The River

“Oh, the river!…I know it’s like me…I know that I belong to it. I know that it’s the natural company of such as I am! It comes from country places, where there once was no harm in it—and it creeps through the dismal streets, defiled and miserable—and it goes away, like my life, to a great sea, that is always troubled—and I feel that I must go with it!”

Charles Dickens – David Copperfield

There has always been something about large natural bodies of water that calm the restless turmoil within my soul. When I stare out at the gentle, undulating movement of the rivers and seas, a stillness settles over me. All of my life I have found refuge alongside the riverbank. The wretched, polluted waters have become a part of me over the years as I’ve poured endless tears out into them, and refilled my own cup with their timeless wisdom.

I too know that I belong to the river. It is like me. We are intertwined in a sacred, ancient union. I can feel it calling to me – and I too must go with it. I offer up to it all of my regrets, all of my fears, all of my sorrow. I let it carry them all away to become tiny specs in the vastness of the sea. I listen to it’s soft hiss, ever so slowly smoothing the rocks along the shore. I come to the banks to be smoothed just the same, to blunt my jagged edges and have my troubles tumbled into soft sand.

How many times have I found myself here, asking it’s sage advice? How many times have I been comforted by these dark, whispering waters? How many secrets have we shared in all these years together? When did it first begin to feel like coming home as I found my way into its profound presence? How could I possibly hope to explain this connection, this gratitude for the spirit of the earth and eternity lingering in these waters?

What a comfort and a joy it has been to have such a constant companion. This flowing life force has carried me through every stage of my life. I know that I can always rely on the river to bring me back to myself, to remind me that everything is okay. Not a single moment I’ve gazed at the river has it been the same water. Not a single moment have I been the same as the moment before. We are both eternally shifting and changing, flowing and forming into something new. Yet, somehow we are still each considered a consistent entity, something concrete and tangible. So different yet so similar.

The river is my reminder. It is an opportunity to stop and listen to the universe as it endlessly unfolds, a perpetual mystery, a beautiful, unknowable absurdity. A chance to surrender to the unstoppable flow of life and existence. A confirmation in my soul that we are all one, as I gaze at my distorted reflection bobbing happily in the rough waves, wondering where we began, and where, someday, we’ll end.

Lessons From Mr. Micawber

One of the funniest characters in David Copperfield has got to be Mr. Wilkins Micawber. We first encounter Micawber as a somewhat landlord/roommate of the young Copperfield. We quickly learn that he is perpetually in debt that he has no hopes of paying back. He is constantly on the brink of utter disaster for himself, his wife, and their large, growing family. Micawber remains a primary character throughout the novel. He is a character in which I think we can all stand to learn a lot from while still being someone exaggerated and ridiculous in nature.

Part of what is so humorous about this man is that he seems to drastically jump from one condition to another suddenly. One moment he will be on the verge of suicide, the next, Copperfield will find him skipping along the road, whistling an upbeat tune. He writes these dramatic, superfluously worded letters that at first glance make you quite worried for the man. Then the next day he is the epitome of high hopes and lightheartedness.

Even though I find it exceedingly funny in the book, I actually admire this quality in Micawber. It might make him seem silly, but he is none the less likeable for this trait. He is a heartfelt and honest man. He is true to his feelings even if they oscillate rapidly from one extreme to another. And he is unashamed of expressing himself. This is something I’d like to be brave enough to practice in my own life.

I’ve noticed many times, that if I share a strong negative feeling with someone else through behavior or actual words, I feel very reluctant to let it go even when internally, the feeling has subsided. This is especially true if it’s a mood that has come and gone quickly. I’m almost embarrassed to contradict myself by getting over something that I proclaimed to be so passionate about. Perhaps I’m worried people will think me a hypocrite? Or maybe I fear them not taking my concerns seriously the next time? Or maybe I’m even afraid they’ll chuckle and laugh at me, as I do about Mr. Micawber? I don’t know the exact reason, but something within me resists dropping a grudge that I’ve just vented to someone else about or allowing myself to be happy if the day before I was presenting myself as irrevocably depressed.

