A wiki for journeying spiritually with water

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.”**Henry Miller**

"If you look at anything carefully, deeply enough, you discover the mystery of interbeing, and once you have seen it you will no longer be subject to fear - fear of birth, or fear of death. Birth and death are only ideas we have in the mind, and these cannot be applied to reality". Thich Nhat Hanh




Sometimes it is hard to see the big picture. Sometimes it is difficult to see the beauty which surrounds us when our eyes only look to all the things we haven’t done, all the things we need to do and all the things we should do.

Every tract of land is wrapped in systems of belief that shape the corporate story through the eyes of the people who inhabit it. Through imagination such beliefs over time become the stories that give identity to the place and also, brings shape or form to the inner life, or soul, of individual persons. Thus our journeys, real or virtual, enable us to live out these beliefs and stories to define the spirit of who we are.

The Wye is a distinct riverscape, running diagonally east/west across most of the length of Wales. It can be claimed as the most unspoilt major river system in Britain. The world is awakening to the need for water conservation, management and control including the ending of pollution. Politically, water may be a link between peoples or an obstacle to their unity. In the past, the Wye has been a focus of conflict between Welsh and English, so it now makes a suitable focus for alleviating the ills water brings to people as well as reflecting our obligation to be water’s caretaker and cause it no further harm. The rights of nature need to be carefully balanced, and calibrated, against human interests. In this context, river systems illustrate themes of the Earth Charter for reflection and dialogue between cultures. Environmental values are rarely about the environment alone. The implication is that each local culture will find different ways to express environmental values in relation to issues and conflicts, depending upon cultural meanings and practices already in place. Environmental values, in other words, do not stand alone; they are often linked to spiritual values associated with family, community, economy, work and history. In this respect the Wye is an ideal model for spiritual journeying.

The following working definition of spirituality has been adopted.

  • the development of insights, principles, beliefs, attitudes and values which guide and motivate us ( for some people, these will have a significant religious basis)
  • a developing understanding of feelings and emotions which causes us to reflect and to learn that insights, principles, beliefs, attitudes and values should influence, inspire or guide us in life.

The aim of journeying spiritually is to develop the mental non-material element of a human being which animates and sustains a sense of identity, self-worth, personal insight, meaning and purpose. It is about the development of an individual’s ‘spirit’. Some people may call this process of mental development, the cultivation of a ‘soul’; others as the development of ‘personality’ or ‘character’. Fundamental to this is contact with the environment to learn how to incorporate nature's ways into human ways. The Wye functions on a visible scale of mountains to microbes. But it has continuity in space/time with the origin of the universe and is therefore a platform upon which to contemplate cosmic 'why' questions such as; Why do we exist? and Why does the Wye function with this particular set of laws and not some other?


Interbeing is a state of connectedness and interdependence of all phenomena so that we stand as thinking beings between what we define as reality and the unknown

The Indian system of beliefs is based on an intimate relationship with nature. An offshoot of this is the reverence accorded to rivers as an inner motivated mental gesture of acknowledgement to their life sustaining abilities. Great perennial rivers such as the Ganges have been held in high regard since time immemorial. This praise for the river runs through the entire subcontinent, as seen from references to the Ganges in ancient Indian literature. The role of rivers as the sustainers of life and fertility is reflected in the myths and beliefs of a multitude of cultures. In many parts of the world rivers are referred to as "mothers". The Narmada river, the fifth largest river in the Indian subcontinent it known as Narmadai, "Mother Narmada"; the Volga is Mat Rodnaya, "Mother of the Land". The Thai word for river, mae nan, translates literally as "water mother". Rivers have often been linked with divinities, especially female ones. In Ancient Egypt, the floods of the Nile were considered the tears of the goddess Isis. Ireland’s River Boyne, which is overlooked by the island’s most impressive prehistoric burial sites, was worshipped as a goddess by Celtic tribes.

