This last Grand Canyon raft trip was my sixth; my first of twenty-one days length however. All previous trips were of eighteen days in duration.
This last trip was the most difficult and arduous of all I have taken. More on that perhaps in a later post. But of all the trip-returns I have made, and I have made perhaps fifty wilderness trips of two weeks or longer in length, this last return has proven the most difficult as well.
There is an understanding among many who work in the field that we might call wilderness or experiential education, and I think the same is true of all who are worth their salt, whose work involves guiding people through change processes or ‘altered states’ of consciousness, that it is the bringing people home that is the critical part. Yes, bringing them home ‘safe’ is vital, but also supporting them in bringing their selves home in concert with the magnitude and depth of their experience, bringing them home to the ‘normal realities’ of our living while also holding on to and integrating the mysteries and wonders of being experienced while on their journey.
This is no small challenge, this coming home… to ourselves… our Selves, if you will. For the whole point of our pilgrimage is to touch the numinous, to be reminded and to re-member and re-story our selves in a way that is perhaps more coherent with the deeper realities and currents of Life. At least such motives stir in me… often when I take a simple hike in the mountains… but always when I partake of an extended wilderness outing.
So it is not surprising that I might come back from a twenty one day rafting expedition… a different man, a different self in some way. That was after all a desired intention. I’m just not sure that I have yet or ever will return from this last river trip, or that there is even a ‘self’ anymore who might return.
T.S. Eliot writes, in The Dry Salvages,
“I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable….”
And then lines later he continues:
“The river is within us, the sea is all about us…
…The sea has many
Many gods and many voices.”
I am discovering many gods and many voices within me too. But always there is the river within, sullen, untamed and intractable. So perhaps one reason I’ve not fully returned is that some part of me is yet listening, yet looking, yet thinking I should know something, have some insight into the nature of Life to share… should know now and at last how to be in the world….
Surely there is only One God! One concrete object self-soul that I can name and know myself as.
Instead, I know less than ever. The self I thought I was is being washed and worn and eroded away. There is less here than ever to hold onto, less than ever seeking to hold on. I can no longer untangle the river from the sea or the sea from the river. This freedom of perception is taking on a subtle and vibrant tangibility yet…
What might be reveled is yet around river’s bend, is yet below the rapid’s horizon of view and all I know to do is wait. be patient. be at one with the river. breathe. be ready. laugh. let go of all I think I know. open. feel the current in the depths of my being. listen to the water sing it songs…
It feels like a great and wondrous… dream… I am the river… or perhaps it is the river that is… dreaming me?
“I am only a ferryman and it is my task to take people across and to all of them my river has been nothing but a hindrance on their journey. They have traveled for money and business, to weddings and on pilgrimages; the river has been in their way and the ferryman was there to take them quickly across the obstacle. However, amongst the thousands there have been a few, four or five, to whom the river was not an obstacle. They heard its voice and listened to it, and the river has become holy to them, as it has to me. The river has taught me to listen; you will learn from it too. The river knows everything; one can learn everything from it.” — Herman Hess, Sidhartha