In Hindu lore, Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge and art, was born out of the Saraswati River, the invisible river that carries the waters that sustain all life. Her name means ‘the one who flows’. From the earliest times, the invisible river sustained our natural resources as well as our human and spiritual resources, carrying actual water and the water we have come to know as truth and love. (Nepo, 2018, p. 147)
But this is only part of the story and we know the way these things go. Enter the “ageless counterpart…the serpent-demon, Vritrasura” (Nepo, 2018, p.148). This is the dark, snake-like creature, the one who hoards all the water on Earth. “And so, the endless struggle was set: whether to be one who flows or one who hoards” (p. 148). An ancient question worthy of our attention, now.
Within the Rigveda, the sacred book of Sanskrit hymns (c. 1500 BC), we find profound instruction about how to break the spell of greed and consumption. Indra, the most powerful god of gods who connects all things with his vast bejeweled net, enlists the help of the elephant god, Ganesh, the provider and remover of obstacles and with this additional union of power between brothers and sisters, Saraswati kills the demon. In a beautiful and insightful integration of all aspects of the story, philosopher-poet Mark Nepo writes, “It is eternally true that working our way through obstacles until we can connect all things helps us move from being one who hoards to being one who flows” (p.148).
This past year, while recovering from an injury, I faithfully swam each day. Oddly enough, the same fluidity of movement I had in the pool seemed to be literally following me out into my day to day life experience. Beyond the physical realm of being more limber, what I began to notice was that I wasn’t letting things that would normally trouble me, stick around as much. In the language of the story, I was no longer driven to hoard or obsess over dark thoughts or emotions. Rather, while challenges were still arriving, I was able to meet them and then surprisingly, let them wash over me, leaving nothing more than what was necessary residual information to process and act upon. I seemed to be gliding aqueously through difficulty, as if I were still swimming, and that left me feeling more loving and compassionate overall. While recounting this phenomenon in conversation with a student -- a deeply thoughtful and spiritually intelligent, Indigenous man, he casually stated that I now had more ‘water intelligence’. I trust that is true. And so I continue to swim and to value the eternal flowing and sustaining qualities that water-as-teacher shows me when I trust that truth and love can rise from my own river-like nature, if I choose to be one who flows.