Down to the River.

For those of you who follow Project Conversion regularly, you know what the Lumber River is and why I visit. The river is my holy ground, a sanctuary, my spiritual forge…

A black, winding, mirror.

I’m going to the river this morning to prepare for the last half of this year. This month, June, is not what I expected. I was not ready for its challenges. In fact, the whole month is a shadow of what the end of the year will look like. As with any adventure however, the hero often faces his first great test far before he is ready.

June is truly a void, the Fringe. I lost my spiritual compass and while I believe I navigated the churning waves fairly well, I know things are different.

I’m different.

Something happened yesterday which punctuated this reality.


My walking staff, a steady companion for nearly three years, snapped in half.

What are some attributes of a walking staff?

  • Help with balance
  • Protection
  • Guidance

Perhaps yours bears additional meaning, and once mine cracked in half, the symbology of the act galvanized my feeling for the whole month. My temper returned this month, my impatience reared its ugly head…I felt the old me rising to the surface and I believe it’s because I was unexpectedly rudderless this month.

Each religion thus far provided what my now broken staff once did: Balance, protection, guidance. I am a spiritual rogue, but I’m not ready complete independence yet. There is so much to learn and master, so much ground to explore.

I need two things now in order to continue this journey:

  1. A new staff
  2. To face myself

I will perform both of these tasks at the river. The black, still water is like a curved obsidian blade. Will I be able to face what I see? Will I find a worthy staff to bring me out of the dark swamp? I don’t know. What I do know is that I cannot leave the river until I complete the task (or until my wife bugs me to come home). I’m not going to discover enlightenment, the divine, or some great spiritual experience/truth. That doesn’t mean I reject these as possible useful phenomena. What it means is that I’m going for one simple reason: clarity.

The clarity of emptiness. Anything else is gravy.

I want to start July as if it were January. A clean slate. Pure and ready for inscription from the months ahead.

This is my Jesus in the desert, Siddhartha under the bodhi tree, Baha’u'llah in the Black Pit, the Hindu rishis in the wilderness, Zarathushtra in the wilderness. The rest of the year depends upon success at the dark waters.

I don’t know what will happen. I can’t promise that I’ll emerge fully inspired with light and wisdom shining from my head, no doubt causing vehicular accidents on my way home. Maybe I’ll sink into the swamp like the great mendicants of the East, never seen again. Perhaps aliens will abduct me as I sit by the river (hopefully there’s a decent internet connection on the ship so I can update the Facebook Page) and show me the cosmos.

Whatever happens, I will emerge fundamentally changed. I go in with nothing, and through the crucible of facing myself in the river, come out with the clarity to finish this year.

And with a deep breath and plenty of bug spray, I’m gone. Don’t wait up.

Facebook Twitter Email Pinterest Digg Delicious Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr
  • Anonymous

    Awww thanks!

  • Anonymous

    What a lovely mantra for the day… : )

  • Anonymous

    It really has become that. The river reanimates my spirit.

    • digital flaneur

      I think you’re quietly covering nature-based religion after all. :) 

  • Editor B

    Make your own ritual. I heartily approve. Can’t help notice the similarity between the name of the river and your tribe of ancestry. Coincidence?

    • Anonymous

      Good eye, my friend. The Lumber River was named for the industry of the town when white settlers came in: lumber. The Lumbee Tribe insist that the river’s true name is the Lumbee, hense their name. It’s a bitter issue around here, and you’ll get a different name depending on whom you speak with.

  • Tina

    This post reminds me of another Karen Armstrong quote that struck a chord with me on my spiritual journey:

    “Religion is like a raft,” she said, explaining the Buddha’s view of it. “Once you get across the river, moor the raft and go on. Don’t lug it with you if you don’t need it anymore.”

    I love this project, Andrew! I think so few people are willing to truly immerse themselves into another faith, or even to deeply understand their own. I have dabbled in many faiths via reading sacred texts and writings, but your sincerity to understand a panorama of faiths from the inside is so cool!  I look forward to reading all your posts (I am still catching up) and have already found many common insights from your journey with my own sojourn.

    Peace, Tina Parish

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Tina. My Buddhist Mentor brought this quote to bear regarding the Buddha many times during the month, especially toward the end when it was so hard to leave.

      You are so welcome! It’s wonderful that you are seeing parallels. I think all spirit journeys, like our religions, have common threads in them. This makes us closer as people and our faiths more related than we realize

  • Dan Jensen

    Now, my fickle friend, you’ve got me wondering what a walking stick/staff is. Reminds me of the question “what are the material aspects of my religion?” Surely footwear and staff would have to be included. As for the staff, yes, balance, protection, and guidance; possibly a canvas for my fidgeting fingers and the rocks that it strikes along the way; a means for hand to keep in contact with earth; and of course every stick is a sleeping fire, and hence, a companion for the journey. What to do with a broken companion? Perhaps a solemn funeral pyre? Thanks for the focus! :-)

    • Anonymous

      The staff is what you make it to be, Dan. It certainly is all that you listed and more. As for the fate of my broken staff, I returned it to the river from whence it came.

      But a funeral by fire would have been cool too…

  • Rita

    That song came to my mind, also, upon reading this post.

  • Helen

    I love that you go to the river again & again. The next time I’m in yer part of NC, I’ma definitely gonna spend some time with your river.