Many of us have spent a bit of our time learning to read the river for its clues. We read its surface, judge its flow and look for places a fish may be taking refuge. We look for undercuts, shadows, obstructions, rocks and boulders. These features come together to tell a story in our minds and draw a picture about the stream we are fishing. How much of this do we do with our lives though?
In my life, I know there are times when I don’t slow down long enough observe the important details. What is the flow? What are the obstacles? Where are the snags? How cloudy is the water? Where are the opportunities that I need to cast to? I sometimes even forget that I am not fishing alone, that I have people I can turn to and who can maybe offer advice on my technique, or tell me about the water up or down stream.
Our lives have these similarities to a stream. If we don’t slow down to read the stream, we will inevitably find those snags and get hung up and find ourselves casting aimlessly. Only when we slow down can we get an understanding of life's flow, we can see those subtle opportunities and become better in tune with it's challenges.
For several months this winter I have been struggling to slow down enough. This winter, like many winters, I find myself with a case of acute, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). According to the Mayo Clinic this is “a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons. SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year.” SAD symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Our winters run funny in Colorado. We get hints of spring early in the year that are quickly dashed away when winter says “Not quite so fast spring. I have one or two more fits to throw.” Learning to slow down and be accepting is the real challenge.
The moodiness we feel often affects those around us too, in less than positive ways. This darkened veil in our minds taints our perspective on life and is certainly seen and felt by others around us. An outward facing, bad attitude can make us horrible people to be around. We lose our ability to let things go and we dwell on the latest snag or inconvenience of the world in front of us. We internalize the world we see and make broad brush judgements. We only see the negative and fail to see the beautiful. The worse part of this type of moodiness is that it doesn't support our health or allow for positive things to happen in our lives.
Whenever I feel this way I know that I have NOT been “reading the water of life” very well. I am told that one of the best things we can do during the winter months is boost our vitamin D, Vitamin B12, and get our butts outside into the clean air and sunlight. I think though that there are also other things we can have immediate effects IF we recognize ourselves as being disconnected from the river. If we stop long enough to slow things down we can change our perspective and let go of the negativity.
Listen to the sound of the stream.
How much noise is being made in your life? When I speak of noise, I am talking not just bout audible noise, but I am also talking about mental noise we are listening to. We tend to trap our thoughts and feelings in a cage of analytical thinking. Meditation practice has been a great help to me. I try to meditate every morning I can. Meditation lets me recognize, stop and release the negative feelings occurring in my analytical thinking. Practicing any form of meditation to quiet our minds is a wonderful tool to have. When we can remind ourselves that thoughts and feelings only exist in our heads and are temporary sensations, we become familiar with a process of releasing them and not allowing them to push or pull us in any direction. When we find those noisy conditions, we can use a short meditation to slow down and get right with the relationship to our surroundings and situation. We can be mindful of our own noise and mindful of the noises around us.
We can also find an actual quiet place to just be.
"The wind has settled, the blossoms have fallen;
Birds sing, the mountains grow dark --
This is the wondrous power of spiritual practice."
~ Ryōkan Taigu (1758-1831)
Watch, learn and appreciate the stream.
There is a lot to be said for stopping to appreciate the view. We so often become focused and zoned out on the big picture of things that we forget that the world we live in is much bigger than our limited view. We can’t always see around the next bend and we may not even pause to see the snow on the mountains above that hold promise for a healthy stream in the months to come. Are you making a point to be grateful for the way the river flows through your life? Are you appreciating its finer features? Who do you share the stream with? I enjoy some days fishing alone, and some days I share the river with someone else. It is important to have our personal space, and occasionally a little solitude. But it is equally important to have others there to connect with too. Acknowledge the stream of life as a gift and blessing to be aware of and a part of. Give mindful thanks to those who are there with you with moments of gratitude. Gratitude is important and we express that gratitude through actions and not just words.
Keep your own stream clean.
I am overwhelmed by the amount of litter and junk that falls into the cracks and crevices of the rocks along the banks of some of the streams I fish. Stuff that is placed there by the stream itself but that is inevitably traceable to the negligence of others. Life is like that too. Sometimes it seems like a futile process of picking up after others. But we are each guilty in some way of adding to the problem. It is important to look at the things you have in your life that you are unintentionally allow to fall between the rocks. Where are the rocks in our lives holding all the trash? Look no further than your bookshelves, closets, drawers, garages etc. We may be careful not to litter the stream but we are still guilty of overt consumerism, wastefulness, and hoarding. How much garbage needs to be picked up out of your stream? Where does our garbage (both figurative and literal) go? The only way we can keep our lives and our life streams clean is to make mindful decisions on what we buy, why and how we will dispose of those things. We have to realize that others are not going to do the right thing every time and so we will have to pick up the slack. This is our service to the planet and it can be the service we have to our immediate world as well.
As spring in Colorado approaches, I am starting to thaw out and I am breaking free of my fight with Seasonal Affective Disorder. I am waking up from a slumber of sorts, like a grumpy bear coming out of hibernation. As I leave my cave of darkness, I want to be sure to take notice of the stream that is there before me. I need to accept it just as it is and not be overwhelmed by the changes the winter has made to it. I need to also be patient and not let my imagination get caught up in the things that “might” be under the snow yet to thaw. I hope that this week is the last week I will have to shovel my driveway of snow. I hope that spring will actually show up. I can be sure it will in time.
Dennis Vander Houwen lives in Colorado with his patient and supportive wife, talented artist son, a smart dog, a new river puppy, and a very lucky cat.