Category Archives: river

Change and the River

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Drawing Down the Moon_0003

For our new prompt, Michelle and I are changing our focus from the Moon to rivers. I began with the previous post, which still included a big old full moon.  Writing this I began to wonder about the meaning of that Moon in relation to the subject of compassionate acts. I remembered the way Islam divides charitable deeds in several categories – zakah, which is an obligatory giving incumbent on all Muslims and sadaqah, which is private giving over and beyond one’s obligatory tithe. Sadaqah itself has two components -an open-handed kind where one is seen to be doing good works (inspiring other to do the same) and a secret kind, even more meritorious, in which the gift is given anonymously (so secretly that “the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing”). In my previous collage, no one except the Moon is witness to the monk’s act of compassion. I like the idea of anonymous giving because it seems cleaner, somehow.  On the other hand public acts inspire and inform others.  I think its wise to promote both kinds.

Zakah is derived from the verb zaka, “to thrive,” “to be wholesome,” “to be pure.”  Charitable giving is seen as a way to purify oneself from the pollution of greed.  Which brings us back to rivers and flowing waters. Rivers have long been associated with purification.  Partly, I think, because they represent change. Heraclitus said it many centuries ago, “You cannot step twice into the same river.”

Nothing represents change more than a river. They move constantly undulating across the plains and carving furrows through mountains. A river is by definition moving water, unlike a sea, lake, pond or puddle it cannot be defined as a body because it is polymorphous, continually changing shape. It is change that purifies us and redeems us, for the past can never be erased or changed – all we can do is make the present count.   To do that we need to do it differently.  Even if it was good before,  we must accept that we cannot duplicate it.  Attempts to stop change result in stagnation.  We tend to think of dams as good things, ways to control nature (read “change”), but in fact dams kill ecosystems, reduce the fertility of the land and create the possibility for flooding larger by many degrees of magnitude than nature creates on its own.  We are a metaphor of the river.  Our own emotions and psyche reflect the same phenomena; dammed thought and feelings damn us to all sorts of ills, some long-lasting, some so insidious their effects don’t appear for years.

We go down to the river to pray, to wash, cleanse, refresh, renew.  Stepping into the current we become current, we become relevant.

Standing in the river, I am continuously present to what is, instead of what was or will be.

 

 

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Fish Releasing Ceremony of Compassion

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Monk and fishC Series 12-3-2010 1;55;08 PM

The people of Han-tan presented doves to Chao Chien-tzu on New Year’s

morning. He was delighted and richly rewarded them. When a visitor asked the

reason, Chien-tzu explained: ‘We release living things on New Year’s Day as a

gesture of kindness.’ [The visitor replied]: ‘The people know you wish to release

them, so they vie with each other to catch them, and many of the doves die.

If you wish to keep them alive, it would be better to forbid the people to catch

them. When you release doves after catching them, the kindness does not make

up for the mistake.’ ‘You are right,’ said Chien-tzu.

~From the Taoist text, Liezi, dated to the third century CE.

 

The release of fish into a river or birds into the air is a practice common to all schools of Buddhism. Actually it predates Buddhism and seems to be a Chinese practice well established in Taoist practice by its first recorded written mention. Though modern ecologists argue against the practice – introduction of invasive species, trauma and harm to wild animals during their capture for release, pollution spread of disease, etc. – it is easy to understand why the practice caught on and became so widespread. I first encountered it in Thailand where vendors sell birds for small amounts of money so people ca release them. I have a sneaking suspicion the pigeons simply return to their dovecots and are sold repeatedly. Nevertheless, it’s a wonderful feeling to release a caged creature and watch it fly away. My own heart fluttered in response and I entered the temple in a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving. I can’t help but think it enhanced the sincerity, if not the efficacy on my prayers.

 

In Thailand, many households keep large ceramic jars beside the front door to hold the living fish that will become their supper at some point. In a land without refrigeration this makes perfect sense, especially since the best time to fish is at dawn, before work starts, when fish rise to feed on insects. On special days, particularly on Buddha’s birthday, saffron is added to the water to sanctify it and the fish are released back into the rivers from whence they came.

 

One of the things that rivers represent is “universal potentiality” and the “fluidity of form” and the fish is seen in many cultures as a symbol of death and rebirth; the continuous cycle of life. It makes sense symbolically that to release a fish would be to enhance the effects of one compassionate act giving the consequences of that act a chance to morph and change form and spread in effect.

 

Sacred and magical as rivers may be, they are probably more associated with human endeavor, history, and culture than any other natural phenomenon. They flow through every kind of environment and have been since the beginning humanity’s road to distant places. We settle by rivers, our cities depend on them. They are nature’s highways and we have used them through all the days of being human and before.