It is worth examining the Narmada River as a source of spiritual wellbeing because it is currently the centre of environmental issues arising from India’s economic development plans. The is one of the most sacred holy rivers of India among Ganga, Yamuna, Godavari and Kaveri. Every Hindu belives that a dip in any of these five rivers washes their sins, Narmada is said to be the daughter of Lord Shiva According to a proverb. "Every pebble stones of Narmada gets a personified form of Shiva" All along the course of the Narmda river are temples dedicated to Lord Shiva.. There are many fables about the origin of the Narmada. According to one of them, once Lord Shiva, the Destroyer of the Universe, meditated so hard that he started perspiring. Shiva’s sweat accumulated in a tank and started flowing in the form of a river – the Narmada. In 1979, as part of a development scheme to increase irrigation and produce hydroelectricity, thirty large dams were planned on river Narmada. Opposition to the dams is organised by Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), a peoples organisation that has mobilised tribal people, farmers, environmentalists and human rights activists. The campaign includes hunger strikes and garnering support from noted film and art personalities.

In a wider global context, the romance of water is also an epic, stretching in time from the birth of our planet to atomic bomb technology, embracing oceanography, glaciology and the evolution and proliferation of living things including humankind. Water has continuously shaped and reshaped the geological face of the world, is the source of plant and animal life in the ancient oceans, and the bearer or protector of the minerals at the base of all present day food chains. Therefore, by making a journey to a river we are moved to explore our inner landscape, and open a path of meditation to an inner human spiritual source of the first order. The abundance and the majesty of the world’s very creation is the story of water, which inspires us and lifts our spirits. Thus, all outer journeys to find or follow water becomes one with an inner journey through poetic references, novel compositions, celebrations of scenery and light, and unresolved narratives. We easily become river pilgrims who see life as a sacred journey and view the Earth as the sacred home of life. Life has no ultimate objective but is lived in every moment by flows of water. To meditate successfully on water is thus to reach the goal of interbeing.


To meditate on a river is to experience life as an endless and eternal process of being.

Life is not a product, but an ever unfolding process and a water pilgrimage involves mental processes of 'movement', 'unfolding' and 'flowing'.' So, a physical river and the metaphorical pilgrimage are inter-related. We make the outer journey in order to make an inner journey. Our inner landscape is shaped by the outer landscape. Metaphorically, and actually, we have to go upstream, to a mental watery, unformed world, following a line on a map, which gradually becomes an awareness and a wholeness. The river comes together as a compass, a course and a companion. To live in this kind of awareness is, in Buddhism, the most important precept of all, to know what is going on, to be aware of what we do and what we are, during each minute. When we are totally mindful, in direct contact with reality, not just images of reality, we realize that "all phenomena are interdependent and endlessly interwoven. This is the foundation of what the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh calls the principle of "interbeing. He uses the following metaphor of ‘The cup in your hands’ to explain it.

“In the United States, I have a close friend named Jim Forest. When I first met him eight years ago, he was working with the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Last winter, Jim came to visit. I usually wash the dishes after we've finished the evening meal, before sitting down and drinking tea with everyone else. One night, Jim asked if he might do the dishes. I said, "Go ahead, but if you wash the dishes you must know the way to wash them." Jim replied, "Come on, you think I don't know how to wash the dishes?" I answered, "There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes to wash the dishes." Jim was delighted and said, "I choose the second way… to wash the dishes to wash the dishes” From then on, Jim knew how to wash the dishes. I transferred the "responsibility" to him for an entire week.

If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not "washing the dishes to wash the dishes." What's more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact, we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can't wash the dishes, the chances are we won't be able to drink our tea either because while drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life."

He continues:

"Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future."

From this way of holistic thinking came his suggestion that God did not create man in his own image but we have created God in the image of humankind.

Interbeing is the approach, not only to nonviolence but to all of life and leads to the most important practice in Buddhist meditation of letting go or "throwing away." Wrong perceptions, ideas and notions are at the root of our suffering. They are the ground of all afflictions. In order for us to touch happiness in the here and now, we need to throw away the ideas and notions that prevent us from learning and growing. In particular, we should jettison notions of ‘self’, ‘living being’ and ‘life span’. We also need to give up our attachment to biased views, extreme behaviour, and rules and rituals that have created fear and hatred in our hearts.


The same sentiment comes from the thoughts of Henry David Thoreau as he made journeys through his New England neighbourhood .

“Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present. He is blessed over all mortals who loses no moment of the passing life in remembering the past. Unless our philosophy hears the cock crow in every barn-yard within our horizon, it is belated. That sound commonly reminds us that we are growing rusty and antique in our employments and habits of thought. The bird’s philosophy comes down to a more recent time than ours. There is something suggested by it not in Plato nor the New Testament. It is a newer testament — the Gospel according to this moment. He has not fallen astern; he has got up early, and kept up early, and to be where he is, is to be in season, in the foremost rank of time. It is an expression of the health and soundness of Nature, a brag for all the world — healthiness as of a spring burst forth — a new fountain of the Muses, to celebrate this last instant of time. Where he lives no fugitive slave laws are passed. Who has not betrayed his master many times since last he heard that note?”

Throeau’s ideas of interbeing also came from walking the countryside around his hometown..

“But the walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours — as the swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise go in search of the springs of life.

My vicinity affords many good walks, and though I have walked almost every day for so many years, and sometimes for several days together, I have not yet exhausted them. An absoutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farm-house which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the king of Dahomey. There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the three-score-years and ten of human life. It will never become quite familiar to you.

What is it that makes it so hard sometimes to determine whither we will walk? I believe that there is a subtile magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright. It is not indifferent to us which way we walk. There is a right way; but we are very liable from heedlessness and stupidity to take the wrong one. We would fain take that walk, never yet taken by us through this actual world, which is perfectly symbolical of the path which we love to travel in the interior and ideal world; and sometimes, no doubt, we find it difficult to choose our direction, because it does not yet exist distinctly in our idea.

We had a remarkable sunset one day last November. I was walking in a meadow the source of a small brook, when the sun at last, just before setting, after a cold grey day, reached a clear stratum in the horizon, and the softest brightest morning sun-light fell on the dry grass and on the stems of the trees in the opposite horizon, and on the leaves of the shrub-oaks on the hill-side, while our shadows stretched long over the meadow eastward, as if we were the only motes in its beams. It was such a light as we could not have imagined a moment before, and the air also was so warm and serene that nothing was wanting to make a paradise of that meadow. When we reflected that this was not a solitary phenomenon, never to happen again, but that it would happen forever and ever an infinite number of evenings, and cheer and reassure the latest child that walked there, it was more glorious still.”
Walks by water can be at the heart of interbeing because it is the central source of beings. It is part of every cell and tear. It is our very essence and the common denominator that weaves the spiritual web of animal, vegetable and mineral together as one. It is it the ultimate connector. It's awesome and humbling that water carries so many entrained messages, especially when we consider that there has been the same water, and the same amount of water, on the earth for millions of years. We are in a primeval spiritual sense connected with our ancestors when we drink. As a focus for meditating on interbeing, water evokes seas as well as rivers, ice, snow, rain and flood; sap, fertility navigation canals, reservoirs, hydraulics, steam-power and hydroelectric energy. It has played a central role in world history and is as crucial to modern industrial civilisation as it is to the parched fields or the devastating seasonal floods of needy countries.

Regarding the basic spirituality of rivers, the psychotherapist Dick Rauscher summed it up as the experience he had as a volunteer host for a summer at Oregon's Rooster Rock State Park in the Columbia River Gorge. Here he had the opportunity to spend time each morning at dawn watching the sun come up over the river. As he watched the sun burn the mist off the water each day he would reflect on the well known Buddhist story about the ancient spiritual master who meditated each day on the edge of such a river. One day he was approached by a student who asked him how meditating on the bank of a river could lead to enlightenment. The master smiled and told the student that sitting by a river is the same as paying attention to one's life. Like a river, life simply flows. It can bring us pleasure but if we try to grasp or hang onto the pleasure too hard we will cause ourselves suffering, because like a river, life will eventually take the pleasure away.

“Each morning that summer, I watched things floating on the river...barges, leaves, logs, bugs, dead fish, row boats with determined fishermen. I watched them come toward me...I watched them float on by. It quietly reminded me not to grasp too tightly to those things that bring pleasure, or push too hard against those things that bring pain and suffering. Like the river, life will eventually take them all away. In the meantime, they all have lessons to teach me”.

Rivers and living sustainably

At last the world is awakening to the need of water conservation, management and control including the ending of pollution. It can be said that our spiritual obligation to be water's caretaker and cause it no further harm and also alleviate the ills water brings to people of other lands, for politically it may be a link between peoples or and obstacle to their unity. In this context, river systems illustrate the following themes of the Earth Charter for reflection and dialogue between cultures.

