Recently, my daughter, Meera and I took time out of our busy lives to go camping for a few days on the Yuba River just outside of Nevada City, California. I was struck by how vastly different life on the river is from life here in “the world” as we call it. And, I am someone who enjoys my worldly life.
Upon returning from these days of stepping “off the grid” as it were, I am now acutely aware of “the buzz” of life here in town.
In nature, there is a lot of space to simply be, especially when you choose to put on a backpack and hike for a mile or two, in the 90 degree summer heat, on a narrow trail with robust stands of poison oak growing along either side. This is what we did, and after taking this journey, we found ourselves in a moment of retreat, a moment of relative solitude, surrounded by little but, scrub oaks, pines and other flora that thrive in that hot, dry corner of California. Boulders sculpted by the caress of the river stand tall, offering places to lay our bodies and rest. The occasional lizard scampers by.
Smooth, rounded stones of speckled gray, black and white with their iron-streaks, offer a hint of color to the neutral landscape that has been formed over eons by the constant flow of the river. We pause to marvel at how ancient and still this place is, with its emerald pools of refreshingly, cool water inviting us to dive in and play.
On the river one has a lot of time, and yet, it is a realm out of time. I experienced a quality of timelessness, one that allowed me to exhale deeply, inviting my nervous system to unwind. It took less than a day for me to recognize how fast I’ve been moving in my life.
The river offers generous reflections, completely free of charge. I took them in, resting into a silent space inside, gratefully receiving the medicine of the river.
On the river things become very simple. It is time to eat when we are hungry, time to take a swim when we feel hot, time to go exploring when we are curious, and time to sleep when darkness falls, while the nearly full moon rises. In this way, we became attuned to the rhythms of nature. They are intelligent, unpretentious and, in my experience, they create a space to slow down, rest and listen to the sweet serenade of the river.
Now, we are back home in Marin County, California and I feel rested and rejuvenated. I am quiet inside, and it is as if I’ve been imprinted by the sounds of the river flowing and of the rocks clacking, as they shift beneath me as I walk. And yet, my life calls, beckoning me back into the fray, into the relative hustle and bustle of all that is required to engage in the full life I have created.
I experience a kind of sensory overload in the simple act of going into a supermarket, one that is crowded with at least a hundred shoppers intent on getting their groceries, young parents with small children wiggling and crying out, each person pushing a cart containing foods like dark red raspberries, loaves of bread, tomatoes and basil and a myriad of other things.
Others, like me, on a break from work, look to quickly procure a Caesar salad or a burrito, hurrying to the express check out line, needing to get on with the day. The soundtrack for this is many voices chattering while scanners bleep, as we make our purchases. The contrast is rather dramatic, and, it is a lot to take in, especially after the spaciousness and simplicity of life on the river.
I am aware of a hubbub that I’ve become accustomed to and I take a deep breath, harkening back to the gentleness of the river, settling into an inner quiet amidst the hum of traffic, cell phones ringing and the general cacophony of sounds that are part and parcel to modern, urban living.
Life moves so quickly, and often times we may not even notice it, because we are rushing to our next appointment, picking up our children or grabbing dinner at a local take out restaurant on our way home.
Again I ponder, “what is the cost of living this way and is it worth it? Is it giving us the kind of nourishment we are needing to truly be happy and thrive?”
How is it that we as a species have become so distanced from the natural world and the gifts it so graciously offers? What will it take for us to return to living in harmony with nature in a way that we are able to notice the moment, notice ourselves, slow down so that we may attend to one another with care and kindness?
I wonder about this, and I feel thankful for the time out of time, for the chance to sit quietly on the hot rocks, for the chance to swim in the sweet, coolness of the Yuba and, for the simplicity of being that reveals itself as I rest inside, silently present to the current of this river of life, as it flows through me.