This river was a winding, challenging, terrifying, devastating, hopeful and hopeless ride through treatments, surgeries, hospital stays, medications, rising hopes and dashing disappointments. Allen, my husband, said he wanted to go shopping for a scooter. He was on oxygen and a feeding tube. He weighed very little and had difficulty walking and doing even basic activities. We had a little dog, Max, who was his constant companion.
There was no way in the world this man was ever going to ride a scooter. I tried to talk him out of the adventure. He would not be deterred. All through his illness I had to deal with the anger I felt. I wasn’t mad at him. I learned early on that being angry about the things I did to assist him, translated as resentment. I never wanted him to feel that I resented being with him. I often would say out loud to myself and to him that there was no place that I would rather be than by his side, no matter the course. My heart was all in, even though I was also pissed off as all hell.
I was mad, and I was constantly figuring out ways to channel and release it. Everything in those days felt like a grand effort. For this journey, I loaded up the oxygen tank, with its stand with wheels plus an extra tank. I packed the feeding tube bag and pump in the travel bag. The back pack for it has a tube that attached into his stomach for liquid nutrition. I prepared the medications and syringes. I loaded up the dog with his leash and water bowl and travel carrier. It was Florida, so there would be no leaving the dog in the car.
We had to find scooter places in a city where we had recently relocated. We plotted out GPS routes and took off in the traffic. It was tiresome and frustrating and I was not enjoying it, though I tried. I wish I could say that I was happily going along with this course, but I was mad as hell the whole time. I was mad at cancer. I was mad that he wanted to ride a scooter and could not. I was mad at the impossibility of dreams. I was mad at the difficulties. I was mad. I was just so mad.
We went into a Honda motor bike dealership. I carried the feeding tube back pack, wheeled the oxygen tank, and carried Max in his carrier. I wanted Allen to have some freedom of movement. The bikes all leaned precariously and heavily. He sat on them, to feel them, and to imagine the wind in his hair on an open road. At every turn I was fearful that a bike would fall over, wipe him out, and hit all the others in the line crashing down like dominos. I was aware of the people watching us with confusion and what felt like concern or distaste or maybe pity. Why couldn’t I be happy to be doing this? I felt inward pain and restrained rage. I continued despite, or perhaps because of, the emotions.
In another dealership, I could not go in. I was drowning in anger at the situation and at the unfair challenges that overwhelmed me. I stayed in the car with Max while Allen went in by himself. It was the Vespa dealership. We both loved the smart looking scooters. I could not bear to see what we would never ride together. I was a dam gate of pressure. In this bit of time alone, I resolved that I would be more willing and accepting. I exhaled in this temporary puddle. I eddied as the engine idled.
Each place and route it seemed was a nightmare of traffic jams and missing turns and getting lost and turning around and starting over. Allen was calm and patient chatting about scooters and places he would like to ride. The final place was small and had both used and new bikes and scooters. My anger had simmered to more of a rippled grimace. I lugged the accoutrements of our journey and in we went. There was only one man at this final place, and he was very kind. We spent some time there. Allen picked out his favorite scooter. It was white and just in our price range. We told the man we would be back.
Why did I think I had to tell Allen on the way home that he would not be able to ride? I said that he would kill himself on it. He said he did not care. It would be a good way to go. I said he might take someone else out with him. He said that we would go where there was no one around. This made me so damn mad. I cannot explain this anger. I could not stop it or control it. It would not leave me. I told Allen that I was not mad at him. I told him I loved him with all of my heart. I explained that I was mad at the situation. I was mad at the illness. I told him I wished I could have fun with him on this outing. He said he loved me for my anger. He thanked me for taking him.
Allen died three days later. I was so ashamed about this outing and the way I had behaved. I cried every time I thought of it. I wailed in agony at passing scooters or the places we had been. I begged him out loud for forgiveness. I hated myself that I had not been kind and joyful in his final days and through his last wishes. I was determined to bury this memory into a knot of self-hatred and regret.
A year after his death I met with his adult children to place the headstone. They wanted to know things about his final days. I passed over the scooter shopping like a scratch in a record. And then it hit me. This was not about me. I exhaled and shared the story. It was a testament to the way Allen had loved and embraced life. It was an example of his strength of spirit. It did not matter that I felt like an asshole. As I told the story, we laughed and shook our heads and gulped back tears. We giggled at me carrying all the medical equipment and the dog. We made light at my anger. It was so apparently understandable. The memory of a wonderful man, who was so full of life that he would go scooter shopping in his final days, transformed the remorse I had carried and washed it away.
I have come to see that anger as the rush of rapids, the course of the river, the flood waters rising. I took the plunge. I filled in the pit. I screamed. I cried. I toiled. I perspired. I laughed. I loved. I did it. I cussed like a ship of sailors. I said there is no place other than here that I would rather be, or that I can be. I did not talk him out of it. I did not give up. I did not sit home and feel sorry for myself. That would have been a deep regret. I am a person who gets angry by injustice. I am a person who cusses. I am a person that straps on feeding tubes, oxygen tanks, and service animals while keeping a wary eye on a frail, life-loving man sitting atop a motorcycle.
