The River –
“Imagine yourself sitting on the bank of a river. The river is your stream of consciousness. Observe each of your thoughts coming along as if they’re saying, “Think me, think me.” Watch your feelings come by saying, “Feel me, feel me.” Acknowledge that you’re having the feeling or thought. Don’t hate it, judge it, critique it, or move against it. Simply name it: “resentment toward so and so,” “a thought about such and such.” Then place it on a boat and let it go down the river. When another thought arises—as no doubt it will—welcome it and let it go, returning to your inner watch place on the bank of the river.”
#ThomasKeating, “Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel”
One of the greatest and most difficult realizations is the truth that we are not our thoughts. We are not our actions. We are not our egos. True, each of these can reveal things about us and to the world but we are not these things.
The problem is we’ve been taught the opposite most of our lives. The famous quote; “Reap a thought, a word, an action, then a destiny,” seems right but our thoughts do not have to lead us to who we ultimately become. We can choose to go deeper, change paths, refuse to be captive to our thoughts by breaking free of them.
I was speaking with a friend this week who is incredibly busy. So busy it seems things that need to get done will never get accomplished. As we spoke I heard the hurry in their voice. “I’ve got to do this, then that, then the next!” Simply listening made me tired. I know the feeling of having too much stuff to get done and that all the time in the world doesn’t seem enough. I also know when I feel like that, take on that burden, I am stepping out of mindfulness and stillness. I am allowing the world and its chaotic rhythm sweep me away to a place where I don’t belong.
After my friend’s list was given I told them it sounded like they needed a nap, a time of stillness and letting go of lists, chores, to-do’s and embracing a still and mellow attitude. “Things will get done,’ I told my friend, ‘do what you can and leave what you can’t. Eventually, all the important stuff will be taken care of and all the rest? Who cares.”
If we aren’t careful we can fill our lives with so much to do that nothing gets done, not even living.
On Wednesday night of this week, I was speaking with someone about being truthful and honest to the people in our lives. He stated that being too open can lead to betrayal and pain and therefore he doesn’t share his story for fear of being taken advantage of. It was a fair argument but I told him maybe his issue wasn’t being fearful of openness but being open to the wrong people. People we can trust, who won’t use our words and experiences against us, who will listen to understand and be a shoulder to lean on are invaluable.
Earlier in the week, I shared a fatherhood presentation to a group of fathers who have young kids in school. There were dads who were going in to work late and some who had worked all night diligently sitting there to learn more about how they could be involved in their children’s lives, especially when it comes to education. After the presentation while saying; “goodbye” to the fathers one of the attendees came up and began speaking with me. She had some questions about getting a father involved and shared her story. What she told me was hard to hear with many issues and other challenges she’s had to overcome. I couldn’t believe how open she was being when we had just met a few moments earlier. She believes I am someone she can trust with her family.
Openness, transparency, is something most say they desire in themselves and others. However, these can bring feelings of uncomfortableness, questions that aren’t easily answered, and an unsettling fear of not being skilled enough to meet the need. When these thoughts are rushing through our minds the need to breathe and be still must be remembered. Most people don’t want you to fix them they simply need someone to listen without judging. If there are problems to solve and mysteries to unravel we can do them together as we travel this path called life.
This morning, while getting ready for worship, I thought of an elderly woman I used to attend church with who had some unspoken rules she followed when it came to “going to God’s house.” Two that I remember were; “No candy and women always wear dresses.” I thought they were silly rules but the woman and I had a special relationship so it didn’t really matter.
As she got older she developed breathing problems and dry mouth occurred as a result. It was then that her rule about no candy was broken so she wouldn’t cough during services. I also remember a Sunday when I called her and she told me about a rash that was covering portions of her body and all the dresses she tried on were uncomfortable. I asked the simple question; “Couldn’t you wear pants?” There was silence on the other end for a while and then a soft voice replied; “I hadn’t even thought of that.” It was after this phone call her no pants rule was broken, though still not very often.
The more rules and regulations we have the less peace. We can wear ourselves, and others, out by placing burdens of expectations on our collective shoulders. The joy we could know by living simply becomes complicated when we slap our paradigms of how things should be in different facets of life. Trusting and letting go, allowing the journey of life to unfold before us unforced and naturally, will lead us to peace of mind, body, spirit, and freedom.