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Leadership lessons from The River

Humans are made up of 60% water. Our cells have been recycled through the beginning of time and carry memories of people who came before us. We are not that different from rivers, seas and clouds This poem, river never goes back, inspired my thoughts about who we are.

The River Cannot Go Back by Kahlil Gibran

It is said that before entering the sea a river trembles with fear. She looks back at the path she has traveled, from the peaks of the mountains, the long winding road crossing forests and villages. And in front of her, she sees an ocean so vast, that to enter there seems nothing more than to disappear forever. But there is no other way. The river can not go back. Nobody can go back. To go back is impossible in existence. The river needs to take the risk of entering the ocean because only then will fear disappear, because that’s where the river will know it’s not about disappearing into the ocean, but of becoming the ocean.

When we are younger, we start out at the top of the mountain. Our ego is high and we have a long road to travel down to the sea. With every bend in the river, every obstacle rock we meet, we overcome challenges, gain skills and realize our gifts. As rivers (we) reach lower plains, the water becomes more purified – our ego gets more polished. Once we meet the sea, we blend into one with the ocean. We are no longer attached to our individual identity. All the gifts we have gathered along the way in the river is now freely given away to the ocean. As servant leaders, we lower ourselves to the sea to receive the waters from the rivers. We lose ourselves in service of others. There is no me. There is only we.

And when we reach the end of our lives, we transition into the atmosphere, rising up into the clouds, to join the other spirits that have temporarily departed earth. At some point, our spirits rain down onto the lands, and we start the journey of the river once again.

What if all the achieving is for others instead of for self? How would that change how it feels to do more and be more?

When I keep this philosophy in mind, it’s so much easier to let go of the idea of “should”. Everything I choose to do is solely for the purpose of ego purification and gathering gifts that I will eventually give away freely to the oneness of mankind and nature. Anything that feels like a “should” most likely comes from the space of ego. Anything that feels like flow – effortless rewarding concentration where time transforms – most likely comes from the flowing river we are meant to be. We can let go of should; tap into flow and surrender to the journey.

The river also reminds me that I am constantly evolving. The river is never the same river in any two seconds. My identity is not fixed. What I’m capable of, my values, my mindset, my body, are constantly shifting. This phenomenon also apply to other people I meet. Just because they acted in one way the last time we interacted, it doesn’t mean they are the same person the next time we meet. How can we keep a beginner’s mind when we look at ourselves as well as when we look at others? Are we able to see the faces of our loved ones every morning as if we are seeing them for the first time? What potentials will open up?

Most people realize at the end of their lifetimes that love, relationships, and living authentically are what makes life worth living.

May we let go of our should’s,

Feel into our hearts of what makes us feel alive,

Love deeply and generously,

And surrender to the river as it travels down to the sea.