“Courage to Swim the Length of the River”


My husband Michael wrote a beautiful book about solutions to poverty called, “In The River They Swim.”  His opening chapter tells this story:

“A Sufi master once told his disciples about the different levels of knowledge.  “There are different ways to know a river. First, you can read books about it and learn its length, its source, its depth, its width, the power of its current, the types of fish it contains, and other tangible facts.  Then you can undertake the long journey to see it.  You invest time, money and hardships to travel to that river so that you can one day sit on its shores and look at it.  When that day comes, you have attained a greater level of knowledge because you know its smell, you feel the sand that borders it, and you watch the birds that play over it.  Finally, at last, you can take off your clothes, and dive in to swim in the river.  You feel its current along your body, the gradients of temperature, its depth. You taste something of it. You wonder if you have the strength to swim its length.”

Michael and I come back to the Sufi Master’s words often.  We compare almost everything around us to the three ways to live.  We ask ourselves are we sitting on the mountaintop, on the riverbank with our knowledge, or are we diving in?

When we dive in and swim we take risks. We might be cold, swept away, face dangers or even drown, but sometimes accepting greater risk improves the chances for larger reward. If we sit atop the hill living mainly inside our head, filled with knowledge and no actual experience, we become trapped in the mind, into a self sealing logic, and are less able to experience other senses, and chakras. Our energies become immobile and can no longer serve us.

This can transcend all things: relationships, child rearing, learning, yoga, teaching or living each moment with grounded awareness. 

Chakra One instructs us to make physical connections with the earth: improved awareness, the knowledge that we have the right to be, and the act of diving into the waters with self-determination.

Chakra Two teaches us to experience, with grace, the awareness that we have no control as the current rushes us along.

Chakra Three pushes us to trust in the self, even as we navigate the snaking paths of life.

Chakra Four liberates us from fear and expectations so that we may float unfettered by grievance.

Chakra Five desires that we convey authentic experiences to others who are seeking.

Chakra Six is where we attach meaning to experience, and Chakra Seven assures us that faith enables us to endure.

Anyone can copy the words or the work of another, but it will lack authenticity, organic flow, and truth.

It is the difference between sitting along a riverbank while watching others test themselves and learn the highest lesson, or diving in to find the strength to swim the course of river.

When my husband and I make decisions regarding our son, we try not only to navigate our own position in the waters, but the experience of our boy. It is sometimes difficult to set aside the decisions other parents have made and see each situation from our own vantage point. We make each determination with love as the foundation. We bear in mind our son will experience much of life and its struggles and joys together with us, but also in his own way. 

Our son still needs our guidance to the great rivers, but our goal is to prepare him for the time when he dives in and propels himself.

I use this when I teach.  I didn’t invent yoga. I am far less adept at many asanas than other teachers.  I did not invent the theories behind Chakras. What I know is from books.  I aspire to teach from who I am, not just what I have copied from another or learned from a book.

I dive in to describe the pull of the current that tests the muscles in my shoulders, the temperature of the water from my crown to my toes, to test again and again if I have the courage to swim its length.