Back To The River

May 11, 2011

Articles, Musings

A Chinese Zen master once said: ‘Before a man studies Zen, to him mountains are mountains, and rivers are rivers; after he gets an insight into the truth of Zen through the instructions of a good master, mountains to him are not mountains, and rivers are not rivers; but after this, when he really attains the abode of rest, mountains are once more mountains, and rivers are rivers” (T.Thien-an, Zen Philosophy, Zen Practice, p.90. cit. in Amy Mindell, Metaskills, 1995, p.162)

I read this quote a long time ago, before I started my therapy training, and have been looking for it ever since, only to find it again this week, while I wasn’t looking, at such significant point for me in more than few ways.

It took over 20 years for this quote to come back.

Maybe things do come full circle, and then another circle, and so it goes…

Not that I have reached the ‘abode of rest’ in any Zen way, but from here the process looks like having gone from

  • having mostly an unconscious relationship with life, things being what they look, struggling with why they do not behave as they look, curiousity, sensing there is more to be known, beyond, underneath, inside


  • beginning the journey of examining, exploring, going inside the inside, getting lost, finding insights, wanting to move, change things, rolling my sleeves up, getting in there, working hard, life having become such a mass of intricate detail, believing that it’s all about ‘doing’ and untangling, squeezing the ‘truth’ out – a recipe for all manners of burn out and frustrations but also a necessary stage of discovery and learning


  • arriving at a plane of ‘simplicity’, where not all is conscious, not all unconscious, but the hard work is fallen away…or most of it! It’s fallen away because nature has revealed, through the long hard teachings, that the process does itself, that it unfolds and changes and completes and begins, if we ‘just’ move or stay with it, witness, make space, open channels for it.

It isn’t ME that DOES it.

I can’t yank shoots out of the earth and make plants grow by pushing them up, I can’t tell the water ‘come this way, it’s better for you’, I can’t move the mountains out of the way to pass through, can’t stop the storms no matter how much I protest, cannot plan the beauty of an unexpected growth, the shape a rock will take, what will die and be born.

But I can nourish the seeds, notice them, assist the conditions for growth, accept the storm that’s coming and find grounding whilst it happens, move around the mountain to spot hidden passages, wait til the water finds its way, trust that it will, marvel at new discoveries and receive in gratitude the gift of beauty that comes in ways I could never plan or anticipate.

Allowing and choosing, is what happens, witnessing and moving, withdrawing, coming forward, joining and separating, waiting and letting go, all by feeling into it, becoming IT for a time, to understand it rather than standing outside dissecting it, but sometimes standing out considering its nature too.

Aligning, assisting, noticing and letting it speak, trusting that there might be a pain barrier, sometimes to be gone through but it will move,  LETTING IT HAPPEN & GETTING OUT OF THE WAY rather than DOING it.

NATURE does the rest.

And so it all feels simpler, less loaded with effort, and as it is in this case, harder to EXPLAIN, as explaining a process fixes it into what it seems now, and as I do it, it has already changed.

This morning I am being with this process, considering its teachings and describing it here.

Recently I have redescovered a spot of the earth I have always liked and that has become my current favourite, not far from where I live, but much farther up and away. I am going there often. It shows me this effortless simplicity (harshness and softness and all).

I sit wrapped in it and find ground, flow and nourishment,

and hear the song of the trees and the river.


What’s Your Favourite Spot Of The Earth?

What is it teaching you?



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About Filomena

Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Workshop & Community Rhythm Facilitator @ Core-Beat Drumming & Dancing At The Heart of Communities & Full Circle Therapeutic Pathways.

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2 Responses to “Back To The River”

  1. Enza Says:

    Ciao Filo,

    Facing one of the ghosts at the moment… thanks for putting your thoughts out there for people that like me struggle with letting it happen ; )


    • Filo Says:

      Ciao Enza,
      very sorry about your wrestling with those ghosts.
      I hope what needs to emerge does in the end, with the least possible damage and loads of growth.
      May your ghosts turn into allies!


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