Rivers and Floating

Thursday, March 12, 2020

I’ve been battling a problem for the past few days, but I’m slowly starting to see that it’s not actually a problem, and definitely doesn’t require a battle. I’m disappointed in myself, because it occurs to me that I’ve been responding to this so-called problem in pretty much the same way I handled problems when I was 12 years old – by seeing them as adversaries and forcefully fighting them off. Back then, I saw life as an almost constant contest between me and my multitude of enemies, from sickness to storms to darkness to countless possible catastrophes, and it seems I’m still, at 78, sometimes wrestling with life instead of simply living it. Recently, though, I’ve been seeing this current problem of mine as maybe more like a river to be floated on than a battle to be fought. Maybe life isn’t so much a fight as a friend, a convivial adventure instead of an endless struggle. The best way to work with a river is probably to tell it to go where it will and you’ll follow, and perhaps I need to say something similar: “Proceed, problem. Take me to a truth I haven’t seen before. Let’s see what we can do together.” When I was 12 (and 30 and 60), I attacked my problems, and almost always lost. Maybe I’m finally finding a new way.  

Maybe I need to learn to float on life the way this swan was floating on the Mystic River during our walk this morning …

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And maybe I can learn from my make-believe friend, Sharon Z. …

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To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float. — Alan Watts

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When I was still teaching, and the students had gone home for the day and my classroom was empty and quiet, it sometimes seemed that everything that happened in the room that day was gone. The words we spoke, the activities we did together, the smiles and frowns we shared – all of these seemed to have disappeared like departed smoke. Twelve thousand teaching and learning moments were gone forever. I felt like I had been floating on a strong river of learning all day long, and now, at 3:45, the river had vanished, never to return. Another river would flow tomorrow, but today’s was nowhere to be found. It always made me somewhat sad to think of it this way, but before long, luckily, an opposite realization would come – that, in a sense, nothing that happened that day in my classroom would ever disappear. All the ideas that flowed along through my room would never vanish, simply because they were not made of a substance that can vanish. Ideas and words are not material objects that can fade away and evaporate. In a very true sense, they live forever. Once created, ideas and words begin their work of altering lives, and this work never ends, no matter how concealed it may become. The river that ran through my room each day appeared to be gone at 3:45, but it had only slipped into a hidden realm where it would continue to run its miraculous operations. Without realizing it, my students and I would be quietly affected, in thousands of small ways, by every thought and word that was shared in Room 2 each day. The briefest comment by the quietest student would rise and fall and flow through our lives for years to come.

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