Assignment: How does the trigram describe a situation; a cause (origin, root); a person? How does it tell you what to do? What does it tell about how to do something?
“Engaged movement’ and ‘venture’ – yes, as long as it is not will-driven or actively steered in a purposeful chosen direction. Water has to follow the course that is set out for it.” –Harmen
Water is a situation of danger, risks, uncertainty, uncontrollable emotions, and hearing the inner rhythms of the heart. It is weak outside, yet strong inside. There is a sense of no way around it. The challenge it poses is full of difficulty and the work feels like drudgery, never ending and without purpose. Around every curve is something different and there is no way to prepare for it except by being fluid, flexible. There is the possibility to gather strength and force, but only by the effort of keeping fluid. The situation is moving along the set course. The challenge feels like fingers worked to the bone. There is nothing that can change the course, except to follow it. In this way, the obstacles inherent in the situation can be moved past.
There is something of sound and listening for the familiar, and repeating rhythms in it. Listen for the beat of your heart or the rhythm of the situation. It may be the kind of danger for which patience is required, like paying taxes, or being with in-laws, or a busy week at work. There is a downward flow to the situation which can mean moving with it and through the obstacles and challenges. You can do this because you have done it before in one way or another. It is an exhale or a sigh and can feel like exhaustion in the repetitive nature of the difficulties.
It is also a situation where we are following our Dao and doing what is needed to meet the challenges. It is listening to the inner pulse and going with the current. Water does not have its own will but rather follows the laws of nature. It coils and moves downward, ever changing and inexhaustible. It is also about patterns and shapes. It is the realm of emotions especially the deep ones like sadness, seething rage, loneliness, and grief. It is the unconscious in the mid of winter and a deep place of knowing. It is the moon, a state of reflection and mystery. It is sound that is stored and also carried. Water is associated with fear and hard work and so it is also the place of courage and fortitude. Emotions bring nostalgia and trauma and intuition.
It is an ‘uh-oh’ feeling. It has the association of being in a pit, a drop off the cliff. It is described by what it has to meet, get over or around. Yin lines on the outside are like feelers, antennae, checking the environment. Yin moves in response to the conditions. Yang on the inside is the set course, the flow that moves downward, or fills up. The fluidity of water is to be in constant contact with what is inside and what is outside. Plans are not helpful. The environment, which is not the water, is changing.
A river splashes and runs fast in the channels with a whoosh of sound. It banks on the curves. It crashes into boulders and swirls around them. It moves back to the rush and flow of the main channel. It becomes a circular eddy in small holes or ditches. At a flat place it becomes wide and smooth. As the path descends the pace speeds up. At a drop off it is a waterfall. It splays out, then curls up in bubble and foam at the bottom.
Water causes a situation characterized by difficulty, danger, hard work, deep emotions, and mystery. It can also be a plunge into the unconscious realm, mystery, and the unknown.
It is to flow along without question. The risk and danger feel like a rush at times. No plan is pondered with this course or consideration of how it might end up. There is familiarity with falling, with descending, and moving along without purpose. Emotions cloud reason by rippling without query, control, or objective.
It is someone characterized by emotional response like sadness or by danger and difficulties. This is a person who flows with their deepest knowing and intuition and with fluidity. It is one who flows with the challenges. There is adaptability. They do what needs to be done as it arises.
What to do
Take the plunge. See where it takes you. Work at it if that is what is needed. Use emotions to inform the quality of the situation. Listen to your most inner knowing. Follow your heart. Adapt to the environment. Be loose and fluid. Expect changes and follow what you know as things come up rather than any plan. Feel with attention the inner voice, and resources. Check in with emotions and feelings without letting them take control.
Water moves through the course. The direction is set and there is obligation to move along with the layout of the terrain. It feels risky to move fast and without a plan. The movement is in service to the confines, the limits, of environment. There is a grinding away through the uncertainty of the changes in the curves and the uneven path. Move around the obstacles and continue the venture. Inside there is a gurgling of emotions, hearing the echoes of the world. Just keep moving. Use inner strength to measure the flow.
How to do it
Do it fluidly. Do it with adaptability. Use emotions. Do it with engagement and venturing. Stay with the set course. Toil through. Avoid getting stuck or being rigid. Follow the course. Do it with awareness that the environment is changing
Stay strong on the inside while flowing through bubbling up, uncontrolled emotions. Keep moving. Let the obstacles, the past, the work, and the day be gone. Make use of knowing how to meet each turn or bend along the way. There is no stopping, no quitting, only continuing on the course. Fill in the pit and rise to the top. Leap into the unknown, flow over the edge and continue onward. Take the risk without reserve as the course demands.
Flowing down a dry riverbed path is a cautious adventure. There are loose rocks and stones that roll, sticks that crack and break, sudden holes and ditches, and curves and bends that are impossible to see around. It is a freeing feeling of fluidity. It is powerful. It is the rush of danger. It forms the path it follows and changes and shapes the obstructions it encounters. In maintaining this fluid state of mind there are no obstacles whatsoever.