I’ve set myself up for it this time. What could I possibly have to say about water that you, fair reader, don’t already know?
As if I have some special insight into this most ubiquitous of elements, the sine qua non of biological life–
Truly, if I know anything about relating to the spirit of water, it is because I have spent so much of my life out-of-balance with water.
Afraid of its depths, its cold. Dismissive of its simplicity, its neutrality. Taking for granted its magic and mystery.
Yet here I am, and I offer what I have to offer: a story. A story about water, about hardness softening, about surrender, and grace.
One morning this past winter–it was MLK, Jr. Day–I awoke and heard water’s call.
Down by the Riverside was playing loud and clear on the inner radio, and having no plans, I set out on a walk. Down to the riverside indeed, to the Willamette, which flows a few miles from my then-apartment. It was a brilliant, crisp day, a rare thing in Portland, and it reminded me of what I still think of as “real winters” back East.
For the past weeks, I had been struggling with whether or not to continue on at a martial arts school where I was training–training hard, against something in my nature. I felt compelled to continue, felt it was necessary,, even as something in me hated it. Was I really supposed to mold myself into a fighter? Did the contract I had signed with spirit demand that I do this to myself? Such were my thoughts that weekend, and the night before the holiday I had finally resigned myself to taking up the training gauntlet in earnest. Surrender.
Guided by the strains of the spiritual on repeat in my head, I make my way downhill.
And in my state of reverie, my Sellwood neighborhood takes on mythical significance: the extraterrestrial-seeming Monkey Puzzle Tree whose spiky presence causes me to laugh out loud in the chilly air, seeming to unlock something deep inside my chest. The railroad tracks I cross, only to find myself at a dead-end. Iron: the taste of blood. There’s got, I think, to be another way. Sure enough, a crossroads, decked out with a mural, lending library, and fully-stocked tea station, or “t-station,” “for thirsty travelers along life’s way.” Mm hmm. A steaming mug, and an open road down the last few blocks to the beach landing.
Then the water: could anything be more beautiful than its ever-shifting layers of lucidity beneath surface undulations?
That morning, the water seemed to be showing me more of itself than I am usually permitted to see. It had called me here, I felt. Stranger things have happened. Now what?
Down By The Riverside…I’m gonna lay down my sword and shield.
Of course. Tears well in my eyes as comprehension dawns. After the surrender, reprieve. Now that I had resigned my own preference, spirit has me where it wants me–and what it seems to want is to wash me clean of all this harshness. To bathe me like a baby in its softness. Down by the riverside, I lay my burden down. My tears fall into the current, going, gone. When I return home, it is as one baptized. Soft, tender, new.
To begin my cultivation again, this time according to the water way.
My relationship with water remains a work in progress.
It’s easy to fall back into old patterns–like not drinking enough; like eating too much salt; like thinking that I know everything, or even something. Like pushing myself too hard, or stiffening up. But now I can turn to the living spirit of water, this incredible being. Sometimes I will offer a song, perhaps some flowers. and ask: to be washed clean. To learn to flow. To be granted the humility to seek wisdom, and the wisdom to seek humility.
Thank you, water, for your magic. Thank you for sharing the gift of life.