If you board Amtrak in Washington, D.C., and head for Whitefish, Montana (which we did), spend two days in positive reflection as you feel the gentle rails humming beneath you (highly recommended), and take a 24-hour layover in the Twin Cities (a lovely place to be in the summer), you might find yourself sitting on a rock at sunset, dipping your feet in Minnehaha Creek – a 22-mile tributary that runs over Minnehaha Falls into Minneapolis, where it joins the Mississippi River.
Pausing before boarding the train for the final leg of our trip, we sat by the banks of this creek, watching the water rush along its clearly carved path lined by age-old rocks and stone. Wavelets looped back and crested before dropping back into the flow.
These waves coming off the falls suggest a metaphor for life. Some power far bigger than us convenes and gives us consciousness at the outset of our lives. It gathers steam as we gather autonomy, experience, and relationships. We travel as droplets among the waves along with every other fellow droplet formed during our lifetime. We move together through the decades, the delights, and the disasters. Sometimes there are detours, and sometimes certain droplets fall away sooner than it seems they should. If things feel pleasing, we sense a synchronicity with the wave. If not, we struggle against it or try to hide from it. Regardless, so much of our fear and suffering stems from an avoidance of the only ultimate guarantee: that one day this life force, this wave of ours, will rejoin the current and carry forward without us (Oh death, how do I refer to thee...let me count the ways).
The yoga sages believed that our inability to mitigate suffering stems from a narrow perspective of how things really are – an attempt to isolate our droplet-selves not only from the singular wave but from the current underneath, as if walking up an escalator without noticing it’s actually going down, wondering why it's so hard to get to the top. If we fight those winless battles long enough, we never stop to truly see or fully appreciate the miraculous nature of the wave itself.
I don't suggest we have no power as individual droplets within the wave, especially one that seems to be moving toward a destructive formation. One of the mandates of an awake yogi-droplet is to recognize possibilities for productive action and skillful response to circumstance. If we align with intention, compassion, and equanimity, destructive courses can be corrected and obstacles can be removed. But regardless of its form, and with or without our full participation, the wave will no doubt move to completion.
In stark contrast to the narrator’s final sigh in The Great Gatsby, resigned that we simply “beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” sitting by Minnehaha Falls felt like a sweet reminder that I could let myself be carried forward by an underlying current that runs like rails, rocking me home.