Dental work today in Oregon City: removing two old fillings, and creating a temporary crown.  Because of my asthma cough variant, which causes me to gag and throw up quite often, I prepared with some diligence this morning.  Diligence and anxiety.  In the bathroom, I glanced out the window towards the river, through the budding trees, and there she stood: solid, wide, supportive, loving me back.

Now that never occurred to me, not once.  River’s don’t love anyone, that’s absurd.  But there she was, sending the love vibes.  Unmistakable. I carried that into the dentist chair with me, amidst the drilling, the nerve numbing needle and drugs, “open a little wider, please”, even the O2 mask as the old mercury fillings were removed.  When I would start to freak out a little, there she was, the river, in front of me, in my mind.  Not conjured, mind you, just appearing, comforting.

When I talked with Eric about this afterwards, he said “Well, God works in mysterious ways.  Who is to say how or what or the mechanics of this.  It’s enough to accept.”  And since I started this whole river thing as a mode of the ancient Centering Prayer, it fits.

And so I pray the prayer from Anne Lamott:  Thankyouthankyouthankyou……  Amen.

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Is it a journey or a pilgrimage?  And how do you know?  Some people walk to a holy site, and it’s a journey:  they are tourists perhaps or just wandering.  Others might take the exact same trail, and it is a pilgrimage.  In my little world, I can wander down to the river and it is a journey, even a chore if I’m walking our younger dog, picking up poop and watching out for other dogs, watching the leash, my steps.  Or, suddenly, I’ll walk down to the river, and even just that short distance becomes a pilgrimage.  It’s what’s in my heart, my intention, what I am carrying as gift to the holy river, the Willamette.  What I see.

A pilgrimage is an intentional lens through which the ordinary becomes infused with meaning, a sense of communion with every living thing, even the stones.  And without warning, they look back at you with the same loving attention, one with, a mirror that can, in a second, open up the entire thing: life, death, love, fate – the whole nine yards, as my grandmother used to say.  Quite a view.  The Buddhists teach about The View, or Rigpa, as this way of seeing into the Beyond the Beyond.  Catholics call it Grace.

I don’t know what to call it, really, except that it happened again to me, or with me, or inside me, the other day, for a split second.  I hold that second with gratefulness and awe and carry it down to the river to share.

Some women from tribes along the Mississippi River are worried about her, too, their waters, so they are walking from the source to the confluence. I am quite sure that they are on pilgrimage.  In their traditional culture, the men handle the fire, the women the water.   Here’s the link if you would like to see what they are up to:

So they have me thinking about the Willamette, and the Superfund Site in Portland, and what needs to happen to help heal our river.  I have a few grains of the peace mandala the Tibetan monks drew in colored sand here in Portland years ago when the Dalai Lama came to visit.  After creating it, one grain at a time taking 3 or 4 days, they destroyed it in a few swipes as a teaching on impermanence and after handing some out to people at the downtown library, they paraded with red robes and gongs down to the river, into which  they released the remaining sand.  They said “These grains of sand will go down the river into the ocean and around the world, carrying our prayers for peace.”

Maybe we’ll have a neighborhood “River Healing Ceremony” someday soon.  In solidarity with the women walking to heal their own river, the Mississippi.

Posted in Community, Healing, Healing the Willamette, Nature, Spirituality, Superfund Site, The river, Tibetan Buddhism, Writing life | 1 Comment

State of the River

DSC00091River is down today, almost to summer depths, all her bones showing or at least many of them.  Mid-winter, the river should be up and flowing with some abandon, not all weepy and creeping along.  I feel some concern for her, and went around picking up garbage along the edge just to do something, like we do when we’re visiting a friend who is ill, and we offer to do their dishes, or pick up the living room for them.

Early this morning, around 7:30 AM or so, I looked out the window towards the river, and much to my delight saw that she was flowing strongly south towards Oregon City, the whole river moving in that direction.  Checking my new tide clock, yes indeed, it was time for high tide.  So happy that my clock and the river agree for the most part.  The shift changes are still a little iffy in my reading of the clock, but experience will resolve that.

Some friends in the ‘hood still maintain that the river is not a tidal river.  I don’t know what they think is the cause of the water changing direction twice a day, every day, at very predictable times.  Reminds me of the old Bob Dylan song, “Well, give me another word for it, you who are so good with words!”  But some of them have never actually seen the river flow south in the high tide, all going south, the whole river flowing to Oregon City and the falls.  So they go to the internet to see if it’s tidal.  Online, it’s not clear.

