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Lessons From A River

Lessons From A River
Helen Thomson

Tonight, the very first sliver of New Moon appears.  It's a good time to begin something new, to experience a fresh thing.  

For years I've been paying close attention to the Moon, following her cycles with devotion.  As I sit here writing this I'm just realizing that her waxing and waning is a lot like our own breath.  The Dark Moon, that lightless void, is like the instant between an exhale and an inhale.  The New Moon is the beginning of taking breath again, when we start filling ourselves up.

What do you want to fill yourself up with right now?  

Since the last time you heard from me I got invited on a river trip on short notice.  I went.  For a moment, life was floating.

Lessons From A River
Helen Thomson, my trip-mate and brilliant photographer

We traveled over water by day.  In the evening we unloaded kitchen and sleeping gear from the boats, ate and slept, and in the morning we packed it all back up and took off downstream again.

The group was majority twenty-somethings, and following their lead I found myself hucking flips off of cliffs into the water, like I hadn't done since before I gave birth to my son.  It re-awakened a part of me that was sleeping, steeping in responsibility, motherhood, and dismay at the world around me.

I remembered how to play.  I remembered that I'm a sovereign woman, in a body who likes to move through the water like an otter, through the air like a pilgrim.

Lessons From A River
Yep his toenails are painted pink. Photo by Helen Thomson.

I've been thinking a lot about the relationship between playing and working to change the things we cannot accept.  There's no question that things are looking bad here.  Everyone is struggling, some of us are dying needlessly, too early.  All of us are experiencing trauma, some so grave, at the hands of fellow human beings.  There are so many ways we do an don't work together that are broken, that need healing.  If you're depressed, downtrodden, exhausted, grieving, discombobulated, you're in good company.

Floating the river was a brief step into another dimension, a reset button.  Since I landed back home, re-integrating into daily life has taught me: what I want to fill myself up with on this New Moon is play.

It's obvious to me now that social media and the news bury me in despair.  The weight is so heavy that play can feel impossible.  Capitalism teaches us that work and play are at odds, separate things entirely.  Spiritual bypassing teaches us that we can't acknowledge the darkest most painful things while also being positive.  But these things aren't opposites on a binary, they're partners, together flowing and making up the same river.  In truth, there's no one without the other.

Those of us who devote ourselves to making change and creating the world we want, must also nourish our spirits or our efforts will fizzle.  When we play we reconnect with our bodies, and thus our intuition.  We quiet the outside voices so we can hear our own, and know where to go next.

Lessons From A River
Psyching myself up to jump over a very deep chasm. Thanks for the snap Helen Thomson.

If you feel buried in the work that needs to be done to turn this ship around, if you witness injustice, take it on as your responsibility, and the grief becomes unbearable, remember that light shines most bright when things seem hopeless.  

There's a glorious movement right now encouraging #blackjoy.  For BIPOC, play is resistance.  As a white person of privilege, play is still absolutely necessary, but play alone does not suffice.

The river showed me that the news cycle isn't working for me.  If you're sensitive like me in this way, here are some things we can do in lieu of a crushing amount of bad news: 

  • Subscribe to trusted e-mail lists who'll tell us when we need to make a phone call to a congressperson.  

  • Show up masked and in person to a protest when we can.  

  • Donate, and when we need to buy things, do it mindfully, responsibly, and in ways that support the change we want to see.  

  • Read books on the topics we care about.  

  • Have difficult conversations, and be willing to get uncomfortable and stick our necks out.

  • To feed it all, play.

What feels like play to you?

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