"Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. "These years I support myself with a successful AIRBNB/B and B. I am now busy in ways I never imagined I would be. "Home" used to be a van with a travelling cat, and in the complexity of my life now there isn't so much time to "call for vision" as I once had...........and when they do come, it too often seems I have to put them at the bottom of the laundry list.
Norman MacLean, "A River Runs Through It"
I may have finally reached an age where I don't inquire any longer about "the purpose of my life". I reflect that if I have a "purpose" at all, it is the sometimes gathering and transmission of vision, the effort to communicate it. I do feel that this is the sacred job of artists, although many would argue against that rather mystical idea. We are all many layered, the world speaks to us in a multitude of ways, and our depths run dark and invisible most of the time. And a "river runs through us".
I have a good friend who recently left me a long message on my answering machine. Almost 65, she wondered if we came into the world with a destiny, and if so, she is going through that threshold where she wonders if she might have "missed" hers, not done whatever it was she was supposed to do, leaving behind her a wake of dissatisfaction. To me she is an extraordinary, beautiful, accomplished woman who has led an adventurous and creative life. How can I respond? Why does it seem we no longer live in a world where such a profound conversation can be had over a cafe table, and a bottle of wine, deep into the night, instead of squeezed into 2 minute answering machines as we each rush, rush, rush through our ever complicated and busy lives? I think I finally understand the Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times." Sometimes I think distraction and busyness is the curse of "today's world" and I determine to change that as I now fully push the borders of old age.
"Dreams. They are never where you expect them to be."
Thinking about that conversation, I wanted to say that I no longer believe in "destiny". We Americans are so materialistic, and grandiose, that the idea has come to mean some "great thing" - so if you aren't having a retrospective at the Met, or running an orphanage in Uganda, or in the Fortune 500, or married to a movie star, people somehow feel they've "failed", discounting all the glorious, beautiful, soul deepening experiences they've had.
Perhaps a real soul "Destiny" was to learn to love someone very hard to love, a difficult child perhaps, or to learn to have patience with yourself. Perhaps you met your Soul Mate, and your destiny was not to be together, but to experience the gift of loss. Perhaps suffering was even one's destiny, so that empathy and compassion for others was deepened, the template of a healer. Perhaps "destiny" is to do something difficult, and fail, never knowing how many lives you touched and enriched in the process, and not knowing until much later how you were evolved by it. Perhaps it's to connect with others through the mesh and warp and woof of synchronicity, never knowing consciously what gifts you've given each other, what waves and ripples of creative force you've sent out into the world. We're dreamers and dreamt, and ultimately "a river runs through us", unfathomable, ineffable, splendid.
The quote at the top of the post has always been so beautiful to me that I wanted to meditate on it for a moment, take a look into the depths of these waters. It is from the novel that became also a movie, "A River Runs Through It", and the quote occurs in the end of the movie, as the lead character, now an old man, is fly fishing alone in a beloved river. Perhaps Norman Maclean is speaking about what storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes * called "Rio Abajo Rio, the river beneath the river of the world".
Perhaps "El Rio" is also what Jung called the Collective Unconscious, I don't know. But Estes' speaks of the great River of Story, the universal waters flowing beneath the surfaces of all things, an image that moves me to imagine the deep underground rivers of the planet, and of our lives.
In her book Women Who Run With the Wolves *** she writes,
"Each woman has potential access to Rio Abajo Rio, this river beneath the river. She arrives there through deep meditation, dance, writing, painting, prayer making, singing, drumming, active imagination, or any activity which requires an intense altered consciousness. A woman arrives in this world-between worlds through yearning and by seeking something she can see just out of the corner of her eye. She arrives there by deeply creative acts, through intentional solitude, and by practice of any of the arts. And even with these well-crafted practices, much of what occurs in this ineffable world remains forever mysterious to us, for it breaks physical laws and rational laws as we know them."*
|"Endarkenment", Lauren Raine, 2009|
Why must we evaluate the value of our lives, our "destinies", in such material terms of "accomplishment" and "achievement"? I have tortured myself mightily with those magic words, rushing, rushing, rushing to do the "great thing", and meanwhile, missing so many tender and miraculous moments. What a tyranny!
Even in terms of "enlightenment",: as if there is some ultimate and permanent state of spiritual "light" and "accomplishment" we are supposed to reach. And if we don't, we are failures? Why not think also of what has been our deepening "endarkenment", the field of creative unknowing we have drawn our lives from? Whether tapping, if only briefly, the wellsprings of El Rio in grief, creativity, meditation, or through the sudden psychic upwelling that can happen when the so-called ego cracks and splinters, it is always a blessing when the waters are revealed, for they remind us of the greater life.
In her book Meditation Secrets for Women, Camille Maurine writes,
“The realm of the soul is not light and airy, but more like mud: messy, wet, and fertile. Soul processes go on down there with the moss and worms, down there with the decaying leaves, down there where death turns into life. Deepening into soul requires the courage to go underground, to stretch our roots into the dark, to writhe and curl and meander through rick, moist soil. In this darkness we find wisdom, not through the glaring beam of will, but by following a wild, blind yet unfailing instinct that senses the essence in things, that finds nourishment to suck back into growth.” (p. 211)
If the river of story has a voice, it's a voice that contains all voices, human and planetary, and the song it sings may be Om, may be "Nameste", I am Thou. What we ultimately bring to that song cannot be measured or valued in any terms we might try to wrap words around, try to put into some kind of list, some kind of materialistic order, heirarchy, or, heavens forbid, monetary value. If there is anything such as a "destiny", it might be found, as Estes (who is a Jungian psychologist) believed, within our instinctual participation in the Great Web of being, and in so doing, the ways in which each of us can open a channel, a well spring, for others.
"...[W]hat Jung called 'the moral obligation' to live out and to express what one has learned in the descent or ascent to the wild Self. This moral obligation he speaks of means to live what we perceive, be it found in the psychic Elysian fields, the isles of the dead, the bone deserts of the psyche, the face of the mountain, the rock of the sea, the lush underworld - anyplace where La Que Sabe breathes upon us, changing us. Our work is to show we have been breathed upon - to show it, give it out, sing it out, to live out in the topside world what we have received through our sudden knowings, from body, from dreams and journeys of all sorts."Perhaps the individuality of each one of us, our uniqueness, is a gift we can only experience in the embodied here and now, a great adventure that occurs like a bubble on the surface of the River, shimmering in the sun, then merged again with source, the River beneath the River of the World.
"The deep parts of my life pour onward, as if the river shores were opening out.
It seems as if things are more like me now, that I can see farther into paintings.
I feel closer to what language can't reach."Rainier Maria Rilke
|Untitled, Lauren Raine, 1972|
* (p.30, below)
** (p.96, below)
*** Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Hardcover, 560 pages, Random House Publishing Group, 1992