"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. "
Norman MacLean, "A River Runs Through It"
I continue to return to old posts in this Blog, to see again my course and journey, perhaps to do some necessary "soul retrieval" as I prepare to make some very major changes in my life now, and equally, physical problems that (of course) none of us are ever really prepared for. I will be retiring from the business of being an "innkeeper" to create a more solitary, less demanding, and more contemplative life. I've been craving this for years and re-reading posts here it's obvious I wanted a change for quite a while.. The synchronistic world seems to be encouraging me on this (more on my synchronicity stream later).
So here is a post from about 7 or 8 years ago that has been worth re-visiting for me, and perhaps others who may read this Blog will enjoy it as well. The River is such a significant metaphor, expressed so powerfully by so many artists and poets and writers. Their words, as MacLean says, "are under the rocks" dimly glimpsed beneath the currents of our lives, arising again when needed.
I have a good friend, an actress, who recently left me a long message on my answering machine. Almost 60, 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. How can I respond to such a thing, on a phone, or an answering machine, or an email? 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, perhaps joined by others? I don't know. Sometimes I don't like "today's world", it seems so strange to me, not what I imagined I would be doing, or living, as I push the borders of old age.
But 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 that if you aren't having a retrospective at the Met, or running an orphanage in Uganda, or in the Fortune 500, people somehow feel they've "failed", discounting all the glorious, beautiful, soul deepening experiences they've had. I might add that I feel that way about marriage as well - it is not always a great failure if you have not succeeded in having a "Golden Anniversary". We are together for as long as we are together, and learn from that shared experience, and share love for as long as we shared love. Sometimes the ending of a relationship is what has prepared one for the beginning of a more mature or fulfilling relationship later. Sometimes that relationship is with one's self.
Perhaps, from this perspective, a true "Destiny" was to learn to love someone 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 or even conflict. 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 deepened by it as well. 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 dreamed, and ultimately "a river runs through us", unfathomable, ineffable, splendid.
The quote above 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. Perhaps Norman Maclean is speaking about what storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes * called "Rio Abajo Rio, the river beneath the river of the world". Looking back at a post about this from 2010, I felt like quoting myself again............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.
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."*
Why must we evaluate the value of our lives in such material terms of "accomplishment"? Of "enlightenment"? Why not think also of what has been our "endarkenment"? 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. If there is any "point", a "destiny", it might be, as Estes, a Jungian psychologist, believed, to instinctively participate in some way, find some way to open a pathway, 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 all of our individuality, our uniqueness, is a gift we can only experience here and now, a great adventure. I respectfully submit that this is the work of the SEER, residing within each of us. Remembering that a "river runs through us", 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
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Hardcover, 560 pages, Random House Publishing Group, 1992