 FREDERICCHURCHSMALL

Rivers live in our hearts, our poetry, our art and music –Handel’s Water Music , the Hudson River painters, the River Alph. They drain the land so plants may grow and move the waters back to the sea where they become refreshed, cleansed and reusable. They are the veins and arteries of Gaia and carry her lifeblood within their banks. To return life to the rivers is a sacred and profound act when done symbolically and even more so when actually accomplished as the completion of a physical task.

 

Hercules is portrayed in myth as cleansing the Aegean stables by rerouting the beds of the rivers Alpheus and Peneus to wash out the filth. Pete Seeger brought us full circle when he attempted the Herculean task of cleaning the Hudson River which had been receiving the waste of human lives and their factories for hundreds of years. Thanks to his leadership the Hudson once again has sturgeon fish swimming up its rivers and tributaries to breed. I can think of no greater act of compassion.

“It is Lost”

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Scan_Pic0006The Frog Prince
“It is Lost”

The frog is a personal symbol of mine. I call my art studio, Leap Frog Studio Collage Works. In my book, “Crying Woman”, one of the major characters is a Frog. My Frog character has lost his family. He has lost his “Frog“ voice and can not call to them. In the Grimm Bros. story “The Frog Prince,” the frog by the pond is actually a handsome prince longing to return to his kingdom and be the Prince he once was. When the Princess cries out that her golden ball has been lost, Frog sees an opportunity to help the Princess and break the evil spell that has been cursed on him. I wonder, “what if you found yourself turned into another creature, unable to communicate with others of your species and unable to contact those you used to love. How sad, how sad indeed.

My real life Prince Charming died. Perhaps he too was turned into a frog. I could no longer be with him. I couldn’t talk to him nor see him.  In every sense of the word he was lost. I cried out, too. Was there a way the evil spell could be broken. Could I do something to make him return?  Perhaps he was sitting by a pond waiting. Perhaps his voice had changed and he no longer could call to me.  I got to thinking about what it might be like for him.

I imagine when you die at least your spirit moves on. What if he was off on a new adventure but could not communicate with his family. There would be a sadness that surely he would feel, a longing.. Like the loved ones he left behind, he would wish to be reunited with his beloveds. Just as the Frog Prince must long to see his father and mother, the King and Queen.

I imagine that most Frog Prince’s and Frog Princess’ are people who died young. Because I would think that if you were old and all your loved ones had already “Passed On”, then you’d be ready to make the transition yourself. There would be no need to hang around longing for them to return.

In our story, “The Frog Prince” knows that IF he can get a Princess to take him home and let him sleep on her pillow for three nights that he will be turned back into the handsome prince. There are tales where the spell will be broken if the frog can get the Princess to kiss him.  Regardless, the spell can be broken. It may seem nearly impossible for the event to occur, but there is a chance, there is hope that things well return to “normal”.  In real life when a loved one dies they don’t get to come back. There are no spells, or caveats.  When you die you are gone from this earthly place.  There is no coming back.

What if in life you had that chance to be reunited, if only for a few hours would it make a difference? In the story of the Frog Prince his situation is temporary. He is turned back into a handsome Prince and the Princess falls in love with him and the story ends with everyone living happily ever after. In my story the Princess realizes that the frog needs to come to terms with his loss and  longing, the same as she must must do, but she gives him hope. They part knowing that each must go on their separate ways.  In the old way they are lost to each other.  But in a new special way they are tied to each other forever.

The Ugly Duckling

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Uglyduckling#1The Misplaced Egg

The Ugly Duckling

 The Ugly Duckling is a story about an egg misplaced. Somehow a swan’s egg gets into a duck’s nest. The story doesn’t tell us how that happens. It just begins with the odd egg being a matter of fact.  A barnyard mother duck is sitting on her clutch of eggs waiting for them to hatch. Finally the little ducklings are born, all are doing well. The mother duck is upset because there is still one egg, the largest egg still to hatch. The mother isn’t sure what to do.

 An old duck comes by and takes a look at the egg and declares it is a Turkey egg which she has had experience trying to hatch. She tells the mother duck about her involvement and how it turned out to be a turkey chick and how when it was time to teach the ducklings to swim the turkey chick wouldn’t get in the water. She advises the mother duck to abandon the egg but the mother duck decides to spend the extra days sitting on the egg. When the egg cracks open and out pops the creature inside she is amazed at how ugly it is. It has big feet, grey down plumage, long neck, a large beak and is twice the size of her other babies. This poor thing is pretty unappealing, perhaps it stayed in the egg to long or maybe it is a turkey. She takes her babies down to the pond and they all jump in including her ugly duckling… As it turns out the ugly baby can swim and swim better than the others… She decides it isn’t a baby turkey.

