Challenge #2: Crossing the Stream

Challenge: There’s a stream to cross and a raft to get us there. We look to the other side with longing as we stand in an arid land. We step on the raft, become stream-enterers, pole with diligence. A day may come when the green of that far land rises up on every side.

I am thirsty
(Emma Skogstad)

I am thirsty, a pebble,
Stooped and lonely bones
And stone.
I am parched and longing and gone.

I am eating a mango,
Sweet, my life tastes sweet
And meaty.
Communion: fruit drips down my chin.

I am stepping off the raft,
There are no waters
Between the arid and the lush places—
Between thirsty and sated.

There is only a spasm and then expansion,
Forgetting and then remembering,
Distraction and then presence,
Then and then now.

I tried to cross the river
(Heather Martin)

Many times, over many years, I tried to cross the river. I had heard and read about the wonders of the other side: the trees straight and tall, the flowers vibrant and scented, the sky far more open than the tiny mind can conceive. The river was so wide that I could see only hazy outlines, but this only made me want to cross more.

When I tried, I would often find myself walking for days and weeks only ankle deep, and the opposite shore never came closer. I tried the kinds of boats other people told me had worked, but they leaked or sank or swirled endlessly in stinking eddies.

Determined, I came across the path to a new spot that I had heard rumors about. I started walking. Soon, very soon, the water was up to my knees. Elated, I rested rarely. The water got higher. As it rose to my waist it got swifter, and I became afraid. I tried to turn back in panic, but I had lost all sense of direction. My feet lost the bottom, I tumbled, and was carried away. I reached for anything to save myself. Some lunatic shouted to me to let go, but I didn't have the luxury of deciding to listen or not - every branch and hand was torn from my grasp in short order. I fought as long as my body would obey me, which was much longer than I would have thought. I had strength I did not know before, amazing strength to hold on to tiny branches with broken fingers, but it was not enough to change anything. I made my best effort even for a long time after I had not a single fiber of muscle left.

I thought about all the people who had drowned before me, and felt a deep kinship with them. I admired both their efforts not to drown, and their acceptance of it happening. How sad, I thought, and how mighty. How beautiful.

And I gave up with my whole heart.

I woke on the shore, soaking wet. I was so thrilled and relieved to be present, anywhere, that for a moment I didn't notice that I was at what seemed to be a narrow place in the river. I could easily see both shores from that one spot. The trees, the flowers, and the sky were shockingly lovely, but absolutely ordinary, and quite obviously precisely the same on both sides of the water.

I laughed and laughed, and still do not know whether I crossed or not.

The Film Maker, the Murdered Boy, and a Socratic Dialogue
(Katherine Moore)