Today I met a woman friend, a neighbor, down by the river, and we had a nice laugh together. “Of course it’s tidal, I’ve seen it with my own eyes!” she exclaimed.  She comes to the river for sustenance along the journey.  Maybe I’ll start having neighborhood “tide change” parties during the summer, to introduce people to their river.  Their holy river.

My neighbor and I agreed that every river is holy, and all its tributaries, too.  All the creeks, every single one.  One friend got real excited about the idea that the Willamette is a holy river, and said, “O, and Mt. Hood, it’s holy too!”

Sure, why not?  Works for me.

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The power of love

“I saw the river over which every soul must pass to reach the kindom of heaven, and the name of that river was suffering… and I saw the boat which carries souls across the river, and the name of that boat was love.”   Saint John of the Cross.  

So I’ve been studying my tide clock, and peering out to the river with my binoculars, and accessing the daily tide charts for the Willamette on a maritime site for people who have boats or like to fish.  I’m trying to correlate it all into a system where I can begin to predict the river’s behavior.  Will she be flowing north or south, and what about the magical times when she shifts direction?  That’s really what I am craving to witness over and over again.

Thinking about scientists and EKG machines and technology where we try to monitor our hearts and bodies and rivers, I fished up a memory a few days ago of a teaching story I heard long ago when I was studying Chinese medicine in a tangential way to the body-mind work I was practicing.

It goes like this:  One day a medical teaching hospital invited their students to a special event.  A doctor of Tibetan Medicine was coming along on rounds, and a doctor from the hospital and this Tibetan doctor would diagnose the same patient to show the difference in technique.  The Western doctor ordered all types of tests, blood tests and x-rays and CAT scans and even a biopsy.  With these in front of him, he gave his diagnosis to the students, but not to the Tibetan doctor.  (I forget the diagnosis now, sorry.)

Then the Tibetan doctor walked into the room where the patient was resting, and sat down next to her.  He asked her her name, and they spoke quietly for a few moments.  He asked her if he could hold her hands for a few moments.  She smiled shyly and said yes.  He sat by her bed, holding her hands and wrists in his hands, nodding and smiling and nodding and asking her a few questions about her childhood.  She turned a healthy pink color and laughed a little.  He slowly got up to leave after about 20 minutes,  bowed to her, and thanked her for her time.  She watched him leave, smiling.

Outside her room, the students were smirking and the Western doctor looked amused.  Then the Tibetan doctor began to talk.   He told them exactly what was wrong with the woman’s body, what was needed to bring it back into balance, and then went on to talk about the root of the imbalance deep in her childhood with an accident that occurred and was never treated.  He had discerned this from her 12 pulses, 6 in each wrist.   His diagnosis, when translated from the relative poetry of his language to the more technical language of the Western doctor, was the same, but his was highly nuanced, and addressed many individual levels of the woman’s being.  His treatment was to be effective, non-invasive, and would prove to be as effective as the Western treatment plan.  The students, as I recall, were no longer smirking.  This doctor had been the Dalai Lama’s personal physician for many years.

Will I quit looking at the charts and tide clock and just go down to the river?  No, I don’t have enough time to do that right now, so I will continue to develop my little system.  But the immediacy of her presence, the thrumming of the tides and the geese and the winds, the smells of the mud and the moss, O, when I can, that is where I will be.  And she changes me.  She does.  Every single time.  I open to her and to life.

And that is the power of love.

Posted in Healing, Meditation, Nature, Spirituality, The river, Tibetan Buddhism, Writing | 2 Comments

Tide Clock

Why confine God within the walls of the church? Why not baptize ourselves back into the river where the great blue heron stands watch with his clear, unerring eye?  – Erik Reece, a contributing editor of Orion.  

Here’s what my tide clock looks like.  When the needle is pointing to low tide, it means that the water will be flowing north to the Columbia; high tide, flowing south to Oregon City and the falls.  But it’s complicated, as they say.  Transitions are liminal and it takes time for the river to change direction.  Rising Half Tide and Falling High Tide are still deeply mysterious events for me to predict.  In addition to the two daily high tides and the two low tides, there is another tidal pulse as well, once daily, that isn’t on the charts at all.  I haven’t found it’s name yet.  Makes me think of the pulse within our spinal fluid that is palpable, and separate from our own heart pulses.  It takes years to be able to find and use that pulse for healing purposes.