Mr. Micawber has shown me that even though it does appear silly to be crying one moment and laughing the next, it is silly in the best way possible. I don’t disregard his sadness even if I highly suspect it won’t last long. And my laughter at his sudden recovery is not done in a mocking way, rather a delighted way, out of wonder and surprise. Micawber is an excellent role model for the slogan: It’s okay to feel your feelings. Even when they might not seem logical to someone else.

It’s truly a shame how often we, myself included, deny ourselves the happiness of the moment under the shadow of some larger problem looming over our lives. We get the thought stuck in our heads that “I’ll never be happy unless…” or “Once this happens or this stops happening, then I’ll finally be able to be happy.” With our eyes set on this imagined future happiness, we overlook or disregard the small opportunities for happiness we encounter every day. Micawber didn’t wait for his problems to go away or for his massive debts to be repaid to enjoy his life. He did so whenever he got the chance. I think we’d all benefit from trying to do the same.

Unlikely Lessons From Charles Dickens

Reading in the evening has become a very meditative and often insightful time of day for me. It has been a great joy and comfort to snuggle into a nest of pillows and blankets after a hearty meal with a warm cup of matcha tea and forget myself for a few hours before bed. Novels are a medium for self-surrender, an opportunity to lose yourself in the plot of another’s life. They are also a chance to gain fresh perspective once we reemerge to take up our own life once again.

Particularly for people like me who suffer from social anxiety, it is a good way to get a feel for the way others think, feel, and act. Observing the real people in my life or analyzing my own relationships has always felt a bit too close for me to understand objectively. It’s rather hard to learn from or concentrate on what someone is saying to you when your entire body is in a state of utter panic. Novels provide a safe cushion of distance and detachment that creates the perfect environment for personal growth and self-discovery.

Even when I think I’ve already learned a lesson many times before, there are always instances that present the essence of this knowledge in a new and penetrating way. For instance, one of the common themes that stands out to me in the works of Charles Dickens is the resilience and near stoicism of his characters. They encounter unbelievable hardships day after day, yet seem to be unmoved by them. They bravely face whatever fate lies before them with dignity and acceptance. Whether they be robbed of all their earthly possessions on a filthy street or arrested and sentenced to death for a crime they didn’t commit, never have they added to their suffering by lamenting the injustice of it all. It’s almost as if they move through the world with no expectations whatsoever. Whatever comes upon them in the course of their lives, they take it without complaint.

As a yogi, I am constantly confronted with the idea that we prolong and worsen our own suffering when we pile our own rejection and stubborn indignation on top of it. This truth that I’ve carried with me for years now felt all the more poignant when I experienced the living example of it in the form of Dicken’s colorful characters. Even thinking of it now, in David Copperfield, there is one character that is constantly in a state of depression or distress. They moan, “I am a lone, lorn, creature, and everything goes contrary to me.” They agonize over their belief that they just “feel things more” than everyone else. Despite a relatively decent existence compared to many of the characters, she suffers immensely. It is primarily her own perception of herself and said suffering that is the cause of it though.

Sadly enough, in spite of myself, I find that I tend to identify with this character. I get upset, then am upset and ashamed of being upset. I want to be comforted, then am embarrassed for needing constant comforting and being a burden on my loved ones, and the cycle continues from there. In contrast little David Copperfield himself is a shining example of how I would rather face the world and the difficulties that come with it. In addition to not resisting the unfortunate events of his life, David also does not blame himself for them. I’ve found that if I am not blaming the world for being against me or being unfair, I am blaming myself for being naive or foolish whenever something bad happens.

Because of these simple lessons and many others, I truly feel that reading these books has been healing for me. Although they are fictional, the truth behind them remains. We can gain a new perspective of ourselves and our situation through reading. We can also find powerful examples of how we might choose to be instead. When I see these characters accepting their lot in life, suffering, injustice, and all, I feel more capable of accepting my own life and all it entails. When I see these characters making “mistakes” that I would have torn myself apart for, I am able to view them with compassion and understanding. It fosters a willingness to forgive myself for not knowing what I didn’t know. Often the hardest hurdle to face with our problems is not knowing an alternative way to respond to them when they arise. Reading is the opportunity to find that alternative.

The Personal History of David Copperfield. by Dickens, Charles: (1849) |  Raptis Rare Books, ABAA/ ILAB