“I think it's baby steps to creating a new way to think about race and
economy in St. Louis (as you've pointed out), and it's very important
to show how the local and federal government play into this vicious
cycle of 'flight and blight' and see how we've been encouraged to
stimulate the economy through racist belief systems.”—Morton
wrote in an email to me
I really wanted to research all the dynamics that went into the
phenomenon of white flight in Spanish Lake,
 Morton said in a recent
telephone interview from Los Angeles. 
I came away convinced that this
is not an issue of race but of class and opportunities.
quoted on
“A lot of it is class. A lot of it is politics. Race is one dynamic,
but the appearance of the transition does seem cultural. It does seem
like it is a racial thing.”
Morton on KTVI
“I told you not to trust the guy.”
“You did.”
“He just says whatever he thinks people want to hear.”
“We don’t know that.”
“He tells you that our economy is built on a racist system and he
tells The Post that this ain’t a race thing?”
“He didn’t exactly say the economy was built on a racist system. I
think it was me who said that.”
“That’s why he’s saying something similar to you now. Not because he
believes it, but because he knows that’s what you believe.”
“I don’t think I ever actually said that to him though.”
“Oh for the love of God! Your Facebook is not private!”
“That’s true.”
“He’s a jerk.”
“We don’t know that.”
“We do. People who talk out both sides of their mouths are jerks.”
“All human beings are inconsistent. And besides, we don’t understand
the nature of the inconsistency.”
“Give me one reason why one would say radically different things like
“Maybe he is being misquoted by The Post.”
“You’re more comfortable calling The Post guy a liar than calling
Morton two-faced?”
“Six of this. Half a dozen the other. I’m just recognizing
“Fine. What about when he was talking to Randi Naughton?”
“He said race was one dynamic. I agree with that.”
“No. He said it SEEMED like a racial thing.”
“It doesn’t seem like a racial thing to you?”
“He means that it SEEMS like a racial thing, but.”
“But it’s a class and politics thing?”
“If The Post writer isn’t a lair, yeah.”
“Ugh. It’s not like I can do anything about it really. I’m actually
more pissed off at this Rob Levy guy anyway.”
“The writer from The Beacon. You see what he wrote about our home?
Apocalyptic ghost town. American dream to American scream. Gag me with
flamboyant language ... Look how good my writing is. I use 10 letter
words and make clever rhymes. My overly-dramatic language doesn’t
negatively affect an entire community at all.”
“There’s 11 letters in Apocalyptic.”
“Did you ever ask Morton about the inconsistency?”
“Sort of.”
“What do you mean?”
“I asked him what consequences might arise or not arise by framing the
issue away from racism. If one focus on class and/or lack of
opportunity as ‘the problem’, how might the outcome differ from one in
which racism is the focus of ‘the problem?’”
“What’d he say?”
“He never responded.”
“Of course he didn’t.”
“I can’t fault him. I haven’t answered all my emails yet either... I
have been asking other people the same question though.”
“Erica Huggins.”
“She told me that I should ask the question of the film maker and take
things from there.”
“That’s obvious. Why’d you ask her? Seems random.”
“Perspective. See how someone outside of myself would answer the
question. See if maybe I was missing something important.”
“And Erica Huggins knows about Spanish Lake because?”
“I thought she might know something about how racism gets talked about
that maybe I wasn’t considering. Plus she just seems like a kind
“Who else did you ask?”
“Some ladies on the panel after the Pruitt-Igoe Myth movie.”
“What they say?”
“The first woman to respond was like, ‘It’s a race thing! You saw the
people in the film!’ There was old footage of white people saying
things like, ‘I moved here because it was a white neighborhood. I
don’t want to live here if it gets black quite frankly.’ An older
woman on the panel began to disagree. This upset the first lady who
said something to the effect of, ‘No! We hide behind politics! We hide
behind ideas of economy!’ The older woman spoke up and said that this
did nothing to address the structural issues of the Pruitt-Igoe
buildings ... which is probably true ... Then the politician lady
talked about how lots of people made their careers off Pruitt-Igoe.
She mentioned some PhD’s famed study as an example. All the panelists
scoffed at the mention of his name. She said that by-and-large the
people who profited off Pruitt-Igoe were not African-American people.
She also said that the people of Pruitt-Igoe raised funds to do their
own study or to make their own documentary or something like that.”
“You going to make your own documentary?”
“Buy me a camera. We’ll find out.”
“You ever answer your question for yourself?”
“Yes and no. I’m still processing. I think about the question a lot.
Especially lately with Trayvon’s smiling face staring at me every time
I open my laptop. I think he is an example of the consequence of down-
playing how racism affects the make-up of communities. People are
afraid of Spanish Lake. It’s so dangerous. All these gangsters and
thugs walking around in groups. All these dark-skinned people living
together in a concentrated area. We live in an urban ghetto according
to some and they are scared to come here. And yet this boy walks
through a really nice gated community and gets kill. So what are you
talking about? It makes me angry that white people don’t address the
racism issue more openly. That’s why I’m watching Morton’s words so
closely. I don’t want him to down-play the racism. I don’t want it to
be about just class and lack of opportunity because that’s leaving out
a huge part of things.”
“What about Zimmerman. You think they will arrest him?”
“Yeah. I don’t think he will be found guilty of anything. I remember
Laurence Powell. Somehow this guy seems less scary than Powell.”
“Seems less or SEEMS less, but...”
“Beat a man repeatedly with a stick. Shoot an unarmed boy. Six of
this. Half a dozen of the other. But somehow with Zimmerman, I
empathize with him more. He was paranoid. He had fear. He was scared
of a hooded dark-skinned teenager he didn’t recognize. He trailed the
kid even after 911 told him to stop. That was wrong... But
somehow ... That he had this irrational fear ... it’s the same
fear in many people around us. Zimmerman could have been any one of a
number of people we know. Any one of those people would have been just
doing their best to protect us. Irrationally protecting us.”
“I figured you’d be the first to blast Zimmerman.”
“I too am inconsistent. Today I feel more melancholy than angry. On an
angry day, I probably would bash Zimmerman.”
“What does it all matter anyway? Nothing’s going to change.”
“You don’t believe in the Promised Land?”
“No. I’m not MLK and you’re not MLK. Neither one of us are ever going
to change anything. So why bother?”
“I can’t believe like you. I have to believe differently just to get
out of bed in the morning. I believe we can cross that stream.”
“Yes ... I quote, ‘There’s a stream to cross and a raft to get us
there. We look to the other side with longing as we stand in an arid
land. We step on the raft, become stream-enterers, pole with
diligence. A day may come when the green of that far land rises up on
every side.’”
“What’s that from?”
“I have no idea. Sounds Buddhist though doesn’t it.”
“Interesting... You’re going to have to give me a good reason to do
anything and that reason can’t be to end racism. I don’t believe that
will ever happen.”
“How about revenge?”
“My interest is peaked.”
“Well, I’m still hating on Rob Levy. I think messing with him would
bring satisfaction.”
“Cyber hack The Beacon?”
“What? No! I was going to say flood his email with lots of positive
images of Spanish Lake.”
“And there goes my interest in your lame revenge plot.”