Ecological integrity
Integrated social and ecological responsibilities
Dependency on fresh water
Protecting endangered species
Rights to a safe and clean environment
Imaginative thinking with head and heart
Biosensitive outlook
Integrated thinking involving sciences, humanities and arts

Schuylkill River

Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River Park complex, an eight-mile manicured recreation trail paralleling an active freight railroad along the east bank of the Schuylkill River is an excellent specimen of post-industrial interstitial planning. It also represents a dramatic break with Olmstedean municiple park planning, exemplified by the synthetic natural beauty of New York’s Central Park,—though the river park still reflects unnatural naturality with its clusters of antediluvian boulders and dramatically reconfigured riverbank lawns. But the main theme of the park is not to transport users out of an urban world but to foster reflection on the infrastructure of the city itself. In this way does the park resemble what the Germans call a landschaftspark such as that at Duisburg Nord in Bavaria: a multi-use playground for vigorous activity built on a former brownfield site.

In another way these parks tend to make the process of recreation a meditation on the structures and processes of the industrial world. Allowing views of the city’s concealed infrastructure and filled with objects of unknown function, these parks urge us to look critically at the urban/industrial mechanisms that once dominated our landscapes.

Just watching people use the Schuylkill River Path, it appears that the design of the park forces a sort of questioning mode. Whether it is a biker photographing a railroad signal or a woman reclining on a boulder lulled by the white noise of the Expressway across the river, the path designers have carefully created observation zones and structured the experience of moving through a world of transportation and movement.

The River Wye

‘The Wye exhibits ‘Purest nature and the hand of man in moderation together’. Richard Sale.

A watershed starts at mountain peaks and hilltops. Snowmelt and rainfall wash over and through the high ground into rivulets which drain into fast–flowing mountain streams. As the streams descend, tributaries and groundwaters add to their volume and they become rivers. As they leave the mountains, rivers slow and start to meander and braid, seeking the path of least resistance across widening valleys, whose alluvial floor was laid down by millennia of sediment–laden floods. All land is part of a watershed or river basin and all is shaped by the water which flows over it and through it. Indeed, rivers are such an integral part of the land that in many places it would be as appropriate to talk of riverscapes as it would be of landscapes. The River Wye as a distinct riverscape can be claimed as the most unspoilt major river system in Britain. It has its source high in the Cambrian Mountains of mid-Wales. Here at the same point, the River Severn flows to the North and the Wye to the South weaving its way in and out of Wales and England down the historic border to join the River Severn at the tidal mouth of the Bristol Channel.

The river Wye rises at 2,200 ft on the eastern flank of the sheep grazed plateau of Plinlimmon, part of the northern range of the Welsh Cambrian Mountains, not far from the mountain's highest summit. After a course of some 156 miles, south-easterly at first, it swings north east at the foot of the Black Mountains into England, then proceeds southerly below Hereford, flowing into the Severn estuary a little south of Chepstow.

Its source and the first ten miles of its course lie in the old Welsh county of Montgomeryshire, but a short distance below Llangurig, the first village on its banks, it enters Radnorshire, in which county it flows past Rhayader where it is joined by the River Elan. From its junction with the Elan down to Hay the river forms the boundary between Radnorshire and Breconshire. The principal places situated on this part of its course are Newbridge-on-Wye, Builth Wells, Glasbury and Hay. For a short distance beyond Hay the Wye separates Breconshire from Herefordshire, but from Rhydspence (near Whitney) past Hereford and Ross to beyond Kerne Bridge it is entirely a Herefordshire river. The spa-towns of Llandrindod Wells and Llanwrtyd Wells stand not on the Wye itself, but on tributaries, a reminder that the Wye basin with its tributaries has a catchment of 1600 sq miles.

The final and most famous portion of the Wye (Welsh Bicknor via Symonds Yat, Monmouth, Bigsweir Bridge and Tintern Abbey to Chepstow) forms (roughly speaking) the boundary between Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire, and Offa's Dyke runs along the eastern Gloucestershire bank.

__Thich Nhat Hanh__ (__Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers__)