River of Spirituality / by Rebecca Tillett

My river of spirituality is fraught with miles of tight curves and white water with long interruptions of serenity and placidity where the water moves so slowly it appears to be still until you pause long enough to look closely. My self-awareness and relationship with spirituality has both raged and waned in my short lifetime, and its unpredictability has seemed to be the only predictable thing about it. I envision the beginnings of my river as a tributary, the result of two rivers merging to form one, flowing steadily and swiftly through a barren western landscape dotted with areas of vegetation and vibrant life, followed by arid interludes ravaged by drought and neglect. There are intervals of riffle and reforestation that have been revisited many times throughout my life in an effort to revive previously dead and abandoned stretches of time, and there are meandering regions that have always thrived.

As a child, I felt extremely alone in the world. I hadn’t yet comprehended or been introduced to the possibility that I was a little organic form created out of the thin air of this world and its universe, and how really phenomenal that fact alone really was. I was a tiny organism on planet earth but I was a piece of something too gargantuan to appreciate. I was intended to be a simple living conduit for love and empathy, understanding and quietude which actually wasn’t simple at all, because in order to be properly functioning vehicle for those properties, I needed first to endure adversity, anger, doubt, torment and grief. The hardships were necessary as they cleared my spiritual land of trees and a carved a niche that enabled my trickling stream to transition into a raging and healthy spiritual river.

As an older child, I would develop a relationship with a greater essence of being although, at the time, I couldn’t fully grasp or realize it. My life was tinged with anger and sadness but I refused to believe it was even remotely plausible that my only purpose in this life was to endure those things before withering away into the gradual darkness of death. My river raged largely in the midnight hours since our place in the stars was much more obvious then. I dreamed of ascension and breaking free of the shackles of an earthbound life. I knew I was destined for something greater but I had been sentenced to a life of obligation to the land and endless heartbreak I feared would never end especially when…

I was sixteen and my father had put a bullet in his head, in the dead of night, in the home that he and I shared with my mother, equally melancholy but impenetrable, like petrified wood. My river would diminish to almost nothing at this point, slowly trickling through the ragged terrain threatening to surrender to the ceaseless drought before ebbing and vanishing entirely. And it did, although the gash my river had carved in the land remained quietly and patiently, for the water to return and the seeds of the surrounding vegetation slept knowingly, of the wisdom and spirituality I would eventually begin to perceive in my life.

For years, torrential rains would eventually quench my land’s thirst for water and a trickle would turn into a stream, and the stream would again gain enough water and momentum to be my guiding river once again, and yet, it was a beautiful piece of my landscape I often took for granted. I knew it was there, but I stopped sitting on the banks, peering into the simulated glass at the river rocks sleeping softly and inconspicuously below.

I was twenty-six years old when my husband would fall in love with a mutual friend and I would disencumber myself with the possibility of bringing a new life into this world of hardship. My sense of self, my spirituality, everything would become entwined with my ideas of motherhood. Did I need to have a child to give value to my existence? I had conceived, but life had determined it wasn’t meant to be. I would suddenly become aware of the past neglect of my spirituality, and my river would come into focus again. I would walk its banks and marvel at its newly formed oxbows. I would dangle my feet into the cool and moving water and flirt with the idea of swimming its length but I’d still retreat in fear. I wanted to immerse myself in its redeeming waters but like a child not knowing how to swim, I didn’t know how to begin.

I would leave my husband when I was thirty-one after realizing he’d never fulfill me and my desire to bask in the happiness of my spiritual landscape together. I had spent too many years in a committed relationship but feeling utterly alone and there’s nothing worse than feeling alone in the presence of others. The two of us simply weren’t right for each other. It would be at this point, that I would fully grasp the feeling of contentedness, happiness and feeling whole and complete. I would fall in love with a man who had been in my life for years, someone who always cared deeply about me and was capable of bringing me the companionship I’d been craving for so long. My landscape would become absolutely beautiful, and lush with vegetation and my river would rage and pour off towering cliffs creating outstanding waterfalls. And this man and I would tear off our clothes and dive in and swim for hours while the sun rose and set behind us, wondering how we’d survived so long in this life without each other.

My river now is alive and thriving and is dotted with all of the people I love most in my life, those that share their goodness with me and contribute to my whole being, those that are responsible for helping me to find myself when the drought threatened to beat me into submission and accept an empty and hollow and barren life. The river reach is hundreds of thousands of miles in length now. It’s sometimes hard for me to remember its origins but I have yet to see its end. Indeed, I’m not entirely sure there is one.

For those struggling in midstream, in great fear of the flood, of growing old and of dying — for all those I say, an island exists where there is no place for impediments, no place for clinging: the island of no going beyond.

I call it nirvana, the complete destruction of old age and dying.
— The Sutta Nipata, The Island