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The River As Time

“The river is everywhere at once, at the source and the mouth, at the waterfall, the ferry, the rapids, the sea, and the mountains. It is everywhere at once, and there only the present exists for it—not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future… Nothing was and nothing will be: everything is, and everything is present and has existence… were not all sufferings then time, and were not all self-torments and personal fears time? Weren’t all the difficult and hostile things in the world gone and overcome as soon as one had overcome time, and as soon as time could be thrust out of the mind?” – Herman Hesse, Siddhartha

This analogy of the river as time/timeless isn’t new, it’s been around as long as humans have looked at rivers (the Stoics would have recognized it). And it’s an important character in the book Siddhartha too, as the central/title character learns about himself from the river at his lowest points in the story. Rivers run central in my own life: transformative as an 18 year old on the Merrimack, restorative as a 27 year old on the Connecticut, enlightening as a new father riding down the Colorado and an old friend ever since. I’ve travelled rivers source-to-sea, and I’m forever drawn to them, forever a disciple. For each river offers the same lesson in its own voice, if you’ll listen.

Time flows as a river. What’s upstream no longer matters (so don’t spend today living on past glories or regrets), and what’s downstream isn’t guaranteed to us (so don’t drown today focused on reaching for what isn’t yours – tomorrow). We all reach the “ocean” someday, whether our journey is turbulent or tranquil.

So what of the destination? The ocean becomes a symbol for “Om”, for entirety, the timeless sum of all that ever was and all that ever will be. So the timeless river flowing into entirety is a philosophy I can understand and embrace. Am I on a journey to Eastern Philosophy? I don’t believe so, but neither am I on a journey to Western Philosophy. I’m just on a journey, like you are… and they were, and others someday will be. I just happen to be writing about it as we float along.

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