A River of Life

by Simon Goland, August 30, 2010

Today’s Reflection is about an activity, about a way of looking at one’s life, and perhaps also about our collective future. 

Who are you? Who is anybody really? How do we know an answer to such a tricky and seemingly impossible question?

A River of Life is a metaphor I recently used, in an introduction activity with a group of new students coming to Bainbridge Graduate Institute (www.bgi.edu). While I have used this activity many times in the past, I described it differently this time; different words came out as the way to articulate one’s life journey. Furthermore, if we are a sum total of our experiences, then such a process provides a glimpse into who a person is. This activity, and subsequent conversations, brought a lot more thoughts with it.

“The Universe operates on a basic principle of economics: everything has its cost. We pay to create our future, we pay for the mistakes of the past. We pay for every change we make… And we pay just as dearly if we refuse to change.”

I can look at my own life as a river, with periods of quiet, gentle, and peaceful water, running its course downstream. That river also has rapids, big and small, and periods of turbulent white water, rocks, and stormy weather. The river is deafening, vibrant (almost violent perhaps), and stretches to the extreme the skills – and luck – of one going down in these turbulent white waters.

Using this metaphor to one’s life, and looking at the significant moments of growth and learning for me, I know that the quiet and gentle parts are both pleasant and valuable in one’s life. This is where I get to relax, observe the view, rest, and integrate the learning from overcoming the last set of rapids. Yet, this is not where the real growth and transformation occurs. For that, we need rapids in our river. Rapids that will force us to the extreme, challenge every aspect and part of us, and stretch us to our full capacity. Sometimes, beyond. I know that this is how my life has been flowing, as this River of Life. And, I know that my most valuable learning moments, ones that I remember to this day, came from those seemingly impassable rapids. Perhaps it is indeed a “no pain, no gain” way of the River of Life.
“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, and so on — have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear — what remains? Nature remains.” – Walt Whitman
When I think about expanding the scope, this is where things get both scary and interesting. What if the same metaphor applies to us all, collectively, as a human species? Our human river of collective lives, our history through time.

We have been crossing more and more rapids, that seem to become bigger and more turbulent. From 9/11, to Katrina, to BP oil spill, to many others that I am forgetting right now. We humans seem to go through the rapids, shift our course and behaviour for a while, and then forget. Life takes over, and we go back to our more-of-the-same behaviour, forgetting the lessons, the learning, and the implications of not correcting our course. And the cycle repeats itself, only the rapids are becoming bigger, stronger, more turbulent and painful. And we still don’t learn, and keep heading down the same direction. All the environmental, social, and ecological degradation and injustice around us these days is a loud testament to the fact that we have not yet changed our ways.

Can we learn from the quiet gentle flow, in time, before we reach the next impassable rapids?

A sunny week to you all, inside and out.