I had a dream in which I was fishing, so today went to sit on a rock beside the Esopus Creek, just to be near the water.
Lately, when I sit by a brook or creek, I notice that I prefer to look upstream rather than downstream. No matter where the sun is, the light hits the oncoming water in a more interesting and dynamic way than the way it strikes the water that’s rushing away. I feel faintly uneasy about this preference, as if I’d rather look back in time, at the earlier part of the stream, than contemplate the future, the stream’s later incarnation—just as I sometimes doubt the wisdom of spending so much time on the ancestors. Perhaps I’m living excessively in the past.
But this morning, as I was mulling over the difference between upstream and downstream, I realized I’ve had it backwards. The downstream water represents the past—it’s already gone by me. The upstream water is the future, heading in my direction. As I watch the wavelets jump over rocks and smooth across shallows, I get a sense of the velocity and direction that will influence the way the water will be moving when it reaches me.
I feel calm looking upstream, as I feel a sense of rightness when I learn about my ancestors, setting them into place in my history. On the one hand, I don’t assume that they have fixed my identity, any more than the upstream topography can determine which rocks the water passes over when it reaches me. But the overall picture of my ancestry helps me understand the currents that influence my life.
Strangely, I have a resistance to looking straight across the creek at what I presume is the present. The water is going by too fast for my eyes to handle. Is that a fault? Many spiritual paths insist that we are meant to live in the present.
Or maybe I’m taking the metaphor too far. Maybe being in the present is the act of looking at the stream, like the act of having an ongoing relationship with the ancestors.
Whatever it is, I’ll keep looking upstream in welcome.