The River

by Denise Roy
Excerpted from Momfulness: Mothering with Mindfulness, Compassion, and Grace. Copyright © 2007

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“Everything is connected; everything changes; pay attention.” —Jane Hirshfield

My sister Nancy called yesterday in tears. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing. It’s just that I had an experience last night that made me cry. I’m not really sad; I just had this recognition about life. I’m teaching the book Siddhartha to my high school kids, and I think it’s affecting me.”

Nancy is a high school English teacher who is passionate about her work. She is also the mother of two girls—Christine, age fourteen, and Amelia, age ten. “Here,” she said, “let me read you a passage from the book. It’s about how there really is no such thing as time.”

But today he only saw one of the river’s secrets, one that gripped his soul. He saw that the water continually flowed and flowed and yet it was always there; it was always the same and yet every moment it was new. Who could understand, conceive this? He did not understand it; he was only aware of a dim suspicion, a faint memory, divine voices. [Herman Hesse, Siddhartha]

“Anyway,” Nancy went on, “last night I was chaperoning at the eighth-grade graduation dinner, and Christine and the other seventh graders were serving. They showed a slide presentation of the kids who were graduating, beginning when they were in kindergarten, and suddenly I had a Siddhartha moment. It was like I was looking into the river.

“I saw Christine as she is now, in seventh grade, and I saw the faces of the eighth graders and the pictures of the kindergartners, and realized they’re all connected. Next year Christine would be sitting here as a graduate watching the slideshow of her younger self, and I suddenly saw Amelia as a kindergartner and third grader and eighth grader all simultaneously, and the pictures of all the families looked just like all of ours.”

Nancy took a deep breath. “I had a realization of the endless stream that life is, and that we are all part of it, and that it just keeps continually flowing, and when we look at it, like at a stream, there is always just the present, this moment.”

She laughed a bit between her tears. “Then today in class I shared what I had felt the night before and related it to the book, and one of the boys in class teased me. I started crying, and all the other kids were sweet and tried to comfort me. I feel kind of stupid—but I did get their attention!”

I told her I understood and that I’ve had many of those moments with my children as they’ve grown. This year, during the Halloween parade at my daughter’s school, I cried, not so much because I was sad but more because I recognized the preciousness of a moment. For each of the last six years, I had dressed Julianna in a Halloween costume, and each year she sat with her class on the playground in the designated spot for her grade level. When she was in kindergarten, I looked across the playground at where the fifth graders sat; I couldn’t imagine my youngest child that big.

But with each passing year Julianna and her classmates moved up, and this year she sat with her fifth-grade class on that once-distant spot. Now it was time to look across the playground at the kindergarteners, and I had a hard time remembering when she was that small. During the parade, the children from every grade processed in front of us with delight, and it felt like the endless stream of life.

As I look deeply at the lives of my children, I see how everything changes and how everything is connected. The river is flowing; it is always there, it is always the same, and yet every moment it is new.

River-of-Life Meditation

In an interview with Elizabeth Lund, of The Christian Science Monitor, the poet Jane Hirshfield used seven words to describe the nature of this life: Everything is connected; everything changes; pay attention.

She added, “And really, you only need the last two—if you’re paying attention, you’ll find out whatever else you need to know.” 

See how everything is connected and how everything changes: 

• Remember back to your childhood, to the little girl that you were.  What did you love then? What did you want to be when you grew up? What has stayed constant within you? What has changed?

• Think about each of your children.  Remember their births and their early toddler years. Look into the river of their lives.

• Now as you look at them, imagine your own parents as toddlers. Move forward in time and imagine your great- grandchildren as they are learning to walk.

In prayer or meditation, you might want to use the phrases: Everything is connected; everything changes; pay attention.

Is it possible to notice that eternity exists in this very moment?

©2007 Denise Roy. Excerpt from Momfulness: Mothering with Mindfulness, Compassion, and Grace (Jossey-Bass, 2007). Used with permission of the author.

About the Author:
Denise Roy is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a popular speaker, and the author of Momfulness: Mothering with Mindfulness, Compassion, and Grace

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