This Upstream / Downstream fable was presented in the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction course that I’m taking. It was not given with any particular meaning and as several of us discussed it I realized that different people can take it different ways. Our perspective determines how we perceive this story. If you aren’t familiar with this “modern fable” please listen to it before reading on.
When I read this fable, my thoughts immediately went to the way that chronic illness is often treated. I’ve seen it with Fibromyalgia especially. In the last 20 years we’ve seen an increase in the number of people being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia (or being found downstream). The doctors have slowly improved their ability to deal with these patients as they “rescue” them from the stream, with various treatments. Many others are still missed only to drown completely. The doctor might throw a rope (in the form of whatever medication) but that rope misses and doesn’t help that patient. They do this repeatedly and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Their aim has gotten better and over the years they’ve been able to help more and more people.
Unfortunately, they are spending all this time trying to rescue us that they don’t really stop to think about why we are there in the first place. What is happening upstream that is causing so many of us to end up in this river needing help downstream?
Thankfully, we are beginning to see more doctors, like Dr. Jared Younger, who are stepping away from just rescuing people from downstream, and who, instead, are looking upstream and trying to find the cause.
Of course, there are many other ways that this fable could be interpreted. I liked how one of my fellow classmates interpreted it as how we often don’t look at the why behind the things we do in our lives. We just continue to pick up the same pieces time and again, do the same things time and again, without ever really asking ourselves if those are the best things to do, or why we are doing them in the first place.
How did we get here?