Unobstructed Spirit

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Twisp River, mid-summer.

 

River gonna take me, sing me sweet and sleepy
Sing me sweet and sleepy all the way back home.

~Robert Hunter

I waded out into the flowing water, careful not slip on the slippery cobble of the river bottom, and stopped in mid-river to gaze into its clear waters. Staring into, nay through the water, I could see each and every rock and pebble as though looking through the clear, rarefied air. I was looking directly without the intermediary of flowing water with nothing to obscure my gaze. But if I cocked my head to the side, the angle allowed me to see the glare off the water’s surface and a thin veil of water-glare came between me and the rocky river bottom. I looked straight on again and there was nothing between me and stones; nothing except my thinking mind of course.

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We think of water as being blue because we have been taught to name it like that, to “know” that water is blue. Rivers, lakes, ponds and oceans are blue. We all know that, right? And because of this knowing, we usually perceive it that way too. Not only does our perception affect our cognition, but our cognition (what we think and know) affects our we perceive the world. This river was definitely not blue – it was multi-hued and calico like the cat I had been petting that morning at our friend’s house. Looking in directly, I could see greens, browns, whites, grays, and speckles. No blue to conceive of.

But there is a time and an angle when rivers do look blue (reflecting a blue sky) or green (reflecting streamside trees) or white (opaque with glacial melt). At times I can look directly and deeply into a river and other times when I see the world reflected like a mirror. At both of these times, if I don’t think too much, I see myself in the river. Do I see my true self or the narrow self that I all too often think I am? Can I see, as Han-shan wrote, that “the unobstructed spirit is clear.”

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A fisherman and the Twisp River in bright sunshine.

written by David LaFever

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