I recently came across the book Riverwalking: Reflections on Moving Water written by naturalist and eco-philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore, which features twenty essays invoking a wide range of different waters and terrains. Each river essay she begins writing alongside a stream or floating down a river, as the author reflects on various themes of life, such as love, loss, aging, motherhood, happiness, and the art of poking around.
“Drifting on rivers, you know where you will start and you know where you will end up, but on each day’s float, the river determines the rate of flow, falling fast through riffles, pooling up behind ledges, and sometimes, in the eddies at the heads of sloughs, curling back upstream in drifts marked by slowly revolving flecks of foam. So, drifting on rivers, I have had time to reflect — to listen and to watch, to speculate, to be grateful, to be astonished. I have come to believe that all essays walk in rivers. Essays ask the philosophical question that flows through time — How shall I live my life? The answers drift together through countless converging streams, where the move softly below the reflexive surface of the natural world and mix in the deep and quiet places of the mind. This is where the essayist must walk, stirring up the mud.”
She reflects on the nature of home by the Willamette River, of grief among the ponderosa pines of the Metolis, of change in the shifting dunes of Bear Creek, and of clarity and mystery by the Smohalla.
What caught my attention were her passages on clarity and mystery:
“The word clarity has two meanings, one ancient and the other modern. The Latin word clarus meant clear sounding, ringing out, ‘clear as a bell’; so in the ancient world, ‘clear’ came to mean lustrous, splendid, radiating light. The moon has this kind of clarity when it’s full, and so do signal fires and snow and trumpets. But that usage is obsolete. Now ‘clear’ means transparent, free of dimness or blurring that can obscure vision, free of confusion or doubt that can cloud thought.”
“For twenty years, I thought that the modern kind of clarity was all there was, that what I should be looking for was sharp-edged, single-bladed truth, that anything I couldn’t understand precisely was not worth understanding — in fact, may not exist to a rational mind. I am beginning to see that this was a failure in courage. I am beginning to understand that the world is much more interesting than this, that I don’t always need to know where I am, that ambiquity swells with possibilities, that possibility is ambiguous, that I miss out on the real chance when I pile rocks at the edge of the river to trap an eddy where the water will stop and come clear while the rest of the river pushes by, boiling, spitting spray, eddying upstream.”
“I want to be able to see clearly in both senses of the word. To see clearly in the modern sense: to stop a moment, stock still, and to see through the moment to the landscape as it is, unobstructed, undimmed, each edge sharp, each surface brightly colored, each detail defined, separate, certain, fixed in place and time. These are visions to cherish, like gemstones. But also, every once in a while, to see landscape with ancient clarity: to see a river fluttering, gleaming with light that moves through time and space, filtered through my own mind, connected to my life and what came before and to what will come next, infused with meaning living, luminous, dangerous, lighted from with in.”
I love those passages. And I was also a little startled by them.
For me, the ancient sense of clarity has always come so easily, because I thrive in the mystical poetic realms. Being highly attuned to my senses and sensitivity, and being able to see beyond the veil of most things, I understand the kind of clarity that is an inner word, an inner thing, an inner light, and is not always clearly defined by lines. I question things and know that there are spaces of non-linearity where opposite perspectives co-exist, and truth is subtle. Perhaps this is why I am a creative, a writer, a poetess, a mini blonde mystic, exploring the spiritual and emotional wildlands of all within and without, the landscapes not easily defined and seen with our naked eye. Love itself is not rational – and the greatest miracles of life are precisely found in the ambiguous.
And yet I also consciously cultivate the modern sense of clarity, because I believe we need a beautiful balance of both seeings. To change our world, whether internally or externally – we need to have the humility to see, and accept, reality for what it truly is, and then the courage, and audacity, to imagine how it could be, by questioning, remaining curious and expanding the boundaries within.
I love doing my own independent research and I love developing my critical thinking for I believe discernment is one of the greatest lessons in humanity, and the initiatory key for our soul growth. And discernment too rests upon inner clarity – for we can’t discern what’s real from illusion, only based on the surface of things; it’s something we need to understand and unveil with various perspectives from various angles, some of which might at first sight seem non-sensical and ambigious.
For many years I was in a highly technical field where only proof mattered, where only numbers and facts sufficed – and even then, not everything could be explained, rationalized, seen and understood. Statistics and science have the incomplete and the unexplainable within their variables; there always, somehow, unveils a tiny something that is not understood, that cannot be rationally defined nor even categorized, and perhaps this is where miracles live – and the greatest innovations begin.
When we leave some empty spaces, where non-linearity can exist, where we don’t have to control and enforce our knowing, where we can question and wonder – this is where God can surprise us; and there, we can always learn something new, experience something new, create and innovate, and even be enchanted – reminded of how mystical life is, and how beautifully it can align without our control and need to shape. There too, the ordinary can be turned into extraordinary, and even save a life. And it is often in the ambiguous, liminal spaces, when we discover our greatest inner truths and inner clarity.
We were never meant to know it all. Of course we try. We long to understand life and the things that happen to us because of our need to control, so that we feel comfortable within our existence, and mainly, because we need to feel more stable in all uncertainties and unknowns which feel scary. This is why humanity is so obsessed with categories, labels, groups and statistics – because if we can define it sometimes it might even save us from pain too. If we meet someone new, we can just say – they are this or that – and we’ll be safer, with a temporary comfort that their actions will be predictable. But everything, and everyone, is multi-faceted, multi-layered and ever changing. As humans, we can also change our perspectives and opinions, as new insights emerge – and we have to allow ourselves that change.
We can’t possibly understand everything with our conditioned human minds and limited understanding – and the humility of this deserves to be treasured.
