The river below the river

Years ago I was privileged to be part of a monthly journal writing retreat group in Maryland under the guidance of poet and writer Kathleen Depro. She handwrote, bound, and individually illustrated the covers of small booklets of her own writings and poems of others, which I have kept and treasured.

We lost touch long ago—I recently learned that she died several years back at the age of 57. I want to honor the memory of her beautiful writing by excerpting here from a December booklet she made. It speaks of this time of year when we are surrounded by so much water:

We are in the nighttime of the year, the deep yin season of dark and wet and cold and stillness, a time of complete receptivity. This is a time to take in, absorb, reflect, hold, and contain.

In Chinese medicine, winter’s element is water, the water of life. We begin in the water; there is water in every cell of our bodies. We return to the water again and again, for renewal, for refreshment, for healing. We drink the water. We bathe in water. We swim in water. We float on the water; we rock on the waters.

We live through the winter on the flow of this water, this “rio abajo rio,” the river below the river, as described by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her book Women Who Run With the Wolves. It is the river that carries us. It is the flow of life itself moving through us, the deep, nourishing stream.

The “river below the river” supports us, feeds us, quenches our thirst, carries the seeds of new life. It is full and deep and fertile. It is inside of us. It is “the natural gradient of the psyche” of which Jung speaks—this watercourse, this natural unfolding of the flow of our lives.

A balanced water element allows fluidity and flow, an ability to rest and nourish oneself and others, to guide perception and reflection and have a ready expression of feelings such as love.”–Staying Health With the Seasons, Elson M. Haas

There are rivers in us. Rivers move through us: rivers of tears, rivers of blood, rivers of qi—the life essence—rivers of breath, of dreams, of memories.

Rio abajo rio, the river below the river. We need to go down to where the water is flowing, let go of all the outer concerns and activities and go down to the banks of the river of our own lives. The river will carry us toward our own destiny. The river will find the way. We don’t have to figure it out. Our work is to be open and fluid like water, to receive like the river, to follow the path of least resistance, to flow around obstacles, to keep going.

“ … form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.”  –Wendell Berry

Even as the river moves through us the water takes its shape from our own inner contours. The water carries all of our life—our sorrow, pain, longing, the song of our joy, the seeds of our springtime to come.

The water washes us anew; it bathes our hearts like the soft rain bathes our faces. The river connects the heights of the mountain with the waters of the sea. It is a link in time between the ancient past and the unknown future.

We surrender to the dark waters of this time of year—this ending time that is also the beginning. We let go. We consent to the mystery that is moving through our lives and that moves us. The river will carry us through this winter in our lives.

“O Seekers, remember: all distances are traversed by those who yearn to be near the source of their being.” –Kabir

Happy Solstice, everyone. Happy New Year. The water will carry us toward the light.

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3 thoughts on “The river below the river

  1. This is certainly the time of year to remind those of us in the Pacific Northwest of the power and value of water. Sometimes it just seems so …. damp. Thanks!

  2. Nancy,
    Thank you so much for sharing this. Your friend was quite a bright light and obviously her
    writing will continue to touch many people. This is so helpful and I cherish the words that
    she wrote. I have several family members and friends that I will pass your posting onto.
    You are such a wonderful friend and your talents are such a blessing to me. I do hope you
    are receiving the love and appreciation I feel towards you.
    Love and big Hugs from Karen, Zoe & Cisco.

  3. Nancy, My mom was a very close friend of Kathy’s for years…Kathy was a wonderful and special person, who filled my young life with magic. I have a love for words and music because of her. I was sad to learn of her passing, and my mother has now passed as well. Kathy was a hugely gifted and wonderful person, gone too soon. Thanks for sharing this…
    Lisa

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