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  • Brian Tom O'Connor

The River Delta

All metaphors crash and burn eventually. Analogies too. Especially analogies. But this doesn’t mean they’re not useful until they do.

Why do they always crash and burn? Because they are made of words and words can’t depict reality exactly. Reality is one thing. Not really a thing, but a thing-less thing. Just energy waving in different apparent forms. Nothing is separate from anything else except in appearance. There’s only one thing… the universe making waves of form that rise and fall back into the infinite ocean of universal energy.

But words are thoughts. Words are concepts. Words are mind. The nature and purpose of words (and of concepts) is to distinguish things from one another. A useful tool to help an organism stay alive by deciding between what’s food and what’s poison, for instance. A useful tool for apparent organisms that want to stay organized as an entity. As I mention in the book, the mind is made of words and concepts, and as such, is the “organ of separation.” But since there is only one thing going on, all separation is only apparent, and therefore words and concepts can never really describe ultimate reality.

What they can do is to point in the general direction of ultimate reality. But if analyzed to a great degree, or taken literally, or put through the meat grinder of logic, they simply fall apart eventually.

However, the ultimate reality of oneness can flavor the mind. Or waft its perfume back towards the mind. We can get the sense of the unity of being through our own sense of being, our background awareness in which all things appear. Metaphors and analogies can help, at least until they crash and burn.

The classic metaphor about metaphors (you could call it a meta-metaphor) is the “finger pointing to the moon”: A spiritual teaching is like a finger pointing to the moon, and should not be mistaken for the moon itself. Once your attention is directed toward the moon, there is no need to dwell on the finger.

The classic analogy that deals with the unique individual as part of the universal is “the wave and the ocean”: Our individual bodies and minds are temporary forms, just like a wave is simply a temporary form that rises from the ocean, is never apart from ocean, is made of ocean, and falls back into ocean when the life of its form is over.

Which brings me (finally) to an analogy that occurred to me yesterday: The River Delta. It’s often confusing how awareness can be universal but we only know the content of our individual minds, not the content of other minds. How can both be true? Maybe this analogy will be helpful. It’s sure to crash and burn under analysis, but I hope it’s useful in the meantime. Here goes…

At the mouth of a river where the fresh river water empties into the salty ocean water, there is often a large area – a delta or an estuary where the river water meets the sea water. Imagine this is a large area with multiple streams and rivers from various sources all flowing into the ocean. In our analogy, the delta is our individual mind and the ocean is the background of pure awareness. The delta only receives water from the rivers as they deposit sediment brought from upstream. It’s one-way traffic. The water is flowing from upriver, through the delta, and out into the ocean. The delta doesn’t receive water from the ocean flowing upstream.

The delta is like our individual mind. The content flowing from the outside world via our sense perceptions only flows one way – from the world, through our minds, and out into the ocean of awareness, leaving sediment in the form of memories. Our minds are only aware of the one-way traffic of perceptions and sensations, and of the memories they deposit. But our thoughts and memories are witnessed by awareness itself, apart from our finite minds. This is the ocean of awareness that we all share.

Sometimes, as in an estuary, there is brackish water, a mixture of river water and sea water. So there’s a taste of the sea present in the river mouth. A waft of sea breeze in the air. We can get that taste, that breeze of the ocean of awareness, when we take our focus off the one-way flow of our thoughts and drop back into the pure awareness that receives it all. That’s why meditative practices of quiet and stillness can invoke a sense of oneness. We’re calming down the powerful rushing flow of sediment and letting some of the sea breeze waft in. And it feels absolutely lovely.

What does this have to do with Awareness Games? Well, you can make a game out of it for yourself. You can imagine your mind as a river delta. You can imagine the input from the world – the sights, sounds, sensations, smells, and tastes – as a one-way flow through your mind and into the background awareness in which all thoughts, sensations, and perceptions appear. As you imagine that flowing stream, see if you can imagine it calming down, and feel yourself gently, quietly floating down into the ocean of awareness that receives it all – the awareness that you are. And then imagine that ocean of awareness, like the oceans of our earth, connected to all the oceans. The one interconnected world ocean. It’s an ocean of love because it knows it’s all one ocean.

And if that analogy crashes on the shoals for you, you can always go back to the simple “wave in the ocean” analogy I mentioned above.

Happy floating…

Love to all my fellow ocean waves,


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