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  • evansph2


Updated: Mar 14, 2022

The writer Mark Nepo tells the story of a master who sends his apprentice to a river and tells him to sit there until he’s learned all that the river has to teach. The apprentice dutifully goes to the river and sits down right at the very edge. The sound of the river is roaring. After a while, he decides it is too loud, so he picks up his blanket and treks to the top of a nearby mountain where he carefully places the blanket down in a spot where he can see a long stretch of the river far away. He’s too far away, can’t hear the river at all. He picks up his blanket and finds a midway point where he can sort of see and sort of hear the river. He dutifully meditates on his cushion. After three days, he is weary of the adventure. He feels guilty about not having learned much from the river. Then suddenly a monkey comes along and jumps into the river hooting and cavorting about, yapping and splashing. Something about this brings the apprentice to tears. He packs up his things and heads back to the master to tell him all that has happened. The master sighs and puts his hand on the apprentice’s shoulder and says “Ah, the monkey heard. You just listened.”

This has as certain parallel to my own experience of meditation. I want to do it right, in the right place, in the right way, at the right time. I want to “learn” what the silence teaches. But somehow I miss the chance to jump in the river and cavort about. I am like the apprentice sitting on the edge of things…

I like the poet Chelan Harkin’s similar advice;


Un-cinch the strings

around the word ‘faith’.

Take the corset

off of God.

What happens to it

when you set it free

and let it prance about?

Loosen up reverence

what happens there?


with tickling the chin

of your beliefs

‘til they crack open slightly

with joy.

What if religion

were the untying

of old knots?

Why not redefine everything

starting with the concepts

we seem to care about the most?

Let’s keep reworking these definitions

until they feel more like they’re meant to –

a song of untethered love.

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