EcoSoul Wisdom: Re-Imagining the River


By Outdoor Afro Contributor, Phoenix Smith, MSW

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to know — Winnie the Pooh

Wade in the water, Wade in the water children. Wade in the water. God’s gonna trouble the water— African American Spiritual

It has been noted that the esteemed African American ancestor Harriet Tubman sang this spiritual as a warning to runaway slaves. This song signaled a need to change paths and move into the water, to go with and trust in the flow of the river. We can learn from her lesson today.

Where I live, in the San Francisco Bay Area, the rains have returned after a long season of dryness and drought. Although rain comes in sheets today, the drought remains.

Usually I lament the coming of the rains as it has signaled less time in nature, but I’ve now come to appreciate the rains differently, knowing that a “flow” has returned, and whatever droughts I have experienced can be healed like the water that flows in the river.

The creeks and rivers are now full of rushing water and of life. When I am still and listening near the river, hearing her rushing water, feeling her mist on my face, I am restored.

The simple act of being still at the river allows me to listen deeply and I stop and ask what does the river have to say? In the freedom of the flow I hear,: Do I flow full of life like the river, or do I resist?  In my practice, I seek guidance by asking questions of the natural world as I embark on making big changes in my life, and aligning myself with my highest purpose.

I start with the most basic questions: What’s the word river? What’s ‘up mountain’?  How’s it going dear hill? In response, something amazing happens. The river, the mountain, and the hill respond: “Ah, I’m glad you finally recognized me, didn’t your mama teach you to greet your Elders?”  When I heard this the first time, I stopped in my tracks, and looked around to see if someone was fooling around with me, but there is no human there. Just wisdom. So now I sit by the riverbank, ask questions, and listen to the message for the day.

“What has happened to your flow? “She asks. I remain silent. shocked that the river knows I’ve felt a little sluggish lately. And so she says, “I have only one course and that course is to the truth, to beauty, to life, to love. But I don’t always flow, and more often than not I’m not flowing or I’m very sick because of human neglect, and abuse and ignorance.  I hear her saying, “Please remember me and thank me when you take a sip of cool clean water, as I am no longer flowing everywhere –thank me when you are flowing in your life. Consider me when you are not.”

J. Phoenix Smith, MSW is the founder of EcoSoul a leader in the movement to foster a deeper connection between nature and intergenerational healing for personal and community wellness, sustainability and transformation. She is an Ecotherapist who utilizes ancestral wisdom, mindfulness based practices, and nature to cultivate peace and well-being. www.ecosoulwisdom.org


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