Like Water Flowing Down a Mountain: Creating Lasting Change by Carolyn Lee Boyd

Carolyn Lee Boyd

As we strive to create a better future, we can look to our rich heritage of global goddess and heroine tales for insight into peaceful, creative, and effective means to achieve our goals. Let me introduce you to the delightful ancient story of two young Chinese heroines, Gum Lin and Loy Yi Lung.

Summarized from Merlin Stone’s Ancient Mirrors of Womanhood:  Gum Lin’s village was starving due to a drought. Even the bamboo she needed to make objects to sell had disappeared. Searching for bamboo on a nearby mountain, she found a lake, but a locked gate stopped its abundant waters from flowing down to the village. A dragon living in an underwater cave held the key. Gum Lin sang sweetly until the dragon’s daughter, Loy Yi Lung, arose from the depths and together they hatched a plan. They sang in unison to draw the dragon to the surface. While Loy Yi Lung continued her song and the dragon listened, Gum Lin swam to the cave where she encountered treasures she could easily steal for herself. She ignored them and found the key.  She unlocked the gate and the waters gently flowed down the mountain in a newly-made river, nourishing the rice and bamboo. In time, Loy Yi Lung moved to the village where she and Gum Lin happily sang at the edge of the water.

I find this story to be deeply prescient about our own time. From the hoarding of the Earth’s natural resources to the ways we can create lasting change, the story offers us both lessons and affirmations. What are its most powerful elements?

It rejects the worldview of challenges and conflicts as warlike battles in favor of transformation. Too often, in both real life and ancient and modern tales, war and violence are the first response to challenge and conflict. This rarely solves problems for long, ignoring core issues and leading to cycles of violence. Instead, the women opt for gaining the key by soothing the angry dragon with song and empowering the lake to create a river to bring its water to the people for all time. 

Draw on the powerful bonds between women. Gum Lin and Loy Yi Lung are both allies and friends whose mutual trust is essential to their success. When we seek out others who share our goals, in contrast to our culture’s celebrated lone hero model, we diversify talent, enjoy the emotional support that enables long-term perseverance, and model the cooperative culture we seek.

Women’s spiritual power creates lasting impacts. Gum Lin and Loy Yi Lung’s achievements  turn on their spiritual power, expressed by magical singing. Using our own spiritual power could mean calling on the sacredness of all beings as justification for our goals or creative endeavors of all kinds that express the deepest meaning of our causes. When we use our spiritual power, we draw others to our cause by demonstrating our integrity, showing the relationship of our work to greater values, and engaging the spiritual power of others, all of which promotes long-lasting resolutions.

Commit to the common good over individual gain.  When Gum Lin gives up the jewels in order to search for the key, she grounds her endeavor in commitment to the well being of all, which promotes the trust that glues allies in joint purpose and ensures the best possible outcome.


Work in harmony with nature. The women succeeded by enabling the mountain and lake to follow Nature’s plan for nourishing the village. When we tap into Nature’s innate impulse to life and balance, whether by reversing environmental catastrophes or working towards goals that promote the peace, justice, and equality that are all necessary for a healthy planet, we connect our work to Nature’s immense power, to the unifying vision of bettering everyone’s future, and to all those movements striving for a better world.

We’ve all seen elements of the story succeed in our own time. Just a few of the effective modern tools I think of are: 

  • Activist and service organizations that are led by consensus, have a diversity of members, and network with one another; 
  • Changing hearts and minds with the spiritual powers of truth, beauty and belief in the sacredness of all beings through community education; art, performance and literature; and formal and informal conversation and dialogue, 
  • Committing to the common good by having integrity as a core organizational value and providing services that benefit those most in need, and 
  • Basing proposed solutions on Nature’s laws and demonstrating the relationship of political, social, and economic concerns to environmental justice.

Considering the elements of the story as we strategize can also help us to devise even more effective tools based on our specific causes. 

I’ve especially seen the effectiveness of elements of the story over the past year.  In many communities, diverse coalitions joined together to protest racial injustice and, when COVID struck, non-profit and public organizations quickly formed networks to provide food banks, recruit volunteer phone banks to check in on vulnerable residents and deliver food and medication, offer financial assistance to those losing jobs, support education, prevent evictions, and more. Activists exemplifying both spiritual power and commitment to the common good rose up to organize these efforts and be voted into office. The value of science in policy-making became obvious. As we heal from our traumas, opportunity exists for a more cooperative, resilient, and morally and spiritually-focused future world based on the foundation of these works.

key in hand
Photo by Kristina Paukshtite on

The story of Gum Lin and Loy Yi Lung and its messages are both ancient and modern, and challenges us to find effective, compassionate, creative, peaceful, and just means to bring the metaphorical water down the mountain to nourish all beings in our global village physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. As we light the path to a better future may we and our descendants all sing with joy like Gum Lin and Loy Yi Lung and their village.


