And we floated. I floated. And I wondered “how did I get here?”
Along the banks of the river, the lush foliage of the tropics pulsed with life. Birds in flight, jumping fish, bamboo stalks stretching their lean bodies toward the river with a grace that reminded me what a privilege it is to grow. Local women washed their hair and did their laundry by the banks of the river while bare chested, lanky children swung from tree vines; meticulously timing the moment they would jump. A split second decision informed by a little experience and instinct, and then a squeal of adrenalin infused delight when they let go and plunged into the water below. Instinct always released their grip.
The river led us onward, like whispers on shallow waters except our group floated together in more of an announcement than a whisper; laughing and giggling with each and every gift mother-nature offered us. We were surprised by the bounty and delighted by the simplicity and the softness of not having to be active or forceful. All we had to do was hold each other’s tube, while our guide navigated the current that occasionally steered us toward the banks, and then listen for the silent call of each other’s desire for reflection.
It always came, that call. Without anyone ever needing to speak a word of it, in the mess and chaos of excited mortal voices filling the immortal and infinite everything, someone’s silence said it. That it was time to be in a world with no barriers, no voices drawing lines in the sand between the internal and the external world. And so for brief moments in our three hour float we let grandmother earth tell her story. Weaving a tale of the migration of a rare pink bird from Brazil, seen only 5 days out of the year. The baby crocodile; it’s newly crusted, scaly body swaddling the log fixed to the bank of the river, sleeping with a wide ambiguous grin – only meters away. Is it thinking of how good we would taste one day? Or just happy to be sleeping? And then I wondered if it thinks anything at all.
Without any fanfare, or drama, our floating narrative carried on; small, rambunctious monkeys swinging from bouncing tree limbs, tall, wide trees covered so thick with leaves and vines they seemed to spring up from behind all the other foliage to emerge as ghost shapes; like those in a children’s fairytale where they are covered in white sheets. Miniature birds swooped down and, in a blink of an eye and with the effect of a child’s splash, picked fish swimming close to the surface of the water for lunch. The river was alive and it ignited the living in our hearts.
Before embarking on our river journey the group’s biggest fear, it seemed, was the separation from modern devices. So used to connecting digitally, or capturing every moment on a screen, the big concern was how would we record this experience? In our modern day life the camera sometimes acted as an artist’s tool, or simply offered up evidence that an experience happened at all. But, we were water bound and the devices would be no good, so they were left. We would connect in a way that all of us once did, in the timeless way we are in so much danger of losing the art of.
Only four days before, this group was in the throes of a modern world; phones, computers, laptops, social obligations, work constraints. Hard edges, tight corners and noise. So much manufactured noise in a world where no one really speaks aloud anymore but pours their needs and desires and well wishes onto a screen to send it out into the world. To be done with it. It’s a world where there is no time to connect, unless you can do it quickly. However, we were a collective of souls who knew better. Who had come of age with no cell phones or laptops; the last generation would would ever do so.
I had organized for the group, currently on my yoga retreat in Colombia, to go tubing down the Rio don Diego at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in north-west Colombia.
And now we were thrust into the jungle, having been driven by some locals, organized by the staff at Gitana Del Mar, and taken off the beaten path, where they wove us into the community down local dirt roads, passing homes made of concrete and exposed metal, often half constructed but painted deep shades of purples or blues or pinks – walls saturated by pigment in a rainbow of hues. Homes with thick concrete walls but wide open doors & windows with no barriers to the outside world. Dogs roamed and children ran around; playing tag or chasing soccer balls. We eventually arrived at a nothing spot, a break in the residential area that didn’t offer any distinction it would be a ‘tourist’ destination. No office, no building, no structure. Just a bunch of locals with large round, rubber tubes, life-jackets and a backyard in one of the most bio-diverse areas of the world.
They handed out the tubes and the jackets and a young boy (17yrs old) and his female partner?? (a cousin maybe) led us through an opening in the jungle where would walk an hour plus hike up and down and along the trail. The walk was hot, but of medium grade, and we passed native, medicinal trees and spiraled, succulent plants that looked like something Disney would have made for one of their rides; they were thick, translucent and seemed like they could glow in the dark if they were placed under a black light. Bird of paradise flowers hung from their native trees, so densely red and yellow. We walked over an army of ants carrying bits of bright green leaf up the hill while the empty handed ants marched down hill to collect bits of leaf. We marveled at it all.
Then we were on the river. Floating. Together; in our conversation and our silent observations that were really silent prayers. Before arriving at our river journey, in the car on the way, someone asked what we all thought the difference between saying a prayer and asking for something was. I thought about this for a while; what really is the difference? I offered that perhaps a prayer is an act of surrender and asking is an act of control. I don’t know that I was truly able to distinguish but as I floated down that river, holding on to a posse of women who were also holding me, while natural life throbbed all around I surrendered to silence. It was all I could do to not cry, at times, as the bigness of an ever expanding everything included me, and these women, in the act of living completely. I had no needs in that moment and my gratitude felt like a prayer.
As we neared the part where the river meets the sea, the now weaker current had slowed our journey significantly. With an almighty burst of power, one of the women up front helped paddle us in, fearless in her pursuit and determined in her goal. We landed on an empty stretch of beach whose bank on the other side butted against the sea and, while a fresh papaya was being cut for us, I walked over to dip my feet in the raging sea; too dangerous to swim in. I looked all around. At the river running into the sea, at the foaming, rudderless waves, at the high, misted mountains around us and at the six women laughing and sharing their relief at being on land and bouncing their stories between one another. I looked at the endlessness and the embrace and wondered again; “How did I get here?”
But as I asked the question, I knew that I didn’t need to know. I just had to surrender.