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Sitting Beside the River that Tried to Drown Me

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

I find myself wondering what to write about tonight. I promised myself I’d write a blog post every Wednesday and every Sunday, but I REALLY don’t want to. Not tonight. I’m tired. It’s dark. I want food. Some time ago, however, I heard an excellent perspective from a world-class triathlete that drives me on nights like this: When you do the thing you know you should do on the day you don’t want to do it, that’s when it really counts. So, tonight really counts.

As I sit down to write, however, I have so many things troubling me: A homeless woman at the library, who when we closed, had to go stand outside in the cold. My friends who are struggling with their relationships. The mountain of work left to do on the car my son and I are tearing down in the garage. The emails I have yet to respond to. The bills yet to be paid.

…and so life goes. The ten thousand things Laozi describes in the Tao Te Ching will always be there, threatening to fracture my mind. There will always be, somewhere, a woman getting on the freeway at 48 miles an hour or a customer causing trouble or a struggling friend. I know I can’t be the person I, my family, or my friends need if I let those ten-thousand things overwhelm me. I will fail under their weight. If I want to survive, daresay… thrive… I have to bring myself back to unity. I have to return to the one thing the ten thousand things sprang from. As a result, when I get home, the most important thing I can do is to settle down and watch the river of my thoughts. I light a candle, turn off the lights, sit comfortably, begin to take slow breaths, and… watch. What I see is the great torrent of my thoughts racing before me. My mind roils and eddies and churns, and I watch it. I don’t try and stop the flood. I’d be overpowered and drown. So… I… just… watch…

I step out of the river and, sitting on the dry bank, observe. With the candlelight throwing shifting shadows around the room, I see my thoughts for what they are, shadows and ghosts. I let them have that much virtue and, in doing so, find myself more and more able to let the specters pass. Yet, as I let one go, another rises. I watch that pass as well. Another rises, and another. With patience and determination, as I continue to let each go, each has less and less impact. It’s like pressing the clutch on a car. The spinning engine loses its connection to the wheels, and the car slows. I separate from my racing mind and… coast. The river flows by, each thought a whirlpool or a boiling wave that rises and then, as long as I all it to be free, settles down, reforming into the river’s smooth body.

I am no longer drowning in the flood of my own mind, trying to catch each thing and fix it, solve it, resolve it, or banish it. I sit on the bank, and gradually, I find myself able to look away from the torrent completely, up through green leaves shifting in the breeze to the mountain ridge beyond, framed against a deep-blue sky laced with bright white clouds. I find myself here, in my skin, my heart beating in my chest, my teeth in my mouth, and my weight pressing into the Earth. I’m okay now, and things… well… things just are.

When the time comes, I blow out the candle, stand, and go out to my family. Each time I take on this practice, I stay a bit longer on the bank. I can see, day after day, how the peace I’m finding is seeping its way into my wife and son and into my friends. I realize my pursuit of this peace has a much greater purpose. It not only slows me and brings me closer to myself, it slows those around me, creating a change in others I didn’t expect, and it’s a change that is so deeply needed.

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