast flows… and then busted. All over everyone in my path.
- Most importantly, dams and canals eliminate the adjacent lands’ intermittent inundation with nutrient-and-soil-laden water. The rich riparian ecosystems and traditional croplands starve.
Life around us flourishes in the wake of our messy springs.
… so if it’s all good, then why do we feel uneasy about our chaotic periods? Because we know floods CAN hold dangers for the river itself. For our psyches.
But no worries, dear teacher and friends. Tomorrow we’ll glean tips from all types of streams on EXACTLY how to survive any high flow event.
Until then flood on, beloved muddy ones, flood on!