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You Can't Push the River

On the Manifestations of Resistance

Dear Reader;

This video was taken in August of 2019, when I was spending summers next to the Beaver River in the Grey Highlands of Ontario. There was a very small, perfect swimming hole by the bridge where I swam most days, and where kids loved to climb up on the railing and jump in.

My very favourite experience of the swimming hole was to be in solitude. It was early on in Covid days when the local kids were close to home and more present than usual, so I would often take my river time late in the day, hoping they were done and headed home for dinner and bed. Wasn't that what good children do?

I had never swum in a river before I came to this place - there was something so magical about the joyful work of swimming upstream, fighting the current, and then letting go to flip over and float on your back all the way to the breakwater before the rapids, while gazing at the huge and glorious sky. The most beautiful surrender.

And so to the story.

One day the river was really high - faster than I had ever seen it before.

Interestingly, I too was experiencing a strong energy that day. I was not in a good space, and I felt a strong need to swim off my own inner agitation and crackly energy. I prayed for the swimming hole to be empty so I could immerse myself in solitude, and I was in heaven as I arrived to see that I was alone.

I waded in gently, my feet tender on the stony bottom, and swam up against the current toward the bridge, then blissfully floated back only to lift my head to see a whole pack of kids arriving with their mothers to swim. Not just one or two, but a good half dozen, already clambering up onto the railing preparing to jump.

By the time I began to swim up again into the current, they were throwing themselves off the bridge screeching, as they love to do, cannonballing into the water only a few feet from me, right in the one spot where the current is perfect to swim, all willy nilly without any care for the lady quietly sinking into the healing of the river below.

Kids these days, I heard myself think. When my kids were small, they would never have been allowed to do that. I would have told my kids to wait a few minutes, take a bit of care, and they would have done so. Without me even asking they would have watched out for others. Even as I heard myself muttering away, I was shaking my head at myself, so perfectly playing the grump. But the disappointment at losing my swim did not lift, and in frustration and despair I flipped on my back and said fuck it, I'll go home. It's their world, their water. I'm done. No peaceful swim for me today.

I let myself have that one last float, lifting up my eyes to reach for the skies to see if I could squeeze just a little bit of joy out of the clouds in those final moments. And then, in my inner fog and carried upon the unexpected and heightened power of the river that day, before I realized it I felt my head touch the breakwater stones at the edge of the swimming hole, and then my whole body sliding over it, and unable to stop myself, being washed, slip sliding against the slimy cement blocks, down into the stony rapids below.

The spot right behind me in the picture.

It happened so fast, there was only a moment to think, oh well now, here we go, and immediately I was swept downstream, tumbled against the large rocks like a gemstone being polished, carried relentlessly by the river’s flow.

Before you get worried, I was fine. I was able to reach out, catch a passing branch and hold on long enough to pull myself around and brace against the current. I had plenty of bruises and scrapes to show for my escapade, not the least of which was my bruised pride as I painstakingly crawled stone by stone back upriver while the children stared at me as if I were a foolish and aged monster from the blue lagoon. Their mothers called to me and fussed a bit. Perhaps a tinge of guilt in their voices. Aha, I thought. My one success.

And the inner turmoil? Where did that go?

I managed to get out of the water and back into the car where I could safely give my rage a voice. The sounding felt raw and good. This beautiful river, the one that had saved me over and over, washing clean my fears, had betrayed me. Even this safe place was gone. Even purification now held danger. Who and what was left to trust in the world.

And then, as the turbulence passed, I sat dripping in the gift of the moment. I know all too well that experiences of such visceral intensity are no accident. I am no victim in such an occurrence, but rather the creator of it. It felt so profoundly clear how my own agitation had pulled me into the physical expression of that energy. I had perfectly created in the moment the external manifestation of where my doubt had allowed me to go. I could not have painted the picture with more pure intent.

Medicine woman that I am, I rocked it. In every way.

The bruises I had imagined upon my soul were now turning purple on my skin. The exclusion I had perceived in the intrusion of those thoughtless children was made manifest. I was literally cast out of the place I loved. Instead of joyously stretching my muscles as I swam upstream, I was led to painfully crawl, stone by stone. I was shown what I did not see.

Heading home my heart was greeted by the internal sparkling I have come to know and love, which follows every great falling down, every deep reckoning. The space made by the cracking open starts to fill with a new lightness, and I was already imagining what uplifting news awaited me, because having lived this so, so many times, I now know that the more painful the fall, the more delicious is the rising.

The next night I swam in the river again. I crouched in the water next to the very stones of the breakwater where I had slipped over with so little grace.

I looked down upon the rapids and saw that even if I had gone all the way, even if I had not caught that branch, beyond the stones lay another pool, and there I would have floated, there I would have paused and been held by the river again.

There is a river
and it has
no beginning and no end
it flows eternally
for its being
is the flow of the water
its existence is defined
by the travel it takes
It has never 
not been a river
It will never 
not be a river
It is
what a river is
and in this
it is alive

That’s the lovely thing about rivers. In a way, they never, ever end.

Much love,

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