At night I hear the geese sometimes talking among themselves, and the owls chime in from time to time.  I know the coyotes are out and about, my neighbors have mentioned it.  The river is rising, and the mountain passes are almost closed from deep snow and blizzard winds.   The Santiam Pass is especially dangerous tonight.  May all beings be well.


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Peering at the EKG of the river

“The river that flows in you also flows in me.”  Kabir

River is down now almost to summer levels; no rain for awhile.  Boulders and rocks are exposed.  I expected heavy flow in January, not this.

I’m fixated on the whole tidal question of the Willamette, and have been researching tide charts and tide clocks and the question: is the Willamette tidal or not.  From the charts I’ve found, I can say confidently that the Willamette is tidal, at least south to the Oregon City Falls.  That means that twice a day, summer and winter, no matter how much water is flowing, the river has a high tide and a low tide.  Usually the morning high tide is not as “high” as the evening high tide – but up this far, it’s really only 3 feet or so anyway.  At the Columbia River, it can be as much as a 9 foot difference.

Reading tide charts is not easy for me.  I have to study and study them, trying to figure out what they mean.  It’s a little like peering at the EKG of the river herself, the heartbeat of the river, her daily pulse.  People actually predict the timing of the tides and the depth of the river at various points, for weeks or even a year, in advance.  People who fish and ply the river in their boats need to know this stuff.  And me.  I need to know because I love her.  And because she is holy.  Like the Ganges.

So, guess what!  I bought a tide clock from the National Geographic, and will wait until the full moon next Saturday to set it, when the high tide is at it’s highest.  The problem is there are no readings south of the Morrison Bridge, and I have no idea how to accommodate the distance, nor am I sure I am reading the charts accurately.  On the net, others have asked how to figure the difference between the Bridge gauge and the Falls in Oregon City but I can’t find any answers.  Today I was able to predict which way the river was flowing before Eric and I walked down there, a minor victory.  But it’s pretty iffy for me.  Having the tide clock in my bedroom will be like having her heart monitor.  Can’t wait!


From the perspective of the Centering Prayer, I have lost my intent entirely, distracted by her heart beat, by tidal questions, research, clocks and technical issues.  So, I will just start over, allowing my heart to beat with her heart in silence, as much as I am able.

If Kabir is right, my heart and your heart and the heart of the river are all the same, at the deepest level.   Holy, all.


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Christmastime, and I’m lazy.  I watch the river from my window with binoculars, checking to see if she’s flowing north or south, and how fierce she is in the moment.  It’s warm and dry in the house, and mostly it’s been cold and raining outside.   A week or so ago the Christmas ships came up the river about 6 PM, and to my great delight, I found I could watch them too and didn’t have to go trudging out into the weather and dark.  Told you I am lazy!  Missed some great photographs, though.  Lots of colorful, cheery ships, and people calling back and forth in the park.  I only have a sliver of visibility, so it’s not the same as being there, not at all.  A quick glimpse through the trees, ephemeral.

And then the shooting deaths of three people at the Clackamas Center mall.  And a few days later, the horrendous murder of 20 little children and 7 adults in a Connecticut school.  I understand that there has already been over 150 shooting deaths in the US since the Newtown tragedy including two volunteer firemen lured into their death last night by a madman.   In Japan, they have gun regulations that are similar to what we have for people who drive cars.  In 4 years, they have about 8 homicides by gun. In the US, in 4 years, we have about 48,000 homicides by gun.  Something is clearly wrong here and it’s way past time we do something about it.  About a whole lot of things.

Maybe I’m not just lazy, maybe I’m hiding.  Could be.  Guns scare the shit out of me.  So does climate change and the end of polar bears.

But today is Christmas, so I ventured down to see my good friend the river in all her misty beauty.   She was showing her muscle, too.  Muddy water pulsing by, whole trees in her grip.  So far, the tides keep turning her around twice a day – I can watch from home.  But if we have really high waters?


And the tide of death in our country?  And the tide of community and joy?  I believe the arc of joy, just like the arc of justice,  bends towards us all eventually.  I have absolutely nothing to base that on – except that the river keeps flowing north no matter what.  And she is holy.  And so are we, holy.

The human spirit is not the same as a brainwashed spirit.  Good to remember these days, as we fight the tides of death.

A good friend of mine taught me years ago what Christmas can be, on a spiritual level.    It’s a time, every year, when we get to open into real life some part of us that is divine in nature, connected with that mysterious flash of heart.  With courage, we allow others to see this in us, to name it as real, to birth it into the world, into life.  For me, I think it may have to do with this little blog that already seems to have a life of its own.

