Going Upstream (#919)

One of the things that sometimes catches people off guard in the transformative conversation is that we tend not to spend too much time exploring the content of someone’s problems or story. Instead, we look towards the simple human truths in life, truths like “everyone has problems” and “human beings are innately story tellers”. We may even look beneath that to find more universal truths, like “thought creates feeling” and “we are all part of one universal intelligence and energy”.

These same people are often surprised at how much of a difference this seemingly abstract exploration of universal truth comforts them, and how often the story or problem they come in with disappears or resolves itself with little or no intervention.

In order to better understand why this occurs, consider the following story:

A man is walking through the dark forest when he comes to the bank of a huge river. As he marvels at the beauty and grandeur of the river, his attention is caught by something that sounds like a cry for help. Sure enough, he notices someone drowning in the flow of the river, and he wades in to rescue them. The person he rescues is, of course, deeply grateful, and the man basks in the feeling of having contributed to life until he hears another cry for help, and once again wades into the river and saves another person from drowning. Each time he hears a cry for help he wades in; each time he saves someone his good feeling is interrupted by another cry for help.

After a time he grows lonely in his endeavor and he recruits some of those he has helped in rescuing the seemingly endless supply of people who are drowning in the flow of the river. Some do not feel capable, some apologetically say they are too busy, but others stay until a community of helpers begins to form.

They form a village and elect him their leader, for they see him to be experienced, compassionate, and wise. And even though there are many more people drowning in the river than they could ever possibly save, they do their best with one and all.

Then one day, to the shock and horror of his followers, the man throws his hands up in the air and exclaims “I’ve had enough of this! There are too many people drowning and not enough of us to help save them!” Without even a backwards glance, he turns his back on the river and walks away.

Although this is a deeply discouraging turn of events, the remaining helpers throw themselves back into their work with even more vigor, doing their best to save each person they can even while knowing that for every one they pull out of the river, three more will float on by.

One morning, they wake to find the river flowing in all its majesty but not a single cry for help to start their day. It seems a blessed day, and they promise themselves and each other that they will never forget it for the rest of their lives. But there was even more to come.

Every day that followed, the helpers went to the river to save the drowning, and each day came and went without a single incident. Then one day something truly remarkable happened. There were once again people in the river, but when the helpers waded out to save them, the people in the river laughed.

“We were not drowning, we were waving!” they said.

Later that day, their former leader appeared at the village by the side of the river, returning as if he hadn’t a care in the world. Many were happy to see him, but some were still angry at what they viewed as his betrayal and abandonment.

“Why did you leave us?” they asked. “Why did you abandon the cause?”

“I never abandoned you, my friends,” the older man replied. “I simply went upstream to stop people from falling in and to teach them how to swim.”

For me, this points to the very heart of the transformative conversation. Once someone sees the nature of the thought/feeling connection, they’re less likely to get caught up in the river of thought-created suffering. And once they insightfully recognize their true nature of innate well-being and wisdom, they realize that even when they do get caught up and swept away, they’re not going to drown.

Because happiness floats, and the buoyancy of the human spirit will always lift us clear of the currents if we stop thrashing around long enough to let it. And there’s something about knowing that which fundamentally changes our relationship with ourselves and with life for the better.

Have fun, learn heaps, and happy exploring!

With all my love,


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