The River Home: Water as Emotional Resource


    Throughout my life being in water has been profoundly comforting. In childhood, I would swim in the Gulf of Mexico on spring and summer vacations. I spent as much time in the gentle, blue-green waves as I could, sometimes all day for weeks, body-surfing, snorkeling, diving down to the shallow bottom, collecting sand dollars. I felt rich, rejuvenated. In between those trips, I was lucky to spend regular time in pools, rivers, warm ponds and lakes. I simply loved swimming, and my memories of swimming usually evoke calm, a sense of flow and unity.

    Recently, a seasonal, temporary dam on the Russian River near our home was removed. The water is now shallow, running in narrow channels. The river has become an important place, where I can feel a sense of flow, intimate aloneness, vibrant connection and relief from uncomfortable physical sensations. In the last couple weeks, I’ve walked across the dry riverbed to look for dipping holes where the water is flowing. On a recent vist to the river with my wife and 20-month old son, we spent time wading, sending prayers to the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota who are protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline to keep their water safe and clean from potential oil spills. I prayed too for our future, our son’s future, for clean water, for healthy, repaired and protected ecosystems. In the middle of the river, on a shallow sandbar we wrote in red and white riverstones in the sandy, pebbly bed: WATER IS LIFE, NO DABL. 

    Our son played along the edge of the water, throwing rocks into the rippling current and splashing in the mud puddles. When we got too far away, he raised his high-pitched voice in complaint. I picked him up and he snuggled into my body and calmed. There was the sound of the river rippling over stones. My wife was bent down in the water, her hands writing her prayer. The sun rose higher and pulled back the shade and warmed our backs. A great blue heron flew over and landed heavily on a favorite branch of hawks and osprey. A green heron flew over, croaked frog-like and perched in a high tree branch on the opposite bank above us. Our son pointed out the usual crows and said one of his first and only words, “Caw.” Later, he jumped at the loud screech of a stellar jay. The bird song, the birds themselves, the sun, the river, the cool air, and the soft trickling of the rapids wrapping around our legs were their own prayers. After we finished photographing the prayer to post to social media—to contribute to the growing global awareness of the importance of clean water and healthy ecosystems for our well-being and the wellness of all beings—I set my son down and waded out into the river to swim.

    In moments of intense sensitivity and energetic obstruction, when it’s difficult to let go, I’m learning other ways to let go, cool off and flow. When I sit “in the heart of silence” with clients, especially on a morning just after being in the river, I have a strong sense that the river is in me and I am in the river and everything is moving and flowing, even those places of holding and obstruction. So much awareness can be born in that space. Everything is in, nothing left out. Emotions move. Or clearly don’t, as if we were suspended in an eddy. In general, those sessions usually have a contained fluidity, sense of unity and unfolding, ineffable beauty.