I spent Thanksgiving weekend with my in-laws on the Suwannee River in Florida on their pontoon boat looking for manatees. And I haven’t been on a boat since my trip to India last month. My father-in-law has lung cancer and he has just discovered that it has traveled to the kidneys and liver. He was in remarkably good spirits although we are all extremely aware of time.
I have come to Florida for nearly six years but I can’t see the Suwannee without seeing the Ganges, the river I had always heard was sacred, until I saw it for myself and came to understand the big deal. The Ganges (the photograph at the top) is a river teeming with life and death, bright color and thick grey from the ashes of burned bodies that are placed in the river after cremation, clean laundry and floating ox carcasses and marigolds, people washing their bodies and people brushing their teeth. Everything in life happens on that river.
I spend minutes of every day since I have returned on the Ganges in my mind. I think about what it would be like to have a river inform my thoughts and actions, to know where I would be every sunrise and sunset, to know that that was where my body and everyone I knew would be consumed, to speak about a river as if she is truly alive. I have come to the conclusion that I return to the Ganges through memory because there were a lot of people very ‘out’ about their relationship with the Divine. On that river I found reverence for absolutely everything.
People pack into boats to do ‘puja.’ They take small bowls molded out of leaves and in the boats are flowers and a candle. They light 250 candles, say prayers and place the leaf-bowls onto the river and they float away. Candles flickering down the river. It was a common practice to make offerings of prayers, some prayers for my well being or the well being of my family, but prayers over time became a simple ‘thank you’ until there was nothing left to say.
It became so tangible how prayer and meditation function in relation to one another. Now that I’m home, and I make time to sit, I visualize those leaf boats in my mind and offer up whatever I have going on. Each thought, emotion or sensation gets a leaf boat and a candle. And sometimes I’m there sending out candles in my imaginary river for a good long while until I have a whole trail of candles in the darkness behind my eyelids and finally a little room to simply breathe. We each find a way to release what we have going on so we can get here right where we belong. We use whatever works! And when it doesn’t seem to work, there is always humor and the commitment to try again…
Being present is the yogi’s ultimate objective. I also understand the value of creating phenomenal memories. I’m not at a point in my spiritual development where the river of cars that is highway 101 evokes the same quality of presence that I feel on the Ganges, so sometimes I use memory to evoke devotion, aspiring to be present every moment — when paying bills, washing dishes and driving in traffic. You know, ‘first enlightenment, then the laundry.’
That weekend on the Suwannee River we made memories for all of us and especially my son Liam, times with his kind majestic grandfather at Thanksgiving, memories of his warmth, of playing Jenga, of driving the boat down the river. Everything is precious and there is no better time to remember.
“It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” – Mahatma Gandhi