I too love the clear cut, well-defined lines of life and truth, because it gives me comfort and a sense of stability in this uncertain thing called life. It feels good to have something shaped to be observed and cherished in its tangible form. But truth is more subtle. And it just doesn’t come single bladed.
Life has its own pulse, it has its own rhythm.
It inhales and exhales in its breath.
It expands and withdraws in its lungs, like the ebb and flow of waves.
And in itself, each breath is needed and each aspect is purposeful.
God has many faces.
And the flow of consciousness isn’t always shaped in a tangible way, and yet it exists as everything around us, in many shapes and forms. And love too has various shapes, forms, speeds and movements – sometimes even tangible – but the nuances are subtle, and the lines are merging, weaving in and out.
In the subtlety of truth is where we can find ourselves.
Because everything is a perspective; my truth may not be your truth, and what’s good for me may not be good you, and what’s pleasure for you may be pain for me in the mutual exchange.
But a society that begins to force one “truth” and one right option, without considering the human rights of freedom and without respecting individuality, is beginning to take the shape of a totalitarian regime.
"What the Moon Saw" by illustrator Helen Stratton (1867-1961)
When we find ourselves in the muddy waters, we need to be able to see the light of the moon within ourselves to show us the way forward; we need to see our inner lantern, our inner wisdom, and hear our own inner truth. With so many contradictions and pressures today, it is hard to know what’s true, but we can tune into our heart to find our own clarity and guidance. And then, hopefully, we’ll also have people who can support us and treasure us.
I am in the muddy waters now. I know who I am and what’s best for my body regarding inoculation, but the environment doesn’t respect my choices. And it feels sad. And disappointing, and discouraging.
And I don’t know how I can live in a country, or a city, that is pressuring me to go against my free will, especially when I’ve made a rational decision based on research. I kneel alongside the river not knowing what will happen next and where I can settle a little place where I can thrive. I know my meaning, I know my reason, and I see my own inner candle – but what good is that if it’s not allowed its being?
We live in a society that continues to promote states of blame, guilt, shame, fear and separation, under the disguide of “togetherness”. When we are in continuous states of such pressuring and negative emotions, this induces in us unconscious states causing disconnection – disconection from self and disconnection from others, manifested through hurtful behaviours towards others and overall loss of compassion and empathy. And we become more vulnerable to being controlled and stagnant, and the fear causes us to see nothing clearly – because the prism through which we are seeing, even the defined lines, is skewed. We need to connect to ourselves and our own inner voice.
When our external environment begins to look chaotic, unstable, fearful and destructive – it is a natural response to turn this destruction inward towards ourselves. And so it is important to start cultivating a more peaceful space within – generating loving emotions, taking care of our bodies, eating healthily, cleaning our house, sleeping well, being mindful of what we watch, listen to and intake during the day from others, and bring more love and joy into our life, in whatever way we can.
Inner clarity is what grounds us in our core within. And from there true discernment is possible. Because we can’t properly discern without knowing who we are – and we can’t see clearly if our view is skewed. When we are dropped in the rabbit hole, deep in Wonderland, we need to be able to find our way out – among the sparkles, diamonds, clear lines and tea offerings – we need to know what’s not good for us and what isn’t. Because in Wonderland, lines constantly disappear and then appear again but as something else; roads untamed are suddenly built upon, and the paths we once walked on are suddenly gone. So how do we find our way home with the changing lines?
This ancient clarity is our inner light and inner wisdom; and from that inner light then everything else then shines outward and illuminates our path – even when the moon isn’t shining above us. Inner clarity gives us stability in the core of who we are and we stand strong within ourselves, and our values and actions are then aligned with higher truths, integrity and perspectives; and we see beyond the veils without needing to chase the external deceptive lights. We learn to see in more ways than only with our eyes. Clarus also meant ‘upstanding, respectable’ and we reach it when we walk in our authentic selves.
Like Moore said, ancient clarity requires courage – because the journey inward is always difficult. The instability to admit to ourselves that truth isn’t absolute and one-sided, and that we don’t know it all – that there are many nuances and tones along the lines that change and reshape and sometimes disappear completely – is unnerving. We need courage to trust in ourselves and the voice within, especially when it goes against what everyone else is saying or seeing. Most of us have grown up in families who weren’t particularly understanding nor supportive of the importance of developing our inner guidance, our intuition, the ability to listen to our inner voice and our inner truth. As children, we are told what to do, how to behave, what to think, what to feel, what not to feel, what are our feelings, and mainly, who we are. We were encouraged to believe only in the well-defined and rationalized and mainstream – and rarely, were we taught to develop our own critical thinking and free mind; rarely, were we encouraged to develop our own intuition, so that when we find ourselves lost deep in the forest, we would have the tools to find our own light and survive.
Through the shadows of the unknown dark paths, we’ll be led towards inner clarity that will fill us with a deeper knowing and we’ll start walking the truth of our heart, spirit and soul. Because unlike the roads we build in our cities, the paths of life are not clearly defined, never straight nor direct nor linear – they twist and turn, and are unpaved and only seen with the eyes of the heart. And we often walk them lone, and it is difficult, because it is hard to trust the unseen.
What gives us refuge is the moments when we remember that at least we have stayed true to ourselves – and that perhaps somewhere, up above in the sky where only hawks fly, somewhere above the high structures built of concrete and restrictions, there, in a space of non-linearity and freedom, forces align to cross our paths with those who will support us on our shared path. Such deep trust, in life and in ourselves, is what I believe brings all clarity, both ancient and modern, in balance and harmony – even when our feet are deep in muddy waters.
And so …
in the times when we are feeling like in some way something in our life isn’t fair or that our truth isn’t seen nor honoured as being equally important as that of someone else’s, we must remember to
allow the understanding of our truth to be what see us through the forest;
allow our knowledge of ourselves to be enough for us.
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Cover Photography by Maxime Simoncelli.