What the Salmon know

Each fall Chris Corrigan, Caitlin Frost, Tenneson Woolf and I meet up on Bowen Island to host our annual West Coast Art of Hosting (joined this year by Amanda Fenton).  It’s our own journey home to see how the year has shaped us, weathered us, changed us.  When we are lucky in timing the Salmon are also making their journey thru the cove.   This has been a year of challenge and by leaning in – landing in a new place.   What the Salmon know has a lot of relevance this year.

Mark Nepo’s reflection from The Book of Awakening feels like it’s bringing me right home.

“Salmon have much to teach us about the art of facing things. In swimming up waterfalls, these remarkable creatures seem to defy gravity. It is an amazing thing to behold. A closer look reveals a wisdom for all beings who want to thrive.

What the salmon somehow know is how to turn their underside – from center to tail -into the powerful current coming at them, which hits them squarely and the impact then launches them out and further up the waterfall; to which their reaction is, again, to turn their underside back into the powerful current that, of course, again hits them squarely; and this successive impact launches them further out and up the waterfall. Their leaning into what they face bounces them further and further along their unlikely journey.

From a distance, it seems magical, as if these mighty fish are flying, conquering their element. In actuality, they are deeply at one with their element, vibrantly and thoroughly engaged in a compelling dance of turning toward- and- being hit squarely that moves them through water and air to the very source of their nature.

In terms useful to the life of the spirit, the salmon are constantly faithful in exposing their underside to the current coming at them. Mysteriously, it is the physics of this courage that enables them to move through life as they know it so directly. We can learn from this very active paradox; for we, too, must be as faithful to living in the open if we are to stay real in the face of our daily experience. In order not to be swept away by what the days bring, we, too, must find a way to lean into the forces that hit us so squarely.

The salmon offer us a way to face truth without shutting down. They show us how leaning into our experience, though we don’t like the hit, moves us on. Time and again, though we’d rather turn away, it is the impact of being revealed, through our willingness to be vulnerable, that enables us to experience both the mystery and grace.”

  •  Sit quietly and meditate on the last time you opened yourself to the life coming at you.
  • In recalling this, try to focus on three things: the way that opening yourself caused you to unfold, the way that being hit squarely changed your life position, and where leaping like a salmon landed you.
  • Breathe steadily, and invite the lessons of opening, being changed, and landing into your heart.
  • Breathe slowly, and realize that you are in this process now.

Welcome Home to wherever you’ve “landed” this year!


  1. Jill

     /  November 5, 2013

    Wow, that is a truly lovely metaphor and very supportive for being in synch with nature… timely for what I feel called to do right now… exposing the underbelly for the hit and propulsion/change is a daring thing. Here’s to leaping and growing….

  2. This really made me stop–& breathe! Thanks Teresa!