Sunday, October 14, 2007

Watersheds

Recently, I participated in my church's Men's Retreat. The theme for the retreat was Take me to the river. In our "lodges" (small discussion groups), we explored our lives and beliefs using water and rivers as a metaphor. Each lodge session began with a guided meditation/visualization exercise in a river setting. We then explored ideas related to the meditation. I found it to be a great way to explore where I came from and to think about where I'm going and my relation to the community and the world.

One of the themes focused on "watershed moments". One of the men asked "what is a watershed moment?" Well, we weren't sure, so we had to talk about it. Back up a bit... What is a watershed? It is the region which drains into a river, lake or ocean. The Mississippi watershed, for example, covers most of the central US. One interesting feature of watersheds is that they nest inside one another. In Michigan, you might be within the Huron River watershed, as we were at the retreat. Or, you might be in the Grand River watershed by going a few miles west. Both eventually flow into the Great Lakes and are part of the St. Lawrence River watershed. On the other hand, if you're in, say, Colorado and you go west from Denver, you'll be moving from the Atlantic watershed to the Pacific watershed. So, moving from one watershed to another will certainly make a difference in your journey to the sea. It might even land you in a different sea entirely.

From this, we came to the notion that a "watershed moment" is one that has a significant impact on the direction of your life. Interestingly, you might not realize it at the time, as the boundary between watersheds need not be dramatic. But as you continue on your life journey, you can look back and perhaps see that one decision, that one branching point where you shifted from one journey to another.

In my life, there have been many such moments, some having a small effect, as my new stream rejoined the old a few miles downstream, and others making a much larger difference in the course and conduct of my life. In our lodge meeting, I identified one that, now half a decade down the line, looks to have been a big one. It didn't seem so at the time. It began with me seeking help for some troubles in my life. But that one decision had a snowball effect. As I started looking at myself, and waking up to my interior and spiritual lives, the change became more profound. I found my way back to the faith of my youth and started attending church regularly. Shortly thereafter, I joined the First Unitarian-Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor as a member. I became interested in, and active in, our religious education program, did some teaching, and became a lay leader in the program. I went to a retreat. I joined a men's circle. I am reading and thinking about spirituality more than I ever did.

How big is this change? Did I cross the continental divide? Or am I just heading towards Lake Michigan instead of Lake Erie? I don't know. But I do know that my new journey is much more interesting than the old one was.

What have been watershed moments or events in your life? How do you think they affected the course of your life?

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