A River in the Rainforest: How the Most Beautiful Moments Exist within the Mundane

Any experience can open up into something life-giving and gorgeous. Environments as unlike as day and night cross-pollinate. A stuffy airport queue recalls a river in the rainforest. Don’t fall for the appearances around you. Behind the veil, between the cracks, beneath the surface, there is beauty and wonder. Let go of what you think you have, or what you want, and let in what is really there.

My wife and I stayed for a month in the beauty of the Byron Shire, Australia, an hour North of Byron Bay. Every morning, I biked down the ocean path to the sound of waves breaking, and before arriving at the library to write, I jumped from the bridge into the deep creek at the foot of the town. All this time I looked to the hills with a hunger for the jungles and hidden places. The sun rose deliciously over the land whose spirit could never be tamed, while our roads and rails try to strap it down. I biked along those streets knowing that I would find my way into the hills. I wanted to hug them and eat them, but all I could do is bike by the the shops and streets and love it inwardly.

Weeks went by, and in the clutter of group decisions and laziness, we delayed climbing Mount Warning or to the base of Minyon Falls. Our last days arrived and we had run out of time. I couldn’t believe we had spent a month working and relaxing and not given one day to the gorgeous hills. I pictured  life running the same course, a lifetime of opportunity realized when it’s too late to grasp it. We did carve out one day to explore the forest, but I’ll save that image for later in the story, when the river in the forest poured into my mind.

The day came to fly and we hauled our bags into the airport. To our dismay we were taxed brutally for checking in our luggage at the airport. Then I reminded myself that we were born by luck into the richest 10% of the  world population. Our money was derived from billions of poorer people and excavated landscapes.

We approached the gates, and a polite lady carted a weigh scale down the queue, approaching like a man-eating cash register. When were hit with another huge bill for our hand-luggage, my wife, already upset, broke into tears. She had spent weeks scrubbing toilets for a sum so easily taken away. I regretted the loss of cash, but more acutely, I had felt for my noble woman rendered a baby girl. Through her tears and expletives, I managed to kiss her lips, which were softer than ever. She smiled.

When we sat down on the airplane, the waters calmed. I told her that seeing her in such supple sweetness was worth the money we had lost.

We sat in the pool of her weakness and she began to cry. Tears flowed from my eyes too and I knew it was true that hundreds of dollars were worth this moment of tender love and intimacy.  I was grateful for a taste of intimacy that had nothing to do with circumstances.

The Tao Teh Ching lay open on my knee:

Whoever knows the Eternal Constant is open minded. Being open minded is to be impartial. Being impartial is to be above nations and laws. Being above nations and laws is to be in accord with Tao. Being in accord with Tao is to be eternal. Although his body may die and decay, he shall live forever.

A good traveler has no need to leave tracks. A good speaker leaves no grounds for rebuttal…

…the five colours blind the eye. The five notes deafen the ear.  

I looked into my wife’s face as she slowly saw that her open heart was worth all money. The tears from my eyes and hers created so much intimacy that I nearly looked away out of embarrassment, but I treasured it too much to miss a second. Among the exploitation of ourselves and societies, there is a creek flowing. We found it and we stepped into the water.

Now it’s time to tell you about our excursion into the forest, the falls of Whian Whian. If I could live one day on earth, this swim would make me a fulfilled and happy man. All I need is a cup half full, and in this river I had falls and pools and streams gliding through the forest.

I dipped into the pool where the waterfall swept together in a riot of soft swells. To my surprise I could swim against the current and reach a boulder. I climbed the rock to the top where two teenage boys were leaping into the base of the falls. I plunged in too, amazed at the soft touch of the thundering current.

I helped my wife across the stream and we clambered up a bed of boulders. Waterways glittered and plunged around the rocks. I lay in each chute where the water billowed down and massaged my shoulders. I crept towards the dark rift where a stretch of the falls was boiling. I wondered how far I could go along the base of the cascade.

To my delight and surprise, I could move along the pocket where the river pounded down. In this magical corridor, I was safe from the plummeting waterfall behind and the sweeping current ahead. It was the eye of the hurricane, a safe gap between the teeth of a crocodile.

I wondered about the depths of this surprise corridor and lowered my body into it — my feet touching no stone. I continued down and submerged my head, and the battering water became muffled and harmless. I found I could go lower and lower without being sucked forward or pushed back under the waterfall. It was a pocket of quiet depth in the middle of the river’s beating. It was like being a sweet morsel in the mouth of a God, or inside the kiss of mother nature.

I pulled myself deeper under the stream, down as far as the rock allowed, and looked up at the storm of green water above me. I felt like a creature of the deep crawling up to see the human world, like the spirit of wisdom I become when I relax in tough times.

I remembered this when I saw the tears on Olivia’s cheek and kissed her wordless lips.