Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Centering Hint for You

I have worked for many years with Thomas Crum, author of The Magic of Conflict, Journey to Center, and Three Deep Breaths. Roughly every month we publish what we call a Centering Hint. This month's hint draws heavily on the metaphor of river rafting.

I invite you to enjoy these centering thoughts. If you would like to receive our hints on a regular basis, you can subscribe on the Aiki Works website.

The River and The Warrior Spirit

The cloud does not insist upon its form
The wave does not force its way over the ocean
So why should you clutch so tightly your little map?
                                              Haven Trevino

In July, we did a pilot six-day Magic on the River trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho. The Middle Fork is one of the true wild rivers in the U.S. with no man-made dams or motorized boats allowed along the entire 100 plus mile stretch. The river did the teaching: the principles of flow, impermanence, life and mystery were imprinted upon us with every bend and canyon.

Floating down the river, we would look up to see an eagle soaring, look to the side on the canyon rocks and see a big horn sheep, or look down and see trout shimmering under the water. And then - poof! It was all gone as a new bend in the river arrived, with maybe deer, or a bear, or a waterfall misting over us from so high up that the sunlight and mist created a magical celestial shower. And then another bend, another moment.
In all that flow of beauty there was also destruction: hundreds of trees knocked down by avalanches or mudslides and jammed into rocks below; acres of burned forests from lightning strikes; dead salmon too tired to swim the final miles to spawn. The water was quiet and peaceful one moment, then roaring with fury the next. And yet it seemed - through both life and death - so purposeful, so majestic, so harmonious. For me, it was nature's way of teaching the warrior spirit.
I define the warrior spirit as the total commitment to become fully alive. Sounds like something we would all aspire to, doesn't it? The difficulty comes when we realize that to become fully alive we must cut through the ego and its stories and dramas, the veils that the ego uses to define us and provide some semblance, however false, of security. The river has no need to play such games. As the canyon pours down boulders, trees, and mud, she responds in flow, acceptance, and aliveness.
Our own lives produce an endless supply of boulders as well; difficult work situations, tumultuous relationships, emotional chaos, physical illnesses or injuries that challenge our sense of OKness. The warrior spirit is the courage to accept those 'boulders' with centered equanimity and continue flowing on.
When we have learned to stay awake in the difficult, fearful times, rather than medicating them away, or running to the comfort of our old dramas, something profound happens. Not enlightenment or deep peace, at least not at first, but more discomfort because being awake and present begins to strip away all the ego-trappings that we have acquired, the ones that give us a sense of groundedness, safety, of OKness. And that loss can be painful and scary.
But, just when we're lying on our backs in the blood and tears of it all, with nothing to hold onto - bang! (or maybe it's just a whisper) - we discover we're still here, and somehow we're flowing a little more freely inside. The river does not insist on its form. Why should we?
If we can learn to appreciate, with centered equanimity, the twists and turns, the rapids and eddies, of our life, a little more of the Mystery will seep in. Peace and joy flow into our being; compassion and kindness flow out. This is the warrior spirit, and the river knows it well.

Tom Crum
River photo by Andrew Arentowicz

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