In both the Celtic and Native American traditions, salmon are revered as keepers of wisdom. Until a few weeks ago, when we went to see the film Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, we never completely grasped why.
The story features a wealthy Sheikh who tries to create something that everyone else says is impossible: a river complete with real, wild salmon in the Yemen (a country where there aren’t even any permanent rivers). That is not his only aim, however. With wisdom, patience, subtlety and humour, you see him helping others involved in the project to act in the way that salmon do – swimming against the current to reach ‘the place of their creation’*, the place where their hearts feel most alive and at home. And, as Geoff and I watched all this magic being brought into people’s humdrum lives, salmon medicine hit us right between the eyes.
Following our hearts
Suddenly it was crystal clear how very important the ability to swim against the current has been on our own spiritual path, and how so many of life’s lessons and difficulties are there to help us learn that very thing.
We all know, don’t we, that life works best when we follow our intuition, when we follow our hearts. At the beginning, this can look like a bit of a primrose path; we take the route that feels good to us, that makes us feel happy and alive. And to start with, at least, it can seem as though the there is very little difference between the path to our heart’s desire and the path of least resistance. This is like the early part of the salmon’s life cycle, when it swims downriver, helped by the current, to the deep ocean.
The upstream journey
However, that is not the end of the salmon’s journey, and nor is it the end of ours. Sooner or later, if we are truly faithful to our hearts, the call will come to turn and swim against the current, to do and be things that are not easy, to act in ways that are contrary to our internal conditioning and beliefs, and will almost certainly also go against the many social pressures that influence our behaviour every single day, often without our being fully aware of them.
It is at this point that we especially need all the intelligence, all the wisdom, we can muster, to act as a clear mirror for the guidance coming from our hearts. For now, on our journey upstream, we are going to be asked to face our fears, to overcome our conditioning, to question our attachments and everything we used to believe, and everything social conventions and the pressures of our social group are telling us to do. So now do you understand why salmon – who instinctively know that if they are to reach the place of their origin they must swim against the current come what may – are revered as the keepers of wisdom?
Observe and trust your feelings
So, whenever you find yourself in an upstream sort of situation – where, if you just go with the current the outcome does not feel – from the point of view of your soul – like one that should happen, trust that feeling! A lot of people say we should get rid of fear, anxiety, doubt, anger; that these negative emotions are just obstructions on the spiritual path. But I don’t think a salmon would see it that way. These feelings can be accurate guides, just as they are with animals in the wild, telling us that our highest good lies in fleeing some things and approaching others. If you cultivate the ability to observe yourself – your feelings, thoughts and motives – in an impartial way, without judgement, you’ll learn to see them clearly, without the distorting lens of conditioning and preconceptions. And then you’ll be able to trust your feelings and see where they are taking you. They can be of enormous help as we travel upstream, against the flow of what everyone else seems to be telling us is true or right, and against the flow of everything we used to believe.
A personal example
To give you an example, I’d like to tell you what I did when I was in hospital two years ago, and everyone thought I was dying of cancer. When I felt fear, I trusted it. I watched it, went with it and even expressed it with gay abandon. Because I noticed that, when I did things that helped my body to feel better, the fear went away. Now everyone else (except my amazing family and friends, that is!) thought that it wasn’t going to be possible to help my body feel much better. But my fear told me a different story altogether. I reasoned that, if there truly was no escape from the situation, I wouldn’t feel fear at all. I would feel acceptance, peace, completeness. Just as I imagine salmon do once, having reached the ‘place of their creation’ and spawned the next generation, the vast majority of them die. They die because their lives are complete, not because their lives are ‘over’. And so it should be with all of us.
A higher current
I’d tell you more about my upstream journey, but there isn’t space here, so I’m hoping to do it in another instalment sometime soon. Meanwhile, what are my final thoughts on the medicine of the salmon? That actually, they are not simply swimming ‘against the current’. They are swimming with a new current, an inner current, a current which comes from their own higher power, rather than the power of external things. And that’s what we need to do, too. To trust and follow our own higher power to such an extent that it will become stronger than any outer current could ever be. And then, just like the salmon, we will be able to go up, in situations where others would think we could only go down!
May the wisdom and instincts of the salmon awaken in us all.
With blessings and so much love,
Ann, Geoff and the Cygnus Team
*Jamie Sams and David Carson, Medicine Cards, © 1999.