And for you?  What is it that’s birthing in you this year, that can be named and seen now after perhaps years of gestation?


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Lady River’s muscle

A friend of mine reminded me of a song by Linda Allen called Lady River.  More of us river lovers, coming out of the woodwork.  She sings:

“When your back is breaking and your heart is sore, Take it down to the Lady River.  When the light is fading through the closing door, Take it down to the Lady River.  And she’ll take you home to the place you’ve known, in the arms of the Holy Life-Giver, and she’ll leave you dancing on her silver shore, Take it down to the Lady River. ”

Well, not especially great poetry, but it’s wonderful to know that there are many of us, turning to the rivers for wisdom and delight.  Certainly not new. The Centering Prayer, using the river as stillpoint, comes from the early church, from the desert fathers and mothers living in the 3rd century, hermits kind of like me.   Wonder what river they knew and cherished, in the desert.  Maybe the Tigres?

The river’s up over the lip now, spilling into the park along the walkway where the ADA fishing spot is located.  You can feel the river’s muscle; she won’t tolerate any interference now.  Standing on the rocks carefully, I said to her,  “You have no mercy in your heart, do you?” as she pushed on by.  But that’s part of the definition of holy: dangerous.  I’m cool with that.

And I think about the East River and the Hudson flooding into the NY subways, and the tunnels to New Jersey, crashing into elevator shafts and basements of hospitals taking out their generators, wiping out whole communities.  Yeah, rivers are dangerous, with no mercy.

I sent away for a new sticker.  It shows the Statue of Liberty drowning  in a huge tsunami wave, with the words “Climate Changed!”  Indeed, it has.  We have not been respectful of the Laws of Nature, thought we were immune to them somehow, above it, not really of nature, but the master of nature.  Hubris.  Now we will pay the price and hopefully learn what the whole word Holy really means.


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Early in the morning, I woke up listening to the pounding rain and thinking about the holy river Ganges, in India.  Who decided that the Ganges was holy?  If the Willamette is holy, does that automatically make the Clackamas River also holy?  What about Johnson Creek?  Who decides these things?  And what does “holy” really mean, anyway?  The Ganges is really, really long, and one of the top five most polluted rivers in the world, disgustingly so.  Maybe it’s not such a good thing to be a holy river.  One sip of the Ganges is supposed to Heal – if the ecoli doesn’t get you.

So I looked up ‘Holy’ in our enormous Webster’s Third International Dictionary.  It’s from an Old English root, meaning ‘whole’.  Worthy of complete devotion and trust, perfect in divine love.  Spiritually whole, sound or perfect, pure in heart.

And then, with a tip of the hat to the truth of a river, for example, it also means ‘filled with mysterious, superhuman, and potentially fatal power.  Dangerously powerful if violated.’ In other words, don’t fuck with the holy, or you could get hurt or killed.  I think people in New Jersey and New Orleans and the polar bears are finding that out.  And the dolphins now, dying in droves.

Mostly I think that everything on the planet is holy.  All rivers, all mountains, all baby turtles, all beavers, all elephants.  Maybe all planets in the universe, and the universe itself.  I have a really hard time separating out what’s holy from what isn’t.  If the Willamette is holy, but the Columbia is not, (or vice versa) then does that mean that we can pollute the hell out of the so called non-holy river?  If no mountains are holy, then can’t we just blow them all up and steal their underground coal, and not risk facing the “potentially fatal power” of the holy One? Ha, that isn’t working.

Cows are holy in India, too.  Think about that for awhile.  Who decided that cows were holy, but horses aren’t.  Or chickens.  Capricious, in a way.

I walked down to the river to see what she had to say about all this.  She’s kind of busy now, in the rising waters time of the year.  For awhile, I watched her scurrying north.

And then I got it.  I think it’s so simple.  Love makes something holy.  Love makes anything holy.  Without love, it’s just ordinary.  So, a lock of hair from someone I loved with all my heart becomes a holy relic.  Or their ashes, in my medicine bag.  If enough people love the Willamette, it becomes holy by non-verbal consensus, by all the love hovering over it.  The Holy sparks, and it ignites us all in that mysterious communion.

For me, the Willamette is hereby a holy river.  Ho!

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This morning, I saw this on a Facebook post, and thought it fit into the puzzle right here….


“I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.

I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun more.

I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.

I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.

I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.

I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.

I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.”

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