The River Soul: An Essay on the Return Journey

The Rio de las Animas, the River of Souls, seeping through my sun-kilned valley is at first glance nearly barren. But it is far from infertile. So much of this river’s body deceptively flows beneath the surface, nourishing the Russian olives, cottonwoods, and salt cedars that grow in its margins. Whatever remains is siphoned off by the farmers and communities congregated along its edge. The great rivers in the East attract throngs of worshipers who bow down in the waters to bathe away all memory of action and suffering, but those few who have been lured by the low hum of these currents have nonetheless found succor along its peaceful banks.

On the mesa above the river live a people who for thousands of years danced by the waters for good hunting. They danced in their oneness with the spirit of the river and their place in the cosmos. When they learned to farm, they danced for rain and for resurrection of their harvested plants. They danced on the sun’s shortest day to ensure its return, and to ensure their own return through the sipapu, the gateway to the otherworld of their emergence. They named the river Grandmother, and their children never left her.

I live just downriver from the angostura, the narrowest part of the valley, where the stair-stepped mesas on one side nearly meet the indigo-stained mountain on the other. Centuries ago natives stood sentry here and ambushed foreign soldiers as they advanced on villages upriver. Only the occasional lone traveler, practiced quiet and still in nature, could pierce this geographical aperture and pass unnoticed to glory. The explorers on their Entrada into this strange land were then in search of the legendary golden grail and enslaved many natives on behalf of their mission. Some were actually religious refugees from their home continent—greed may have been their rudder, but spiritual freedom filled their sails. They named the river Nuestra Señora after the one who gave birth to the Word made flesh, an ascended Master of the River. Today their heirs live along the banks of the Eucharist, and they still worship statues of Our Lady aflame in her radiant form. Church bells still ring in these quiet towns, awakening to attention the prayers of dawn and dusk. They pray for everlasting life and reunion with the Divine through the fisheye of interconnecting worlds.

I have walked many a mile along the river’s edge, sometimes right on the dry sandbars within the river itself. A pageantry of color unfolds before me as the seasons turn and ignite the imagination. Migrating birds, even landfaring seagulls, transport the senses to the rain forest with their exotic song. The sheer physical comfort and beauty of this river would almost be enough—if it were merely sojourn I seek. But I yearn for the distant shore in the mists, the hidden inner worlds of heaven, and this river can never take me there. The river I see with two eyes is but a mere reflection of the unseen spiritual currents coursing beneath the surface.

A Spiritual Entrada

It is said that the voyage to the inner worlds of heaven is indeed possible via the Audible Life Stream that flows latently through every human being. This true River of Souls is the floodwater of divine Consciousness itself, far greater than the sum total of the world’s bodies of water, yet as subtle as the life-supporting currents beneath my own parched riverbed. The world and all that is in it was borne on the cascades of the River’s creation, and all life is faintly aware of the parent Audible Life Stream, the Sound Current that gives it form. Countless votives of light school endlessly downstream on this invisible waterway toward their place on the shore, each practicing one kind of homage or another to the River. One day, one lifetime, it happens that each Soul begins a search for the River’s source, sifting through every grain of sand and overturning every rock, all with frustrating results. This unrequited yearning makes them ready to begin their final journey home.

Just as a river guide reveals hidden trout to the fly fisher, a seeker on the spiritual path needs a nautical expert to reveal the River of Souls, and then to show them the hidden eddies and undercurrents within It. Under the Companion’s tutelage one learns to navigate toward a brilliant star, past orchards of light, past glowing sun and moon worlds, and beyond towering mountains to the spiritual headwaters of the Divine Sound Current. Passage to these inner worlds, though, is perilous and guarded. A devotee could climb the cloud-shrouded mountain of the mind and be no closer to the blue star on the firmament, no closer to the dawning sun. Only the inner spiritual river can carry one there, guided by the oarsman, the Companion, who gently nudges one, gently coaxes one toward their own angostura at the third eye, and through it to glory.

I no longer go down to the river alone, for I have met such a Guide.

Now walking with the Companion along the River, I hear sandal-footed Masters of yore discoursing on the tides, catch fleeting glimpses of dervish dancers twirling to the River’s rhythms, dream of consecration in its pure waters. One can lose oneself in the light playing on the water, in the lulling music lapping on the shore, in the pure harmony in motion. But the Companion says there’s much work to be done, much to clear away from the bridal path of Soul, the real Camino Real.

One cannot force one’s way upriver through the angostura, one must rise in consciousness and vibration and resonate with the river’s own pulses to do so. Simultaneously, the river Sound mercifully draws the sincere one in and up and closer to the goal, not in physical body or in mind, but in consciousness and attention—in Soul. Yet much of one’s own soul energy has been drained onto forgotten fields, inadvertently blocked by debris or diverted by ancient tree roots. I could roll up my sleeves and try to clear it myself, but the task is monumental, impossible, without the help of the Companion. Soul’s energy cannot be regained through knowledge, sheer will power, or by communing with the River alone, but by the spiritual practices the Companion can teach one.

The Chalice of Remembrance in Spiritual Practice

Before I came to the River Soul, I rummaged through the melted-down ruins at water’s edge for broken arrowheads and pottery shards and other clues to my existence. Knowledge, then, was the only means left me to find the true river—I had tried all others. Shortly after meeting the Companion, I walked with Him in a dream through a golden sandstone greathouse that was still standing and vibrant yet claustrophobic and hot. I picked up a pot shard and presented it to Him, proud of how much I knew about how it fit together with other pieces I had found. In them one could see the Pangaea break apart into separate continents and drift away from each other. One could hear the Word fragment into many languages, see the Path splinter into many byways, witness Humanity rainbow and migrate around the globe in search of the grail, some coming to my river. If only I could find the rest of the pieces, I had thought, my life would be complete.

