Watching The River Flow

“No matter what gets in the way or which way the wind does blow… I’ll just sit here and watch the river flow.” – Bob Dylan

The Taoist roots of Zen Buddhism place great emphasis on what is called “non-doing”. Now non-doing is not to be confused with doing nothing. It is not passivity. It is about not doing whatever comes first into your mind in favor of allowing the moment to inform you about what it needs before you act, and then to act from the place that Buddhists call the “whole mind”. This gives rise to what is termed, “skillful action”.

A very great lesson to be learned is that most of the time, what is needed of us is nothing. Most of the time, the moment only needs us to continue taking in the moment. When the moment needs us, it will let us know, and from our whole mind, the mind that blends and balances our senses and thoughts with our feelings and deeper intuition, we will know what needs doing and how to do it. But beware of that first impulse. It comes from our conditioned mind, the mind of ego, and gets us into a great deal of awkwardness, even pain, trapped in swirling back currents.

When sitting by the river, just sit and watch the river flow. How many of us can actually do this? Most of us don’t ever sit by a river at all. We drive past it. A few may, if it’s a beautiful day, and there is a nice path, and they don’t have “more important things to do”, walk along its banks. At some point, we may sit (if the weather is right and there is a handy place to sit) but soon, our mind is racing to many places other than the river, and we will get up and continue on our way having given no consideration to the secrets of the river. Zen instructs us to go to the river, sit, and watch and listen to it flow. There is much to be learned.

We learn that the river exists out there, and it exists in here, in our minds. Like when objects appear floating in the river, so too, the objects in our minds, our thoughts, appear and pass before our gaze and then float on. We mistake this passing flotsam for who we are. In any given moment, whatever floats through the river of our minds, we experience, “this is me”. Not so. Not any more than the passing objects in the river are the river.

The river is forever changing and forever the same. So too our minds. Watch the currents and the eddies. See where the river is shallow and fast and where it is deep and still. The mind is much like that. Listen to the river. It laughs and sighs, weeps and celebrates; it contains all the sound in the world in its gentle rivulets and rushing torrents. It begins in the rain and snow, touching the earth high in the mountains, becoming little trickles, moving relentlessly, growing in breadth and depth, to its returning to the sea, and then to vapor to begin the journey again. In a single drop is its own beginning, its journey, end, and new beginning. So too, we begin and end, journeying along the way appearing in many stages, to return to our Source and begin again. In the deepest pool of our mind we know this truth, but we so easily lose track of it in the rapids of our life, rushing along, crashing through the rocks, the obstacles that d44irect and channel our journey.

Sitting on the banks, watching the river flow, we can know our own mind, our own life, our own beginning and destiny, a drop of consciousness in the great sea of consciousness. We do not mistake what is floating past in the river for the river. Why then do we mistake what is floating past in our mind for our mind or for who we are? Sit. Take some time to watch the river flow, and then you’ll know. You’ll come to know your whole mind and who you are and what needs doing and what needs non-doing. You’ll come to know your source and your destiny. You’ll learn how to maneuver your journey skillfully. Just from watching the river flow, “no matter what gets in the way or which way the wind does blow.”

Bill Walz has taught meditation and mindfulness in university and public forums, and is a private-practice meditation teacher and guide for individuals in mindfulness, personal growth and consciousness. He holds a weekly meditation class, Mondays, 7pm, at the Friends Meeting House, 227 Edgewood. By donation. Information on classes, talks, personal growth and healing instruction, or phone consultations at (828) 258-3241, e-mail at

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