Rivers are an image that I frequently come back to when working with sound and for trying to help myself understand what's going on in my own life right now. Sometimes our lives are like a broad, wide river; predictable, stable and easily navigable. Other times, it feels like we are on some kind of white-water ride and just trying to keep our heads above water. Sometimes, we have a sense that although we are in a good place right now, we can hear the distance roar of a waterfall ahead. Change is coming, whether we are ready for it or not.
Maybe we just block it out? Maybe we hunker down and brace ourselves? Or maybe we head for the shore and search for safety?
I am not about to tell you what you should do if you are in this situation because it's going to vary on the individual and the challenge that they're facing. But I am going to tell you what I'm going to do in case it switches on any light bulbs for you.
I was introduced to the work of Thich Nhat Hanh a few years ago, who was a buddhist monk from Vietnam that travelled to the US to protest at the Vietnamese War in the late sixties and as a consequence he popularised the act of mindfulness in The West. He wrote a whole book about how to cope with Fear (waterstones) and in one chapter he talks about using 4 mantras that recognise the states of fear, or in our analogy, of approaching a waterfall.
Offer your presence to yourself ("I am here for you")
Offer compassion ("I know you are there and I'm so happy")
Recognise your suffering ("I know you are suffering and I am here for you.")
Recognise when to ask for help (I am suffering. Please help.)
Imagine a flower; a water-lily for example. It's part of you, but not all of you. When you're in this situation and recognise that you are sensing change; this is the first great thing to happen; because you're aware of change taking place. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about being there for your water-lily. Being present; noticing the changes without judgement. "I am here for you."
Offer compassion. Your water-lily is delicate and beautiful. Offer yourself that same level of compassion as you would seeing your water-lily on the river of life. You are with the most beautiful part of yourself; the parts of you which makes you who you are. That is a special moment which we're not always aware of.
Recognising suffering. This applies to whether the suffering is for yourself or for someone you care deeply for. Just being with someone when they really need it can make a real difference to them and the same is true for ourselves. Being there in that moment and recognising that we are not alone; we are offering ourselves compassion and loving that water-lily or that person who needs us to hold their hand; we are there for them in that moment when they need it.
Asking for help. This can be such a hard thing to do, because it also involves we recognise that we need help, and as such it can delay this process. When we think of the water-lily asking for help; sometimes it can help us understand what action we need to take next. Maybe we need to rest. Maybe we need to step back. Maybe now is not the time to take action at all. Maybe that person doesn't yet know what they need; maybe they just need to stay present with that water-lily; nurture it, hold it and really love themselves for not going through it without the awareness of the experience. Only the individual who practices the mantra can really know what they need at this point.
What I say next is wholly words based on my own reflections of having gone over that cataract of a waterfall before. It's not the process of going over that cataract that I find hard; it's the build up to it. But afterwards, when I look back at that great sheet of water changing from one path to another, I see myself reflecting on that experience and not just being grateful that it has passed; that now I'm safe and secure, I'm grateful that I did it with my eyes open. However challenging it was keeping myself steady as the waters became more turbulent, now that I'm through it I can reflect that I'm probably stronger and wiser for that experience and the next time I have to be ready for a waterfall; I don't want to be scared; I want to be there for myself; like I would if my life-force was a water-lily; I would keep it from sinking; I would comfort it and tell it that no matter what change happens it'll be stronger and wiser for the experience.
On that note, I will leave you with the words of one of the best songs from the early 90s; "Waterfall" by The Stone Roses.
See the steeple pine
The hills as old as time
Soon to be put to the test
To be whipped by the winds of the west
Stands on shifting sands
The scales held in her hands
The wind it just whips her and wails
And fills up her brigantine sails
She'll carry on through it all
She's a waterfall