The Companion took the shard from my small hand and turned it into a large ceramic pot, nondescript and unrelated to the residents of the ancient hall but indigenous to Spirit, beautifully crafted, cool, moist, and immediately functional. With this gesture He seemed to be saying: “Dispense with the search, with the need to excavate your life, the past. Your time is now, I am your now. You have everything you need within you. Fill this pot with the elixir of divinity, the intoxicating currents of love, and your Soul shall be free.”

The spiritual practice of sitting in contemplation is like filling the Companion’s dream pot to the brim with water from the formless River at the third eye. The challenge of balancing the weightless chalice on my head all day, while conducting my life, takes constant attention and remembrance. In return one is bathed in the vibration of its cherished contents, and is sometimes graced with sprinkles of its wisdom in negotiating one’s daily affairs. In time one’s own consciousness rises, drop by drop, until it merges with the river Sound. Eventually, nothing will dislodge the pot from my crown, and the floodgates will then open.

Meanwhile, the winds of karma challenge my resolve. Misdemeanors, emotional upheavals, pleasures, attachments, overmentalizations, or just plain lethargy distract my attention from the pot and cause its fall. The contents spill, sometimes just a few drops, sometimes all of it, and sometimes the pot itself appears to have shattered into a thousand pieces. I present a shard to the Companion, proud of how much I know about how it fits together with the other pieces. The Companion returns the pot to me in its pristeen wholeness as if to say that one is more than the composite of its parts. We are not the vessel, but its contents—River Guide, Sound, and Soul.

All I am required to do is to remember the River and return to Its outstretched arms. Genuflecting before It in humility, I am to immerse all tainted imagery in the waves and bathe them upon the glistening rock, then refill the vessel and raise it in surrender, opening to the unconditional love as it washes over one.

With spiritual equipoise reclaimed—by the grace of the Companion—I can now stand on the cliffs, look up and down the river undaunted and clearheaded and review the reason why the pot fell in the first place. I sometime see that I am not in the river consciousness at all, but in the slipstream of the mind and floating rapidly down a dangerous tributary. Only then can the Companion be invited in to dig out the root tendencies that caused the distraction so that I may be set afloat once again. Spiritual headway is inherent in the repetitive act of calming the ripples of the mind.

The Crucible of Divine Yearning

At times, though, I forget the River, or ignore It, despite the distant church bell seducing Soul back to Its shore. Having remained in the desert for long, one lays prostrate before the River, scorched and raped by mirages. Ironically, the mind in one, afraid of dying, will deny itself of water even as it dies of thirst. This is usually only a temportary condition, for once I see soul’s true reflection in the waters, I am reminded that the Sound Current is always here. One is never forsaken, only lethean and forgetful of Its love.

There is a story of two lovers who were separated by a truly mighty river. So strong was the young woman’s desire for her lover, so desperate was she to reach him, she attempted to paddle across the river in a large pitcher. Unbeknownst to her, a jealous relative had switched her makeshift boat for an unbaked ceramic jar. Halfway across the river the pitcher melted, and the young woman drowned.

Heartsick, this young woman had launched across the river without knowing how to swim, for no mere body of water will keep young lovers from returning to each other. Similarly the spiritual lover stops at nothing to return to the River, even if it may mean dying to the lower self. In so doing, one is submerged in universal love—and is taught how to swim. Seeing the student’s still demeanor, the River sees Itself and aches for that Soul’s return. Such two-way desire—Soul for Master and Master for Soul—is so intense, it is likened to a passionate love affair, though the love is not personal, but universal, Divine, the very vibration of the Rio Animas.

Don’t get me wrong; this Master/student relationship is not a romantic concept. A River Master will bring a student to near drowning to make it clear that gasping for truth is just as essential to the spiritual journey as air is to human survival. Such Masters are known for allowing a student’s own life to send shock waves that purposefully dislodge their equilibrium. Not out of punishment or power, but from the Companion’s own love for Soul and Its mission to return it, matured, to its origin.

One never denounces their relationships, possessions, or activities, one simply gives them appropriate and controlled tinctures of their precious Soul energy. One never drowns in the River Soul, one resonates and merges with it. One never loses the self, but discovers a Self that is far greater than its earthly shadow. Through these ordeals by water, the Artisan shapes and fires the crucible within the student in preparation for shooting the rapids Home.

Universal Love causes the drop to become the river, the river to become the ocean, the Soul to merge with the Companion, and thus to realize itself as God. Love tells the guardian of the angostura to cast its net elsewhere, for one’s home is now much higher.

A Soul that does not possess life and energy cannot reach the gate of love. And who is alive? Only those who have been initiated into Love. If the current of love rises into dead hearts, even they will receive life forever, and such a Soul never dies.

It is said there is really only one River Soul, and all are traveling it. If this is true, the waters must indeed wash away all memory of action and suffering between lifetimes so that all may assume a new sojourn, experience a different leg in the journey upon rebirth. A day comes, though, when Soul scents the faintly familiar breeze of its Homeland and yearns for its borders, thus beginning the process of remembrance and awakening.

All Souls have within them the holy grail of Consciousness, though downturned and deplete of its divine energy. It is the rare Soul that is willing and ready for the Companion to aright this chalice so that it will once again reverberate with the Sound Current. “This is your body and your blood,” as one River Master once said. “Take it and drink from it.”

My perspective of the River has changed, now that I go in it.

To learn more about my spiritual perspective, I invite you to visit the MasterPath Web site, at www.masterpath.org.

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