 When she takes her babies to the barnyard all the other animals comment about the “odd” one. Everyone picks on and ridicules the ugly duckling until the ugly one runs away.

 We all have had moments, or periods in our life when we felt like a misplaced egg … an ugly duckling that can’t purr or lay eggs. These are difficult times. We wonder who we are and where we belong. We look for our tribe, our kindred souls. It is a time when we feel alone and unsupported. If we aren’t careful we can start to hate our self or hate the others. We have no role models, no friends and no sense of our worth. Hans Christian Andersen tells of the poor baby duckling’s struggles and wanderings. At one point the baby almost freezes to death.

 In the story the cygnet notices all the different animals, wonders where he might belong. When he sees the mature swans he is impressed at their beauty, skills and graceful nature. As a young one he is not old enough to join them as they migrate to their winter grounds. It isn’t until the baby finds his “people” his fellow swans that he can really see himself. When he looks at his reflection and is amazed at how he has transformed. When the children see him on the pond with the other swans and declare that he is the most beautiful of all he arches his long graceful neck and swims with pride and happiness. Like the ugly duckling all of us need to realize that are uniqueness is what makes us beautiful.

The Pea under the Mattresses

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Who is the Real Princess?

Who is the Real Princess?

The Princess and the Pea
Essay
The Big Picture

This tale was written by Hans Christian Andersen back in 1830-1840. He was a Danish author of novels, plays, poetry and children’s fairy tales. Time has cherished his Children’s Tales, loved by adults and children alike. This story is really quite short usually less than two pages.

I think that this tale has remained popular over time because it demonstrates how ridiculous and goofy some tests can be. Many of such tests are touted as real and important and they are not. They are used by a group to insure that unknown persons are worthy of being part of the group. The tests usually either rule them in or rule them out. As a culture we find these tests everywhere. In the story of The Princess and the Pea, the Prince wants a bride but feels he must find a “real” princess. But how can he be sure that the woman claiming to be a Princess is in fact a real true, honest to God, Princess?

The Old Queen knows how to find out. She dreams up the perfect test. A single lone pea under twenty mattresses and twenty feather beds will establish whether the young woman is group worthy. If you think about it you might agree with the Old Queen’s test, for if the young woman had always been privileged, pampered, her every whim attended to, she would of course notice that her bed was not quite right. She would be use to wining and making a fuss over trivial matters. These would be the proper indicators to prove that she was use to special treatment. True to form, the self-acclaimed princess turns out to be a “real” Princess. We know that because she acted like a spoiled Princess of the highest order. She rudely tells her hosts, the King, Queen and Prince that she had a horrible night, couldn’t close her eyes, body bruised all over … “Heaven knows what was in the bed.” This is what the Prince and Queen are looking for and so the Prince happily marries her. I say, they deserve one another. They will all live happily ever after, expecting to be over indulged, pampered, because they believe and feel entitled to have their most trivial demands met.

Most of us, in the same circumstances would probably have been grateful to have such a soft bed, who even owns twenty mattresses, let alone twenty feather beds. We would have been polite, smiled and said nothing. Because we would be grateful to be in out of the cold and rain. Therefore, we would have failed the test and would not be considered a part of the Queen, King and Prince’s group. We would be ruled out because we believe in gratitude and courtesy.

I think Hans Christian Andersen was making fun of the aristocracy and their social rules and tests.

In our every day life there are lots of different tests given on a regular basis. The tests are used to pigeon hole or rank and classify individuals without having to actually get to know them. Things like … where you live, what type of car you drive, the restaurants you frequent, the name brands of the clothes you wear, your name, your age, were you work or don’t work, the charities you support; the tests goes on and on.

Education can be used to screen and rank people. Did you go to college? Which college? Was it an Ivy League college, one of the top seven located in the east? Was it Harvard or Yale? Were you at the top of your class? Each yes moves you up in rank. The subject you studied becomes important and so does advanced degrees. There are even more ways to rank or screen individuals. To discover who is a witch and who is not one, just throw the woman in the river and if she survives she’s a witch if she drowns she has been forgiven.

All this testing is done because we have ranked our self and we are looking for a short cut to find some one like us to form a familiar bond. We make up tests for ourselves and others so that we can be sure that we are one of the “REAL” people. At some point, hopefully, we realize that most of these tests are as silly as the lone pea under the twenty mattresses.

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