I used to know a young prospector who spent hours in creeks and rivers, looking for that elusive chunk of luck--the big payoff, the proof that all the pain and expense and hope was worth it. He had the fever, the bug, the addiction to the search. He searched so hard because he knew that occasionally, someone did strike it rich, find a vein of metal shining like the sun, even in the shadows. Precious, precious stuff.
After a while, the hobby grew too expensive and time-consuming. There were heavy flakes, glimmers in a pan, tiny nuggets here and there...and there was occasional peace, under the water with a dredge running, or communing with a brave trout. But the reward that was supposed to come--the marker, the end of the search, a fist-sized treasure, held up for all to see--it never happened. The adventure was abandoned, the urge to hunt taking other forms. Seek, and you shall find...what? Accolades? Comfort? Escape? What? Have you found it? Are we there yet? Can we control it, is it pleasurable enough, are we safe?
It is said that water seeks its own level. Perhaps it's more accurate to say that water surrenders into itself. It falls up, falls down, pools, rushes, sits in silence, roars in waves. It vaporizes, powerless, and condenses to take over the world. It remains frozen for eons, uncomplaining. We are mostly water, and earth, fire, air and the rest, all having no problem cooperating in the form of a human. We are burning, evaporating, calcifying this very moment. Lightning beats our hearts. Something moves, we change, and yes--the process we tag "mind" will seek, seek, and seek some more. Incredibly restless and creative Mind. So full of its own luscious self, casting shadows on everything it sees, every other part of itself...not conscious, asleep and dreaming of success in love, in finances, in the good fight, whatever it is at the moment. Advancing, retreating, screaming, cowering. Rejecting. Coveting. Trying this method or that, this recipe, this formula, taking these steps. Looking at itself in horror, in joy, in defeat. Confronting its own death...unable to understand, calculate, reframe such a thing. There is death, there is no death. Off/on--what is this, really? What am I, really? Am I real? What the hell is "real"? What about this--and this--and this?! What an annoyance!
Something happens--an overload, an exhaustion, an experience of suspension. Ahhh. Yes. Peace. This is it. The payoff. Look! Here's the payoff! Right? Eureka! Breakthrough! I know the way!
Oh, little brain. Here come the shadows, and the light dims. Iron pyrite, fool. This way looks like it might get us lost again. It's gold we want, right? Light in solid form? Learn to recognize it (says some prospector with a long beard, missing teeth and a mule). It gleams, even in shadow. It loves, even in pain. You have seen it, it has seen you, and neither can forget. Onward. Up that canyon, down that ravine. Follow the river, she will show you. Stop being so damn mean to that mule. She will show you. No, you don't need a new, shiny pickaxe!
Prospecting is lonely, full of hard work, and according to lots of intelligent folks, unnecessary. I understood the seeker of my acquaintance very well, more than I cared to admit, even though we were mining different things, through different mediums, with different goals (or so I believed at the time). My seeking was somehow better than his, because mine was on a "spiritual" level. My search had value higher than his. Mine was somehow justified, and his was not. Oh, little brain!
I don't know if he ever found what he was looking for, but now I realize that he went about the growth and death of himself in exactly the right way, for exactly the right reasons, and that I can never know his story. I can only know this one, and not even that.
So, what happened?
Well, I lost all the maps, my mule wisely sought greener pastures, and I was forced to carry all my own stuff. Very hard work, I can tell you. By that time, people's opinions of my adventures ceased to matter. I followed the river, anyway, because--I realized that I loved it. Or it loved me. Either way.
I found more and more gold, ironically--and just as ironically, it lost its value--that is, the value that others placed upon it. However, my appreciation of the mining process deepened to the point that it was more play than work. There was beauty in the landscape, in the looking, the finding, even in disappointment and the occasional injury. Consequently, I was content with less and less. One day, I quit searching. People thought the gold was pretty and full of amazing value, so I gave it away. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed this. And along came my old friend Mind, who whispered, "Hey, Eureka! I found the way!"
I laughed until I thought my heart would break. I made a good, nourishing meal for my restless friend (happy chewing, Sweetheart!), and went to sleep like a good animal. In the morning, gold was everywhere--just everywhere, like a messy fairytale...or a gripping mystery. There was the body, the heart, even the mind, gleaming in the shadows. Aladdin's cave was the kitchen, an old lady, a man burying himself in porn, the cat stretching, frozen fog around the moon, the primitive, the futuristic, oil paint, a coffee spill on white tile (again). The voice of Precious says I love you, leave me alone, I don't know, I hurt, this is it, watch out, don't leave, get out, I have no opinion...the heart contracts, expands, feelings wave, stomach growls. Decisions are made, seemingly by everything at the same time, and things move. There is no identifying this, but words go around and through...so full I'm empty, so empty I'm full. The thought of death shines like a rising sun.
Get a mule, polish your pan, get to work...or not. It's worth it. Even finding nothing...perhaps especially, finding nothing. A river loves you.