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  • Flowing bodies of water have distinct personalities. This will not surprise students of Zen philosophy or fly fishermen. Both groups, however, understand the caveat to this statement. One must first be trained in the reading of these streams.

    Flowing water is an often-used and ancient metaphor for communicating the power of soft over hard and the ultimate triumph of relentlessness over size and strength. Since it is liquid and therefore free-flowing, its composition also helps those of us who would otherwise be intellectually flummoxed to partially understand the workings of the human mind. Ideas flow as surely as an ice cold, crystal clear mountain stream.

    Fishing is another popular metaphor for explaining difficult concepts and it is convenient – at least for this musing – that it also involves water. This is what learned philosophers like to call a double-whammy.

    There have been hundreds of books (and even one or two good ones) written about how fly fishermen and women can catch more trout by understanding the nuances of a flowing stream. Accurately reading these bodies of water, catching and then of course releasing the trout are based on a couple of givens.

    First, trout are smart and make no frivolous moves. While some have suggested that this trait make these fish lazy, any savvy angler knows that this is patently untrue. They simply minimize their energy expenditure and maximize their caloric intake. Grizzled fishing guides say that these fish like to “hide and wait” for food to come their way. Understanding this basic concept places an even higher premium on the angler’s ability to read a stream.

    Secondly, like a true Zen master, trout only need a few things to survive. These are food, minimum shelter (to hide from predators) and oxygen. Understanding these three requirements also helps a fisherman to recognize what elements in a stream hold the highest prospect for having hungry – and perhaps careless – trout lurking nearby.

    How about an example of effective stream reading?

    In order for trout to survive, there must be 3 parts per million of oxygen dissolved in the water. As the water temperature goes up, its capacity to hold oxygen is diminished. If the water temperature rises above 65, the trout become lethargic because of a lack of oxygen. When the water temperature rises above 75, the trout can suffocate. Therefore, as the temperature gets warmer, the trout will congregate in areas of a stream where there is churning water because this action results in an increase in its oxygenation.

    A savvy stream reader is on the lookout for areas of the stream where water is churning and oxygen is increasing. One of these areas around submerged rocks – called riffles – where the flowing water is being disrupted by the rocks is the perfect place to drop a well-placed fly (hook) because there is a good possibility that there are trout hiding and waiting for a little snack.

    Trout are not the only creatures who need a flowing stream rather than a stagnant body of water in order to live. Eastern thought, as it relates to medical and psychological conditions, is replete with examples of mental stream reading.

    Anxiety, depression, stress and any number of other maladies have been compared to a stagnant mind – dead water. As noted in a collection of Zen thoughts “When your mind becomes dead water, there will be a full stink smell of afflictions. The anxiety and stress will not only adhere to, but also grow into thicker and heavier attachments. They will block your thinking and breathing, until you become too exhausted to care about them, or forget them with changing conditions. But the exhaustion and forgetfulness will not improve the quality of the water.”

    Just as with a trout stream, the only way to improve the quality of the mind’s flow is to realize that its movement is inexorable and one must simply go with the flow. A flowing mind will not allow afflictions to stay and grow. Fear, sadness, stress or other conditions can be seen as the rocks over which the water flows and, in the process, renews itself. These impediments enable life and are eventually worn down by tiny, incremental changes caused by the friction of the stream.

    In this context, the term stream of consciousness has a much more intriguing meaning.

    Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons tKev
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