The Greatest Lesson Learned: What a Dirty Little River Has Taught Me

The greatest lesson I have learned came from a river, a dirty little river. So let me tell you the story and you’ll understand what I’m saying.

I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. If you’ve never been there, it is beautiful. We are blessed with the most majestic mountain that sits right in the middle of our city and, on either side of that mountain, there is blue, wild ocean.

There are very few places in the world that compare – especially if you value the outdoors, like I do.

And then I moved to Atlanta.

A great city, don’t get me wrong, but kind of lacking in the natural wonders department. After 6 years, I still feel a little suffocated being surrounded by city and suburbs without the relief that comes from a mountain or ocean breeze. 

When you grow up in a city like Cape Town with so much natural beauty every direction you turn, you can often end up becoming rather nonchalant about the whole thing. In time, you hardly notice the extraordinariness of what you’re in the midst of. As my husband so aptly puts it:

“When you live there, it becomes just another city”.

The Greatest Lesson

And then I moved to the other side of one of those mighty oceans – 13,000 kms away – becoming a visitor rather than a resident. This changed everything. Now, when I am privileged to travel back, I am able to stand in awe at the uniqueness of this tip of the world. How did I not see this when I lived here?

Cape Town is unique. The awe is right there in front of you, clear as crystal. But that is not often the case. In most circumstances, natural, awe-inspiring beauty can appear elusive. 

What are we missing?

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”~ Ferris Bueller

We move through our lives so quickly that the obvious, in-your-face beauty is often all we have time for. If it’s not right there in front of us, we are likely to miss it. See that incredible flower?

Isn’t it stunning?

Yes, thank goodness it was right there on my path so I could see it. And, thank goodness it wasn’t covered in dirt, otherwise its’ beauty would have been overlooked.

That’s typically how it is; we see magic only when it is right there in front of us. And it makes sense: our brains are met with an unfathomable amount of information each day, which we are constantly filtering, processing, storing, and discarding at a rate we could never comprehend. With that in mind, it is understandable that we miss a lot. 

However, every now and then, we notice something that typically goes unnoticed. Our world slows down for a moment, just long enough to see something, allow it in, and connect to the mystery, depth, and beauty of what our eyes landed on.

The Greatest Lesson a Dirty Little River Has Taught Me

Our neighborhood in Atlanta backs onto a small nature preserve, which has a small river running through it. I honestly cannot tell you the correct name of the river, nor its origin.

I have never cared enough about it to find out.

We walk through this nature preserve fairly often, once a week or so, and this river just gurgles alongside us, like an overlooked bystander. This little river is dirty. It is flowing through suburbs and in close proximity to a big, urban city and, as such, has been infiltrated by the parts of our lives that we deemed worthy of disposal. 

And yet, despite the neglect and the indifference it is so often met with, it gurgles on; moving along its course with a calm certainty.

On one insignificant walk, on no particular day, I stopped for reasons I cannot remember. My eyes landed on the dirty, little river and, for the first time I registered something I had never noticed before. Underneath the eroded soil on the banks of the dirty, little river, I saw rock.

Not surprising in the least, but it did fire something in my brain that shifted how I viewed my dirty, little river.

This rock, that had been covered up in soil and filth and grit, is a part of something ancient and deep. This rock is a part of a mountain range that has existed for centuries and this little river is connected to the history, the story, the timelessness of this mountain range and the Mother Earth it is a part of.

The greatest lesson I had learned was: when you wipe away the grit and filth, you see the magic and mystery underneath and, how despite the neglect and indifference of its visitors, this dirty, little river continues on unperturbed, unshaken.

The dirty, little river is existing exactly as it is meant to: the perfect expression of the majesty to which it is connected.

You Too Are Timeless and Majestic.

It’s an easy connection to make: we all carry our own degree of grit and dirt. We all have our stories and our struggles, our flaws and our wounds, but as you wipe away that grit and those flaws, what is beneath? 

In moments of complete stillness, solitude, and bliss, we are able to catch glimpses of our own timeless, perfect selves. It is often fleeting and typically forgotten, as the turbulence of our lives washes new debris over us. 

But no matter how much grit, dirt, and soil accumulates, the rock underneath lives on; unperturbed and quietly confident in its perfect existence. This is indeed the greatest lesson you could learn today.

An Exercise in Finding Your Timeless Self.

For a few minutes, sit in silence with your eyes closed. Let your breathing become slightly deeper, flowing calmly and fluidly through your nostrils. Once you begin to feel yourself calm, connect to the moment before; before any thought, before any reaction.

The moment before anything begins.

The easiest place to connect to this moment is right before you breathe in. In that pause. Here is where you will catch a glimmer of your timeless self, perfect in every way, and exactly as it is meant to be.

Underneath everything, you are perfect.

What is your greatest lesson learned? Who or what has brought light into your life when you least expected it? Feel free to share away in the comments below.

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Tara van Dam

Tara is an integrative life coach and owner of Wholistic Joy Wellness. If you would like to find out more about Tara and her work, click here.

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