River as Teacher

6 Tammuz 5776

by Rabbi Daria

Shalom. This month of Tammuz I'm sharing with you a story I heard from one of my teachers, Rabbi Shefa Gold. I found her experiences to be quite moving, and thought that you might want to read of them yourself. If you're interested in more by Rabbi Shefa, and experiencing a river with her, you can join her:

Lessons from the River
September 5 – 11, 2016

A rafting (and, of course, Hebrew chanting) trip
down the San Juan River in wondrous SE Utah.

Download the Utah River Trip flyer for more information.

Even when we're not on a river trip, may the lessons that a river can provide help us navigate the twists and turns in our lives.

And now, for some river lessons by Rabbi Shefa and the rivers she has followed. A true story:


*The Lessons of the River*

“I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.”  -  John O’Donohue

My River story starts many years ago. I was a shy 22, making my way across the country. I met up with some folks who invited me to join them for three weeks in the wilderness of Utah. We floated down the Green River and hiked deep into majestic canyons. Far from civilization I found my strength, my wild beauty, my fierce commitment, and a deep unselfconscious joy. The wilderness gave me the seeds of wisdom that germinated slowly over years of effort and grace. The river filled me with a momentum towards a life of adventure and exploration.

Flash forward many years later: I was leading a pilgrimage to The Grand Canyon. We spent just one day floating on the Colorado River.  I leaned back in my boat and heard a voice rising from those cold waters. “I have a message from the Green River,” the voice said, “She wants you to come back.” I was startled, but immediately I said, “Yes.”

When I arrived home there was a message on my answering machine from Eli, who was a river guide and a rabbinical student. “Would you like to lead a journey with me down the Green River in Utah?” I called back and said, “Yes, definitely, yes.”

We put the word out, set the date for the following summer, and called our journey, “A River flows from Eden” (a quote from Genesis). Slowly, people began signing up.

Then towards the end of November, I was awakened in the middle of the night by another voice- the voice identified itself as the Green River. She said, “Here is the curriculum. This is what I will teach you.” I jumped out of bed and wrote down the words.

Flow…  Connection to Source …  Constancy/Change … Purification … Generosity/Receptivity … Buoyancy/Trust … Depth.

The following summer, we set out from Moab, for the deep sun-drenched, mysterious canyons. We stepped into our canoes, and opened to the wisdom of The River. As pilgrims, we knew that the beauty and grandeur of the outer landscape mirrored the vast inner landscape of soul. And as we floated down Labyrinth Canyon, the wisdom of the river began to emerge.

Flow: I learn to pay attention to what obstructs the flow. What gets in the way of the flow of Life? Shame? Self-consciousness? Rigid desperate ambition? Attachment to preferences? My fixation on “the drama” of my story? When I bring my attention to the graceful dance of flow, I see how each moment opens the door to the mystery of “what’s next.” I live my life in a state of surprise. I am swept up in the currents of inspiration. I let go. I am embraced by the current, conveyed into my potential.

Connection to Source: The river shows me that I am connected to the source of all life through my gratefulness, through my receptivity, through my openness. That Source-place is within me, overflowing. The river tells me that I must connect with Source-within, heal the places of disconnection, connect again and again. Then I can be a channel of inspiration, strength, love and wisdom.

Constancy/Change: Everything in my life changes; everyone dies; all I see is flux, and I am flummoxed. The river knows this well, changing constantly ... and yet, it is only the forms that change. There is essence beyond these shifting forms that speaks to me, that whispers its constancy.  There is an enduring spirit that calls to me, and I listen, so that I might gracefully endure the changes that ripple through my fragile life.

Purification: The river calls me to self-awareness. When I discover the obstacle to flow; when I uncover the true nature of my resistance to becoming one with the river … it is possible to make my insight into an offering. I give my awareness to the water’s purifying power. I offer up my self-imposed limitations to the Divine force of flow that it might wash me clean. Towards the end of our week together, we look around the circle and someone says, “We’re all getting dirtier on the outside and cleaner on the inside.”

Generosity/Receptivity: As the river keeps on giving itself, I keep opening to receive its nourishment. The place of fearful stinginess in my heart is cracked wide open to reveal my own true generosity. That generosity is expressed through my simple joyful presence, though my loving attention.

Buoyancy/Trust: The river teaches me to float, to be carried forward. The river shows me how to say “Yes,” to every obstacle, to trust the onward motion of my life. Just for an instant, I stop flailing, and all of Life supports me. In surrender, I am empowered.

Depth: As I paddle my canoe, I am continually searching for the calm
surface that reveals the depths. I am looking for those same depths within me, which will manifest as a calm, radiant and beneficent surface. The person who is “deep” embodies the wisdom of the river:  Flow ... Connection to Source ... Constancy/Change ... Purification ...  Generosity/Receptivity ... Buoyancy/Trust.