Rafter Held in Suspected Intelligence-gathering Mission
(E. L. Tessier)

HOUSTON%mdash;A man poling a raft on Buffalo Bayou was spotted yesterday by an alert motorist, reported to police and arrested in what authorities suspect was an attempt to gauge the response time of local law enforcement.

The barefoot rafter wore a saffron robe and had a shaved head. Police would not comment on his appearance, saying only that they have entered specifics of the incident into a database containing information about terrorist organizations around the world.

The rafter asked his attorney to issue a statement. Police initially barred its publication, saying it might contain code that could endanger national security. A federal judge overrode the gag order on First-Amendment grounds, paving the way for the statement’s release late last night.

“Every single being, even those who are hostile to us, is just as afraid of suffering as we are, and seeks happiness in the same way we do,” the statement said. “Every person has the same right as we do to be happy and not to suffer. So let's take care of others wholeheartedly.”

E.L. Tessier is the pen name of a writer who practices meditation at the Houston Zen Center with the guidance of Abiding Teacher Gaelyn Godwin.

In the Stream
(Sarah Webb)

My hands cup
beneath the surface.
Minnows flit in the bowl

amber inside my fingers
amber against my legs
amber sliding downstream.

I meant to cross this river
reach the trees whose tops
flare yellow in the sun.

Pole hard, I said.
But though these hands are calloused
it is more than a matter of effort

and I find myself here
in the soft water
where minnows brush.


Let's get it straight ...
(Kim Mosley)

Let's get it straight,
or maybe

We all want to be
on the other side,
where there aren't
any beer cans
or plastic

And this ain't no
metaphor. The
other side is not
in the city or on the

It is about water,
and really about
Nirvana, that place,
so very far away
that we don't even
see it
when we look
in the

Metaphors are like bridges ...
(Mike Mccarthy)

Metaphors are like bridges, they give us a link where we can safely cross a stream to the far bank without letting go of the near and more familiar bank. They are like an exercise in consciousness which enables us to imagine the other side without the necessity of getting our feet wet. I find that I can run back and forth across that bridge I create because it remains still and fixed and permanent in my construct of reality.

But there is another truth, “you cannot step twice into the same stream”, and in getting our feet wet we experience the impermanence of our metaphors, we see that everything changes and nothing remains still.

