Four Rivers of Life in 2019

Although I live in the land of six rivers—the Smith, Klamath, Trinity, Mad, Van Duzen, and Eel—today I write about the four rivers of life: Inspiration, Surprise, Challenge, and Love.

I learned about these rivers from my beloved teacher Angeles Arrien (1940—2014). According to Angeles, many traditional societies believe that these rivers—Inspiration, Surprise, Challenge, and Love—sustain and support us. They also connect us to the greater gifts of appreciating one’s life and making sure we are living the life we desire and dream.

These questions can usefully be asked at the end of every day, week, month or year.

River of Inspiration

Who or what inspired me this year?

I am blessed with three sources of inspiration this year. First, is Ron White, guiding light of the Equity Alliance of the North Coast, an initiative of the Humboldt Area Foundation. I have learned so much from him and his colleagues who are working hard to educate everyone in this region about racism and the inequities that are often invisible to those of us who live privileged lives.

I have also been inspired by my colleagues and friends David Sibbet and Gisela Wendling, who have dedicated immense time, energy and resources to the creation of The Global Learning and Exchange Network. I enjoy the opportunity to learn with colleagues around the world. Our conversations center around the necessary ways we need to evolve the methods and practices of collaboration within and across organizations, communities, and cultures to better address the central challenges of our time. David has been particularly inspiring and immensely supportive as I continue my exploration of the neuropsychology of collaboration.

The brain scientists who continue to help us understand and evolve the human brain have been another source of inspiration. A special bow of gratitude to Richard J. Davidson at the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin in Madison for his groundbreaking work in investigating the impact of contemplative practice on the brain.

River of Surprise

How did I handle surprises this year? What unexpected experience taught me something important?

Roger James and I teamed up with the ever wonderful Amy Jester and Heidi Terbreck of the Humboldt Area Foundation to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the Cascadia Center for Leadership on the eve of its 20th birthday. The feedback from a portion of the more than 500 graduates has been overwhelmingly positive. It is inspiring to learn how many of them continue to use what they learned on a daily and weekly basis. Their gratitude for the program and its impact on them teaches me to never underestimate the potential impact of teaching in a facilitative way and working hard to model what Roger and I are teaching.

River of Challenge

Who or what challenged me this year? What invited me to grow or stretch, to move outside my comfort zone?

Looking back, I see two big challenges from this past year. The first has been trying to ward off the incipient hatred for those seemingly intent on destroying so much of what I have lived my life caring about: freedom of the press, democratic institutions, the rule of law, the survival of our planet, equity for women and people of color, human rights, the separation of church and state, and meaningful/constructive conversations among us.

The second challenge is an antidote to the first. I am working with inspiring colleagues like Alan Briskin, Karen Buckley, and David Sibbet to explore the interconnections among social fields, social psychology, brain science, and quantum mechanics to create a revolutionary framework for social change. Alan and I want to write a book that will be an inspiring and practical resource for those working to create a future we all want.

River of Love

What did I learn about love this year? 

I learn about love from my precious husband Roger James every day. His kindness, wit, honesty, clarity of thought, and stalwart support teach me what it means to love another unconditionally.

The death of my brother Michael F. Gelinas in July allowed me to experience the timeless and spaceless quality of love. Although I only saw him, his wife Georgene and his daughters Michelle Doyle, Anna Gelinas and Aimée Gelinas once a year, they are with me everyday in my thoughts and feelings. The river of love for them is endless.

Thank you very much for reading my blog. It inspires me to keep writing. I wish you all of life’s blessings in the decade that begins today.


2 thoughts on “Four Rivers of Life in 2019”

  1. Happy New Year, Mary! Thank you for offering these 4 questions. I will start to apply them to my life. I especially struggle with the “challenge” of living in a constructive way with the ever-present threat of letting hatred seep in for the same reasons you named. Here’s to sea changes coming in 2020 toward a more peaceful world. Love you. Ashton

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