The Five Rivers of a Healthy Spirituality (with or without God!)


As well as being the site of one of the most beautiful medieval buildings in the world and a place beloved of Russian spies, Salisbury is where I live. This small English city sits at the confluence of five rivers; the Nadder, the Avon, the Wylye (pronounced 'why-lee), the Bourne and the Ebble which flows past the end of our garden. Each river passes through villages and countryside before joining the Avon in Salisbury to flow south to the sea at Christchurch.

Human life shares many characteristics of a river. Sometimes passing through wide, calm landscapes where the horizon is welcoming and easy to see and sometimes twisting and turning or tumbling over rocks that feel dangerous and threatening. Forming the great riven of our spiritual life, the tributaries each bring their particular characteristics to its course.

Loving kindness

Kindness is not the same as niceness. Kindness should always be rooted in a love for the other that empowers growth. Niceness, on the other hand, is just about making the other person, and one’s self, feel good by avoiding the truth.


Being kind means being open, open to difference of ethnicity, sexuality, politics and opinion. We are healthy when we can meet difference with the question ‘What can I learn from this?’.


A sense of humour is common to all the spiritual greats. I think that’s because they’ve noticed how amazing life is in myriad ways, but also how silly we can be in our living of it. A sense of awe and wonder combined with a healthy sense of the ridiculous hold the keys to true spiritual contentment.


Two realities face us: firstly, the fact of our existence is so utterly unlikely that all we can do is wonder at it and enjoy the moment with gratitude. Secondly, we will die, so there’s no time for messing around with regret. Shit happens. But the healthy response is to feel gratitude for the lesson and then move on!

Humility (strength)

And so we arrive at the great river Humility. Served by all the tributaries above, it is the arterial blood supply of our spiritual life. Most people misunderstand humility thinking that it’s the same as putting yourself down. It’s not; the word Humility comes from the latin ‘humus’ meaning earth. When we are rooted in the reality of the good brown earth, knowing and accepting ourselves, flaws and all, then we are truly bathing in the Great River of Life.

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