Dharma Points: A River Runs Through Us

By Nelle Oosterom

Some time ago, I came across a quote from a Christian contemplative theologian named Martin Laird in which he describes what he calls engaged, silent receptivity:

“Engaged, silent receptivity is like a riverbed, which is constantly receiving and letting go in the very same moment. Vigilant receptivity and non-clinging release are one and the same for this riverbed awareness as it constantly receives all coming from upstream while at the very same moment releasing all downstream.”

This visualization struck me as a powerful antidote to reverse our persistent habits of resisting or clinging to experience.  It prompted me to create a guided meditation around this theme and I have offered it on some recent sitting sessions and retreats. Some people have reported back that they found it very helpful.

You might like to try it:

Bring the body into an erect but relaxed sitting posture, with a straight spine, relaxed shoulders, hands resting on the knees or folded on lap, eyes closed. 

Notice the quality of the mind/body experience in this moment, without judging it right or wrong or thinking it needs to be different. 

Allow yourself to rest in the awareness of this moment and whatever is present in this moment.

Bring attention to the region of the head, including the face. Consciously soften this area, using three out breaths to visualize bringing spaciousness/softness to this area.

Then do the same with (1) the shoulders (2) the arms and hands (3) the rest of the upper body (4) the legs (5) the feet. 

When you are finished, go of the body scan and simply attend to the rising and falling of the breath at the belly, or wherever it feels natural for you to follow the breath.

Notice the quality of each breath. Is it always the same or does it change? Notice if the breath is long or short, deep or shallow, ragged or smooth — without judging, without thinking the breath has to be a certain way, without trying to make the breath be a particular way. Just accepting it as it is.

Notice if you can detect a place of stillness, of rest, between the in breath and the out breath.

Remain focussed on the coming and going of the breath. 

Visualize the activity of breathing as being like a river running through you.

On the in breath, the river arrives from upstream, carrying with it the experience of the moment. In the mind, softly say to yourself “Receiving.”

On the out breath, the river is moving on downstream, carrying away the experience of the moment. In the mind, softly say to yourself “Releasing.”

Repeat this on each breath cycle, like a mantra — “Receiving, Releasing.”

Can you see how “receive and release” can apply to any moment, even those moments when you feel stuck?  Those moments of resistance and clinging?

In every moment we are receiving our body/mind experience. In every moment we are releasing our body/mind experience. We receive the breath into our bodies. We release the breath from our bodies. We receive our experience. We let go of our experience. 

Can you allow the river of life to move through you in this way — receiving and releasing in the same moment?