Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


An Experience By The River

Petaluma, California, USA

May 29, 2015

This essay, Flow: An Experience By The River, is the one thousand and fiftieth in this Conversations For Transformation internet series.

It is also the companion piece to Standing In The River.

It was written at the same time as I am indebted to the Chief who inspired this conversation.

I don't go into the city as often as I used to. That's because these days my life centers more and more in and around the farmlands of the Napa Valley, the wine country  in California where I live. But every once in a while, there'll be something I absolutely must go into the city to handle. And when there is, there's a list I maintain of things to do there, none of which are pressing enough to warrant the journey by themselves. Yet if I'm going in anyway ie if I must  go in anyway, I'll make good use of my time. I'll clear my entire "to do in the city"  list while I'm there.

I'm driving home after one of these days. Everything's done. My entire "to do in the city" list is cleared. I'm looking forward to being back home in the Cowboy Cottage. I've got the radio on, enjoying the tunes, relaxing into the late afternoon drive. I round a bend in the road ... and there it is, directly in front of me: a veritable logjam of cars, trucks, buses, and vans - hardly moving, barely creeping along, effectively parked bumper to bumper on the freeway, going nowhere.

There's nothing I can do except slow down and creep along with them. It goes like this for about a half an hour, a couple of miles, and a few more bends until the freeway is carried over the wide Petaluma  river by a trestle bridge. As we creep over the bridge, I peer down at what looks to be a far prettier sight than the one I'm stuck in the middle of. The river looks much, much  more inviting down there than the logjammed freeway I'm on up here. At the first possible opportunity, I exit the freeway then double back until I'm under the bridge, and by the river.

Up there on the bridge, I see the traffic moving along at a snail's pace. But down here there's nothing, no one, no commute noise, peace and quiet, just the river and its gentle sound of babbling water. There's no sense in leaving here (it's too smart not to) at least until the traffic starts moving again. So I find a place to park, and start a long, slow, meandering, ambling walk along the river bank until I come across a rustic bench made of tree logs, facing the river. I sit down on it, the river flowing mere inches from the heels of the boots on my outstretched feet. I interlace my fingers, put my hands behind my head, and lean back. A silent "Aaaaahhh!"  escapes my lips all by itself.

I take in the easy scenery: fantastically colored ducks swimming in the reeds, frogs kicking around in the shallows, entire communities of aquatic insects and newts capturing my attention until my eyes are drawn to and settle on the flowing water itself, now lit by and sparkling in the rays of the setting sun.

At first there's me, and then there's the flowing river - which is to say at first I'm aware of both ie I'm aware of both me and of the flowing river. However as I sit here, there begins to be less of me and more of the flowing river, and then there's less and less of me and more and more of the flowing river, until there's no me and all there is, is the flowing river. As I watch the flow, I seem to ... well (this is the only way I can say it accurately) ... disappear. I disappear, and it's only the flow which is present. Although I'm aware of the flow, I'm not aware of myself. I'm not in this picture at all. There's only the flow.

It's a kind of altered state of awareness - not altogether unpleasant ... then again, it's not occurring in the domain in which I ordinarily register the unpleasantness / pleasantness spectrum. Briefly I have a thought (which brings me back into the picture) "How can I be aware that there's only the flow not me, if I'm not present to experience it?". It's profundity strikes me deeply. That aside, this is the way the experience I'm having, occurs for me: there's only the flow; there's no me.

It's empty. It's marvelous. It's empty and  marvelous. It's profound peace. There's nothing going on at all anywhere in the universe except the flow. And it goes on inexorably for what seems like forever. This is a way of being which is clearly legitimate, which allows the flow to be the flow without interfering, which allows the flow to be the flow without imposing my own judgement and opinion on it, which allows the flow to be the flow without imposing my own interpretive machinery on it.

It's a way of watching / being which suddenly interests me enormously. I begin wondering whether or not it's valid to apply it to all  of life beyond merely this flow of this particular river in this particular location. I realize I'm more than just interested in it: I'm very  interested in it. I'm mesmerized by it. At some level, this way of watching, this way of being, and whether or not it's possible to always maintain this way of watching / being, is the only thing that interests me, the only thing that's interested me like this for a long, long time. Indeed underneath it all, it may even be the only thing I've ever  been really interested in.

It's both mystical and mysterious, while at the same time it's a count-on-able metaphor for a great way to live: watching the flow while not interfering with it - which is to say being with the flow while not interfering with it. There's also a profound mutual respect which goeswith  it (as Alan Watts may have said): my respect for the flow, the inexorable flow, and it's respect for who I really am, the space in which it shows up ie the space in which it shows up with all its might, with all its majesty, with all it's profundity, with all its magnificence, with all its such-ness, with all its thus-ness.

I become aware of a slight chill in the air. It jogs me out of my reverie. For the first time in what seems like an eternity (although in reality it's probably been no more than about an hour) I turn away from the river and notice the sun is now below the horizon. Looking back up towards the bridge I see the logjam has cleared, the traffic having thinned out considerably and is now moving at an acceptable speed. If I could stay here on this rustic bench by this river watching / being with the flow forever, I would. But that's not realistic. I do have to leave - the coziness and warmth, the hospitality and creative energy of the Cowboy Cottage is calling for me.

I resolve to carry being aware of the flow with me wherever I go, rather than have it be limited to only this particular river in this particular location. I stand up, putting the palms of my hands together, bowing to the river, to the flow, whispering "Thank You!", then slowly begin walking back along the river bank in the gathering dusk to where my car's parked.

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