Hello beautiful soul!
Perhaps you are like me and go to the water to find some peace and calm. This week I want to share with you the story of my friend Michael Bischoff who made walking by the river his primary spiritual and healing practice. He died last week after what he framed as an “adventure” with brain cancer. Because he was one of my closest friends, I feel his loss deeply.
Michael was a storyteller and shared many of his reflections on Caring Bridge. I’d like to share with you a few highlights about his relationship to the river and how it evolved over the years. He was wandering along the banks of the river, chasing birds and sitting with wonder for two hours every single day. How do you imagine such a practice would change your life?
“I’ve been going to the river every day for more than a year as a part of my self-prescribed treatment for brain cancer, but I’m still slowly learning what I’m doing there. It is taking me a long time to understand how and why the river treatment works. I learned a little more this week when I heard an interview with Mark Nepo. As he talked about a poetic response to cancer, he said:
“A cancer cell is a cell that is a part that will preserve itself at the sake of the whole. It will even eat the body that keeps it alive at all costs…it has no regard for anything but itself.”
“I think the river is helping teach my cells how to see and trust the larger wholes they are a part of.
“When I go to the river, I try to notice what inside of me is connecting with what I see, hear, and touch outside of me, where the outer and inner landscapes meet. I notice when I feel awe and move towards the turtle or tree that looks especially beautiful in that moment. My hypothesis is that if I stand still at the river, the water, birds, land, and rocks will teach me to pray and experience belonging in new ways. Most times at the river I don’t have big insights, just a growing companionship with the river, like my companionship with [my wife] Jenny, which feels like a gentle eroding of that which separates me from belonging to life.
“A few years ago, I told my kids that I got married to the river. They laughed at me. I said it didn’t interfere with my relationship with their mother, only compliment it. I have been slowly changed by Jenny’s unconditional commitment with me…for 20 years. Based on that commitment, I’ve come to trust that if I fully commit to the river, I’ll also be brought closer to belonging through that relationship too.
“Sometimes when the birds dived in front of me yesterday, they came up with a fish, who died in their mouths. I know that there is still a high probability that I will die as a part of my adventures with brain cancer. In preparation for dying well, and living well, I want to be reminded over and over again, of the ways I belong in love with Jenny, and belong in the flow of water through the river gorge near my house, and belong in the source of life that feeds both the river and my marriage.”
September 15, 2019
“Yesterday while sitting by my favorite tree next to the river, I was reminded of my favorite quote by John O’Donohue. “I would love to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.” I’m grateful to be unfolding in this mystery with all of you.”
October 26, 2019
“A little before the seizure at the river, I was telling Cathy about an experience I had a few times when meditating where it felt like I’m dissolving, and then moving back to feeling more solid. As brain cancer becomes more or less tangible, sometimes I feel shaky, other times I feel like I’m dissolving and becoming visible, back and forth again.
“I told Cathy that my dissolving mostly felt joyful. It felt lively and mysterious. It felt like dissolving into love. I felt like I was in the process of dissolving, but not in a way that I could plan or understand. Things can be moving and resolving in ways I’m not paying attention to. The direction is moving toward love, from solid/hard towards a sense of motion.
“Sometimes when I’m noticing more cancer symptoms or other times of uncertainty in my health, I can feel both my own distinct uniqueness and also a letting go of my uniqueness, falling into life that doesn’t include my own distinct self. It’s both joyful and sorrowful, letting go of that uniqueness.”
November 2, 2019
“I want to spend an even longer amount of time sitting next to the river to be a part of that wholeness.”
Finally, these words from Michael were printed on the program for his memorial service on February 15, 2020:
“there’s a healing river coming for all of us, it’s unavoidable and death is a part of being embraced by that river.”
An opportunity to find wholeness through collective joy
In addition to being in nature, it brings so much meaning to my life to celebrate the turning of the seasons. Join in the ancient tradition of dancing to help the world come alive in spring. If you have been feeling run dry, this is a chance to activate your love and aliveness. Collective joy is one of our most ancient and powerful sources of healing and transformation. Saturday, March 21. Learn more.