Carolyn Lee Boyd is a writer, student drummer, retired human services administrator, herb and native plant gardener, and  past/current denizen of Michigan, New York City, and New England.  Her essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in, among others, Sagewoman, Feminism and Religion, The Goddess Pages, Matrifocus, The Beltane Papers, and various anthologies. She would love for you to visit her at her website, where you can find some of her free e-books to download as well as contact her.

Categories: Activism, Community, Earth-based spirituality, Ecofeminism, Friendship, Nature, Nonviolent Action, Peacemaking, Social Justice, Women's Power, Women's Spirituality

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20 replies

  1. Excellent! And, yes, highly relevant to what we’re living through today. Women can work together to reject and overcome the challenges of a patriarchal world of male “dragons.” Merlin Stone’s book are all excellent. Thanks for reporting on this one for us. Bright winter blessings to us all.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes – I love Merlin Stone’s work. I heard her speak on my 25th birthday – a LONG time ago! – and she talked about all the synchronicities that happened when she was writing When God Was a Woman – books popping off library shelves or the librarian bringing her a different book than she asked for but exactly the book she needed. That was when I went “Whoa! There’s something to all these Goddesses!”

      Liked by 2 people

      • I can’t remember if I ever heard her speak in person. I think she was unwilling to travel all the way to California. But I bought and read and cherished all her books, plus the “Remembering” one about her.

        Yes, indeedy–there’s something to all these goddesses. Do you know Deena Metzger’s Goddess Chant? “Isis Astarte Diana Hecate Demeter Inanna.” I’ve sung that chant in countless rituals.

        Cheers! Stay healthy!


  2. Great post, Carolyn. Years ago I was writing a book about dragons, comparing Eastern and indigenous dragons to dragons in the West. The dragon of this tale is unlike many other Chinese dragons, who are bringers of chaos, but ultimately beneficent. Also many dragons turn out to be female, and in the West, this is one of the reasons they are seen as destructive. Thanks for bringing this dragon tale to our attention.

    Liked by 4 people

    • That’s really interesting information about Chinese dragons! I wonder if maybe in the most ancient version of the story the dragon didn’t turn out to be beneficent in the end. The end of the story is clear that the water is continuing down the mountain for the long term, but there isn’t really an explanation as to why the dragon didn’t just lock the gate again. Maybe you have the answer to the mystery!


  3. Beautiful and inspiring. I love it that song draws forth an ally who joins the song.

    I am a member of a local organization called RiverKeeper. One of their projects: “By removing old, obsolete dams, Riverkeeper is working to restore life to creeks and streams in the Hudson Valley.”

    Thank you for invoking the timely teaching in this ancient story.

    Liked by 3 people

    • That’s wonderful that you are involved in that work! The same thing is happening here in New England – as dams that were built to power industrial mills are no longer needed, they are being taken down and the water is running freely in some of our rivers again. I hadn’t thought of that connection of the story to our own time, but it is definitely there!

      Liked by 2 people

    • It really is! And Gum Lin and Loy Yi Lung are so much better as role models for girls and young women than, for example, Mulan, who is known for taking on the patriarchal role of a soldier. I’ve always thought this story would be a great children’s or YA book for someone to write and illustrate someday.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a great story. Thank you. I had a teacher who wrote an article I loved that spoke about the meaning of wealth. Apparently in Polynesian societies wealth was measured in the quantity of fish that were caught. A wealthy person had to share their wealth or it would spoil. No one could hoard wealth. This story reminds me of that.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Hi Carolyn! Thanks for the story and all the connections you make in the post. One of the most interesting elements for me is the community/working-together aspect always needed for liberation and commonwealth. As you well said, it is hard for us to work together, and it is beautiful how these women did it. While reading, I translated the story in my head to my current context and the result would be: they get the key by killing the dragon, then Gum Lin goes for the jewels, scapes, gets a car, and everyone dies in the village. It is like somehow, because of our individualistic way to see everything, it is hard to imagine alternative worlds where we work with and for each other, taking care of each other. In that sense, I also appreciate your mention of all the movements that emerged due to recent racial injustices and the COVID crisis. Conflict and crisis are necessary to shake our world and move us to action, the same way a village facing a drought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! I think the version you came up with is what the story would be if it were done by a major movie studio. But to me that’s the value of these stories – they allow us to think differently, to put ourselves into the frame of mind of cultures that had a communal, less violent focus so we can think about what it might be like to transform our society into one more like theirs. Thank you for your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, what a great story! I love that the two women work together and they don’t harm the dragon or steal. They just work for the good of the community. Thanks for sharing this and thanks for your analysis of the story..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for your comment! Gum Lin and Loy Yi Lung remind me of so many people who work selflessly for others without getting a lot of attention — there are lots of real stories like this out there (well, without the dragon, but with people working together for the common good!) so its nice to have this fun story to help bring attention to them.


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