WILLIAM EDELEN: Time… and the River Flowing — Reflections at Age 93


The Contrary Minister

I am revisiting this subject… which is so near to my spirit… one that I wrote during my reflections at age 92. I am deeply moved… by the flow of my own river… my own destiny… the challenges that have unfolded for me during this last year. I am living my Taoist practice. The Taoists talk about the willow tree… it bends… and comes back into its shape, whereas, the pine tree… which is rigid… breaks. The willow reshapes its destiny… and the river flows. So, too, am I… adjusting to my new flow.

Sitting by the River, surrounded by the beauty and magic of Oak Creek Canyon, in Sedona, AZ, has been one of the most enduring joys of my 93 years of life. Great TRUTHS about life, the movement of our days, with the decisions and attitudes that create either great happiness and peace, or else fill our days with despair, anger and stress, have come to me from that river and how it relates to time… flowing even as the river flows.

I have dated this essay the 17th of July, the day I entered the world 93 years ago in Stephenville, Texas, (called “the Cowboy Capital of the World”, due to so many of the National Rodeo Champions who live there). I have chosen that date on purpose. WHY? Because I consider this subject one of the most important of ALL my subjects of the last 40 years. We live today in a culture and society filled with human beings living with daily stress, anxiety, frustrations, confusion over values, shallow relationships and the chaos created in the mind and emotions of so many personal lives.

I share with you, now, the answers that have come to me through “time and the river flowing.” In that river is the essence and heart of the time proven philosophies of Zen and Taoism revealed with every moment of time and every new change of the river’s flow… as it moves around obstacles and creates its own path, and beauty of a smooth flow.

The mightiest river keeps to its bed. It flows where it finds openings between cliffs and rocks. SO IT IS WITH THE FLOW OF OUR LIVES. Once the fixed objects of our lives shift, our circumstances change. Life is the FLOW OF ENERGY. It is the air we breathe, the force that moves the weather; it keeps the rivers flowing, our hearts beating and the sky blue. This FLOW of energy moves constantly according to the fixed points that exist at any given moment. If the boulders are moved… even a river will change its flow.

Of all the world’s great mystical systems, it is Taoism, the earliest knowledge tradition of China that has preserved most subtly. The Tao is the transcendent womb out of which all things are born. “Going with the flow” with the image of the river flowing, around obstacles, effortless, with no strain and no pain, is central to the image of the life lived effortlessly, without stress or anxiety.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them… that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like” …said Lao-Tzu, the Old Master of Taoism.

No matter how much structure we create in our lives, no matter how many good habits we build, there will ALWAYS be things that we cannot control, and if we let them, these things can be a huge source of anger, stress and frustration.

One key to my thoughts of 93 years is that our obsession with outside “authority”, whether in institutions or individuals, ensures that we remain emotionally and spiritually dwarfed as children. Human beings, in the mass sink to an inferior moral and intellectual level. Obsession with outside authority creates human beings who, in the mass, like sheep, end up as zeros, as sheep who have lost their inner voice… their intuition and guiding spirit… and so you have a society of a million zeros joined together, and they add up to ZERO. Not even to… ONE.

Another thought: “Moderation in all things.” Moderation is defined as “staying within accepted limits.” Creative and uncommon people who are memorable are usually most IMMODERATE and rarely stay within “accepted limits.” The most creative giants of civilization, in all disciplines, have risen to immortality by vast immoderate creativity and contributions and by never “staying within accepted limits.” “Convention leads to MEDIOCRITY,” wrote Krishnamurti. And even Jesus, himself, was most immoderate… the first great HUMANIST.

Learning to FLOW as the river, going around obstacles to form a new river bed, can change your life, even you are in a daily routine loaded with stress. FLOWING is just mandatory when things do not go as we had planned, or want them to go, or find our lives disrupted.

“FLOW with whatever is happening and let your mind be free. Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. Flow around the boulder… this is the ultimate.” -Chuang Tzu

We cannot control the universe. You cannot even control people and events within your own little sphere of influence. You may influence a little but the vast majority of events and people that affect our lives… you cannot control. You will either flow around the obstacle or live with anger, frustration and stress.

AND eventually… grappling with the most distressing elements of aging… the gradual loss of our physical and mental capabilities. Dealing with these “boulders” in the river of our destiny… our vision, our hearing, the ability to walk, the ability to be “rational”… oh the “mental cloud” that seems to hover over like a fog, the ability just to perform the everyday tasks of living… and to require help with almost everything. For these simple things… we can choose… to sanctify the place where we are… and to recognize and honor it… with IMMENSE GRATITUDE.


AND… I am increasingly moved in heart and spirit by the poignancy of the lyrics of “September Song” written by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson in 1938… and performed by Walter Houston:

“Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December/ But the days grow short when you reach September/ When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame/ One hasn’t got time for the waiting game/

Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few/

September, November/

And these few precious days, I’ll spend with you/

These few precious days, I’ll spend with you/”

The world, as we know it, is ceaseless change. It is becoming. “Nothing is secure,” wrote Emerson. There is only creativity. “God is a verb, and not a noun,” wrote Buckminster Fuller. Things are what they are for no reason. To call them “good” or “bad” only reflects the mind that calls them so.

As with animal and birds and flowers, man finds FREEDOM in being what he is by Nature. Free men of this type are like strangers among us. Wrote Lao-Tzu, in old China they were called “sages” or… “the perfectly natural man”.

From that small river in Oak Creek Canyon, for many of my 93 years has come profound and life saving TRUTHS… FLOW… FLOW around boulders and obstacles… and stay on your own natural river bed… your “true self” (as the Lakota phrase it)… and so make your contribution to the creativity of the natural world… to other lives who, in harmony, understand it.



Beautifully expressed. I will use the image of the river with my children and students. I usually quote….You cant change things that happen or what someone else does..you can control how you react…how you handle yourself in trying situations. Stay strong!

What a beautiful way to express life and living.

Thankyou, William Edelen.

Understood, of course, the metaphoric expansion of the river image. Question: was Edelen in any way conjuring up Thomas Wolfe’s 1935 novel “Of Time and the River”? I remember reading both that and its prequel, “Look Homeward, Angel” when I used to read big novels, many decades ago.