When I look outside and see that I am everything,
Between these two my life turns.
— Sri Nisargadatta
I am freshly returned from 17 days of rafting the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, the ‘Big Ditch’ as it is sometimes called in the rafting community. And once again, as in my 6 previous trips down the Grand, and as in many returns from other wilderness journeys, it is this juncture of ‘re-entry’ that presents me with the challenges of a particular kind of ‘whitewater rapid’ to navigate: re-entry into ‘civilization.’
The opening quote captures some of this for me. I looked around on day two of this trip and felt myself viscerally dropping into the deep time of the Canyon’s formation, into the unimaginable span of days’ and years’ of erosional forces required to carve this slit into Earth’s skin. Lost myself amid the eons, I did.
And now I floated on the River of Life like Alice dropping down the Rabbit’s hole: here were the elemental forces of sun’s fire and wind and water, of expansion and contraction, of heating and cooling and everywhere around me the exposed inner flesh of Earth’s body… my body… and my small life now like a grain of sand somewhere in these immense walls of time.
And what of humanity itself? How shall we measure ourselves when our impact is enormous yet the span of our presence on Earth is like a thin layer of skin cells? Against what standard shall we seek to distinguish our specialness or nobility? Intelligence? Tool making? Language? Decision making? Soul?
All the old measures of human superiority and uniqueness fall away as sheer wonder and awe rise into presence. Story itself stops; my mind, informed by science and cultural stories of creation, discovers itself naked in the face of such immensity and the raw primal powers reveled in this open state of heart and being.
And now returned to ‘civilization’, my mind rushes to again clothe and insulate itself with a narrative of story, in part to hide from the raw experience of its own nothingness.
There is another side to such an immersion in nature for me however: it is this ‘looking outside too, and seeing that I am everything.’
Between these two poles of movement my life turns: realizing the finiteness of my being, the nothingness—and also experiencing the wholeness of who I am, the ‘everything.’ What paradox! How does one hold such wholeness?
And how easy it is to default to the false comfort of a domesticated ego: making-believe the human world is the center of the universe, that what matters most is how I measure up against…you?
Except now my self-inflation is once again punctured by this Grand re-membering of wholeness; I return again and again to nature for this vital reminder. I open in such wild environments like a Self coming home, blossoming open to the joy of shear existence.
This existence is a paradoxical embodiment of spirit: I am flesh and…mystery. And like you, it is the innate wild resiliency of my spirit that seeks to lessen my load of the predatory barnacles of self-comparison and shame and small thinking…. I want to swim free—free of self-condemnations and judgments that do not serve the soaring of my soul and the opening of my eyes to what is. I seek the awakening of my inner senses to the subtleties of Life’s energetic currents.
The River is my teacher in all this. Water is. And Fire and Wind and Earth, rocks and lichen and occotillo and tadpoles and soaring California Condors and duffel-zipper opening black Ravens and Side-Blotched Lizards doing push ups throughout reptilian ages and…
And the return to an unnatural and hypnotizing pace of fast food and rush hour traffic and standing in line at the grocery store and bank…and the emotionally numbing drone of the evening news and the ease of sleepwalking through life…all can conspire to my quickly forgetting what it is to stand naked in the world without a constraining story of identity:
a simple awareness saying “Yes!” to Life.
“Yes!” to the River of Life as it flows around and through me…as I too embody that very River. That River flows in my veins and is the viscous fluid in my eyeballs and the amniotic fluid of my birthing…and of yours too.
I am the River looking at the River. Celebrating you. Celebrating me. Celebrating our diversity and our too seldom seen unity of being too. So it is that I again come home, so to speak.
My domesticated self wonders, “What might I do with such wealth as this?” And then my wild self remembers, I can do nothing with it; I can only be it, through this gift of grace in which I live.
“Everybody understands the single drop
merging into the ocean.
One in a million understands the ocean
merging into a single drop.”
How might you further open your senses to wholeness today?
See also Grand Canyon River Gifts on this blog.