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The River of Delight

Huck and Jim on the Mississippi
Huck and Jim on the Mississippi

One morning while driving my daughter to school, we saw a coyote in the riverbed exploring and hunting. We were on one of the last bits of rustic roadside in our town, following our usual route along Pine Creek. The day, which had threatened the prospect of yet another dull task, sitting for long hours in a classroom, suddenly got brighter. Her eyes lit up with excitement to see a wild animal in the middle of town, and I saw the world anew through a child’s eyes. Joy came barefoot to splash in the water, rediscovering the river of delight, seeing beauty and truth in nature, and I recovered my natural state of wonder.

Yamuna River

I first heard about the River of Delight from a musician, Lou Gottlieb, who had retired from the folk group, the Limeliters, and moved to Sonoma County. He became the spiritual leader of a commune at Morning Star Ranch on the Pacific coast. One evening in the early 70's, Lou came to one of my rock band rehearsals with the idea of teaching us meditation chants he’d composed. “Love Divine, thou art mine, I am thine, Love Divine.” I was struck by the beauty of one song in particular and it stayed with me for years afterwards:

"Only Thou, O River of Delight, Only Thou, through endless day and night, Only Thou, assuager of all sorrow, Only Thou, oh giver of tomorrow."

The chant seemed very Hindu or Buddhist to me. Later on I did some research to learn if the concept had any parallel in Christian sources. I discovered there was actually a reference to the River of Delights, its plural form, in the Bible (NIV), Psalm 36: 7-8. "O Lord … How priceless is your unfailing love! … you give them drink from your river of delights." Long after the Psalms were written, Jesus preached about the “river(s) of living water,” in a sermon in the temple (John 7:38). It was a symbol he employed over and over.
The King James version, perhaps most familiar from baby boomer childhoods, translates Psalm 36 as the “river of pleasures,” an unfortunate word choice for Christians who think that pleasure equates to sin. The delight I am speaking about here is not carnal. Though it is a delight of both the senses and the mind, it is a more mystical experience of spiritual pleasure.

There are riverboat captains for hire to take you on the journey if you lack the courage to travel the River of Delight alone. Many turn to the currently popular path of mindfulness meditation, a modified Buddhist technique. It has brought a lot of media attention, also work to the spiritual pilots, those who well know the currents, snags, whirlpools and sandbars of the River of Delight. Thousands gather to hear the Dalai Lama speak for example. Last February, Donna Rockwell, herself a mindfulness meditation teacher, recalled the enduring power of his message in her blog. “Joyfulness, the Dalai Lama said, is nothing more than becoming aware of "the wonderful potential being wasted" and "sensing possibility.”

The River of Delight flows into the Sea of Joy

This symbol, the river of delight, communicates a sensual energy, the flowing of the unseen spirit of joyfulness into our day-to-day life. It represents the innate harmony between matter and spirit, body and mind, and is metaphorical of the search for the Supreme Being.

Wordsworth’s famous description of the daffodils blowing in the wind beside the lake, in his poem I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud, evoked a delight that stayed with him for years after. The memory provided rewards of pleasure though he “but little thought what wealth the show … had brought” when he first came upon them. Much later, when “recollected in tranquility,” he discovered the deeper meaning, the true wealth, and how such beauty and harmony were part of the foundation of his wellbeing.
“For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”

One might say the River of Delight transports us to a realization of God originally found in Nature. It took the poet William Wordsworth on a journey to inner peace. But it is not necessarily an inactive state of inner peace that we seek. A sense of adventure has called many of us to make the voyage. It begins with desire, the discovery of a value within oneself that longs to be expressed. A brave child of nature may tap into his or her courageous independent spirit, build the raft with Huck Finn and Jim and push off into the river’s current.

“God made the rivers to flow … they fly swiftly like birds.” (Rig Veda) Our eyes follow the birds that fly swiftly downstream, as we follow through on our desire to see the world, to connect with that which gives us delight. We begin with valuing our dreams and our subjective feelings; from them we develop and define an objective purpose.
“May the stream of my life flow into the river of righteousness. (Rig Veda, 11.28)

This broad and flowing metaphorical river is capable of carrying much freight, many cosmic meanings, truths, and spiritual aspirations. But the laughing waters particularly speak to our souls of the inherent joy of existence.

The Delights of Learning, the Satisfactions Found in New Knowledge

On the banks of the River of Delight the paths to enlightenment are many but have become neglected and overgrown. I believe it is our duty to now clear away the brush and obstructing growth. I want these paths cleared as they were in the 70’s when I was a young seeker, so that young people today can find them as easily as we did. There is one particular landing place along the River of Delight I have come to know very well because of my love for knowledge and learning. There are the intellectual manifestations of "Delight," which I experience, the satisfaction and rewards of achieving the results of a worthwhile research project, of having labored long and hard and finally succeeded in grasping the truth of an exciting idea, or discovering the value of a spiritual ideal.
Along the river highways of delight we may travel to our destiny, if we so choose to take the journey.

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