My Writings heading

THE RIVER:

A FEW THOUGHTS OF EXPLANATION FROM DAN MILLER

Thinking of your Life as a River will transform how you understand the decisions, choices, and actions of your past, present, and future. Your Life as a River will change your approach to leadership.

Look below for ten points of explanation underneath my construct of history and your life as a River. See the introductory page to The River section of my website for a more robust summary of The River in my overall work.

1. Time Flows Ahead/Can’t Be Regained

Nothing lets you get time back. When the day or month or year is gone, it’s gone forever. Einstein proved that you can actually go forward in time if you go fast enough long enough. He also proved that it was physically impossible to go backward in time. The past begins with each minute passed. And don’t think that you can control it; time moves on its own, regardless of what you are or are not doing.

2. Time Quickens

While we’re on Einstein, he’s right on another point. Time is relative. It speeds up. But you don’t need the brains and intellect of Einstein to know. You already know it: think back to when you were 5 or 6 or 7 years old. How long did it take for Christmas to come? Forever. Now, at your current age, how long does it take? It’s here before you know it. Time races by the older you get, the farther Down River you go.

3. Present Is Smallest, Thinnest, Most Narrow

The past is everything behind. The future is everything ahead. That means that the physical present—the now—is just a slice or curtain between one and the other. Popular culture tells us to spend as much of our energy and focus and attention in the present. OK, I get it—my kids grow up fast, etc. But what does it say when you devote yourself entirely to the one dimension of time that is actually the narrowest, shortest, most ephemeral and temporary? I think that’s dangerous, a dangerous way to live. I’m only advocating for you to balance things: live in the present but understand, value, and use the past. There is wisdom in the past and if you spend your time only in the present, you’ll never have a chance to grasp it.

4. Behind—Mostly Known, Some Unknowns

History is divided into knowns and unknowns. Because it’s happened to you already, you know it or, at least, know of it. There are, however, many, many important things about what’s happened to you that you either don’t know at all or don’t know or remember accurately. Those are, essentially, unknowns. Don’t assume that your history is fully known. It absolutely, 100%, is not. Your story, your history, is a perpetually shifting pairing of knowns and unknowns. As you age, the pairing changes in its make-up. And remember this, what’s behind is always growing.

5. Ahead—Mostly Unknowns, Some Knowns

When you contemplate the future, you flip the equation. The majority of things are unknown to you, but there are vital points that you do know, maybe more than you think. Similarly, the quantity of the future is always shrinking, becoming smaller. Not only that, but as the past enlarges in your life, it will have a disproportionately larger and larger effect on what’s ahead. Perhaps the greatest abuse of the future is the assumption that it’s always there. It isn’t, at least in your awareness. Your River can end as many others’ Rivers end: tomorrow.

6. All/Part Has A Feel Or Theme

Your River has a feel or theme over time. Portions or stretches within Your River will also have a particular nature to them—raising kids, being alone, having a long-term career, dealing with illness or disease or injury, and so forth. To be self-aware in the healthiest sense, it’s critical that you understand the feel and theme of stretches of River or the whole River itself. And that understanding may change. But the point, though, is that you have to have some measure of understanding. That takes reflection, introspection, and development, and all of those things take time and effort on your part.

7. Whole Is Natural/Separate Is Not

Every river in the world runs and flows and exists as a whole. That is its natural state. You can separate out certain elements if you want—like the water or the bottom or the banks or anything else you can think of. But these separated items only exist that way because you’ve insisted on looking at them apart from the rest of the river. It’s true for you, too. Your life is naturally whole; its separation into distinct elements is artificial. It can be useful to think of separate points—marriage, childhood, work, and much more—but in the end they must be understood only as they are part of the natural whole. To focus on them exclusively in a separated fashion is to warp their reality. Warped realities are never good things.

8. Change/Continuity Blend

We think too much about change. Yes, it’s happening all around us, faster and faster. But the fact is that change has always happened and, to the people in those past moments, has always felt like a whirlwind, like something uncontrollable and often unwanted. Change forever occurs within continuity. Ignoring the impact of continuity may set you up for failure in change. Change is certainly important, no denying it. Problems emerge when we believe that change is all that’s important. That takes you just a half-step away from believing that only you and your kind has experienced the type of change we’re seeing right now. That’s not accurate and that’s not healthy. Change and continuity are always together.

9. Move On The Fix

Yes, time flows in one direction. But that doesn’t prevent you from having a set of choices and options in every instance of time. You can choose, decide, exercise free will. The flow of time is fixed—at least, as we’ve seen, in that you can only go forward—but what you do with that time, in that time, of that time, is frequently your call. Directionally, time is fixed. Decisionally, you have choices.

10. You Are The River And The Vessel

You are living out a River. It’s Your River. You are living out a flow of time over which you have little control. You are also the vessel in The River. You have control to the point of making decisions, selecting options, choosing well and choosing poorly, and all the rest. River and vessel, your life is both.