Natural Philosophy - The River

We owe a lot to rivers.

If only in terms of human survival, they have been vital to us; both as a source of food/water , and as a means of transportation


But then, when we look a little longer - we see their significance permeating throughout every aspect of our life.


Think of how many religious traditions regard certain rivers as holy sites - or as places of cleansing.

And how many pilgrims are taken to rivers in order to be baptised . . . or, indeed, to be buried.


Or, think of our folklore. How many stories, across the world, have spoken of the certain mystical nature of rivers?

From Ovid's Narcissus - to Excalibur and the Lady of the Lake in English legend - and in countless other traditions, with their fairies, river nymphs, demons and phantom creatures.

It seems like we have always had an intuitive sense of magic in these waters.


Of course, it is well known that the ancient Greeks believed that the way to Tarturus/Hell was via the River Styx. And, actually, their conception of the underworld included four other rivers too; Acheron (woe), Phlegathon (fire), Cocytus (wailing) and Lethe (concealment)


But, even if we step out of folklore once more - think about some of the real life mysticism Rivers have afforded us.


What would ancient Egyptian civilisation have been, had it not been for the Nile?

How could they have built such wonders?


And what about our other great rivers too?

How much life - human or animal - has depended upon (and in many cases originated from); the banks of the Amazon, or the Congo, or the Mekong?


And how much have rivers taught us - not just about our world, but about our own selves too?

After all, the river was humanity's first mirror. Giving early homo sapiens this crazy ability to actually look ourselves in the eye for the first time.

And, just as they reflect our physical appearance - so too do they reflect the nature of our life too. Being a perfect representation for the ever changing nature of existence - and how we all should aspire to live in flow with nature's currents.


Just like ourselves; each river will have it's source, and it's final destination. But where does one become the other? It is impossible to say.

The waters runs constantly; linking beginning, to end, to new beginnings; without break.

And yet, even in this endless motion - this constant flow - the surface appears perfectly still. Demonstrating to us how to live with what Lao Tzu might have called "actionless action".



So, next time you may find yourself walking by a river - whether it is a vast as the Mississippi, or as modest as the Thames - i hope you will stop a while. And think about just how much meaning is contained within these most humble of wonders.


Their waters may be shallow.

But, the lessons we can learn from them are as vast and as deep as the infinite sky we see reflected on their surface.


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