Yet, the more things change the more they become familiar …

I am earnest.
(Contributed: Michael Uebel)

Hui k'o, the second patriarch of Ch'an, cut off his left arm as a demonstration of his earnestness to cross.

A ship in response
(Eric Travis)

When presented with this challenge, my muddled mind conjures a ship in response. It's the one that Suzuki-roshi said life is like setting sail on when you know it's going to sink. Maybe this raft doesn't. Drowning doesn't seem to be the type of stream-entering referred to here. And with the next thought, I wonder if there's no raft at all and if the green land and the arid land are the same, and have different levels of precipitation.

Another stream of thought starts with the raft as our practice. In my darker moods, I think I'm too stupid to do more than sit on the shore and just stare at the raft. "Yep, there it is." Other times, I'm convinced that I'm on it and I could happily propel myself along forever. Both notions are transient.

Thinking lets one know the raft is there, but can prevent one from whole-heartedly casting off, completely confident that the raft floats.

Specific image from about a week ago: my friend stands in the canoe on the tranquil lake, practicing casting with his fly fishing rod and reel. He does this in the midst of chronic pain, unconcerned about catching anything. He said, "It's probably too late in my life to get very good at fly fishing, but I'd like to get better at it."

Crossing the Stream
(Maku Mark Frank)

I set out to cross the stream once long ago.
Or maybe it was yesterday.
Funny, time can be like that.
I remember gazing at the other side—
The grassy lowlands beckoning,
The cool, green forest foothills
Rising gently into snowcapped glory ...
I remember wondering of the sights up there—
Above the clouds,
Beyond all worldly cares.
Oh, how I longed to tread that path unseen!
Sloping toward sunlit transcendence ...
But first I had to cross that stream.

I found a raft of four logs lashed together,
Hidden in the reeds there, half submerged.
And though the vessel’s simple nature had me wondering,
That I could see the other side left me assured.
And so I poled my humble raft into deep waters
With thoughts already soaring high above.
And it was clear that I’d gone way too far to turn back
By the time I felt the current’s tug.

Down, down, down the river took me
Till I’d have gladly kissed the ground on either side,
Past sleeping beachside towns and sweeping bayous,
And out into the ocean deep and wide.
Then just as my raft’s lashings were unraveling
And I was wondering what worse fate I could have met
The wind and waves began to rise up
And the sun began to set.

There was a time I thought myself much stronger
With ample will and strength in store,
But down, down, down those waters pulled me
Till I could fight their power no more.
And as I sank into the blackness
I could think of nothing but that shore
From which I’d gazed up at those snowfields
Feeling in need of something more.

And so I died to all I’d once been.
I died as well to all my dreams.
And as I settled on the ocean floor,
I died to every separate thing.
For one last breath I viewed existence,
For one last cold and watery sigh –
Upon the bottom of the ocean
Immersed within a star-filled sky…

There was a time when crossing to the other side
Still seemed as real as each new breath,
Way back when sun and moon, and stream and tide
Were as distinct as life and death,
Before that death to all illusion
There upon the ocean floor,
Before realizing that just this moment
Is the long sought after other shore.

Bridges help people ...

Blue Hoody, Stream, and Buddha
(Katherine Moore)

(Liana Dawson)

I know the parable and its significance so it is hard not to consider the meaning of the raft and the journey and the wisdom to leave the raft behind when it is time. But as I was contemplating the stream, the raft and the journey, a childhood event came to mind:

As a very young girl, I was supposed to collect dragonflies for school. I caught a beautiful very large dragonfly. He was so colorful and so majestic and I put him in a jar with some sticks and leaves. I then saw a bright beautiful baby dragonfly and I caught him, too. He was precious, bright and beautiful and I put him in the jar with the other dragonfly, proud of my catches. To my great horror and grief, the large dragonfly proceeded to devour the smaller dragonfly and then the large dragonfly “choked” and died.

Moral: Don’t carry a dragonfly on your back. Ha Ha. Nope, that’s not quite it ...