What Can We Learn From Water?

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On a rare rainy day in these parts these days, we do a meditation on water. Coming in from the moist air we settle in to notice the dampness of our eyes, mouth and palms, as well as the fluids that flow within us.
The human body is 67% water, but how often do we ponder that as we go through our day, feeling very solid, not fluid at all? The Buddha taught this meditation in the First Foundation of Mindfulness. Why?
painting of water by Will Noble
Love Falls, Pacific Crest Trail,
watercolor by Will Noble

We tend to think of our skin as a barrier that demarcates the edge of who we believe ourselves to be. But this simple exercise of a water meditation allows us to understand the truth: Skin is permeable with millions of pores. We drink water, we pass water, we sweat (Okay, ‘glow’). We are an intrinsic part of the cycle of water and its interaction with other elements. Water evaporates on our skin just as it does on the ocean and the earth. All the water that evaporates become mist, fog and clouds that eventually returns to earth in the form of rain or snow, and then it flows in streams and rivers — not unlike the ‘streams’ and ‘rivers’ within us that carry our blood and other bodily fluids — to replenish the lakes and oceans of this watery blue planet.

The composition of seawater is the same as the composition of tears. Hmmm. Water within, water without. Truly there are no barriers, no borders. How does this affect how we relate to the world and to ourselves?

The Buddha encouraged his students to learn from contemplating the elements. What can we learn from noticing the nature of water?
One thing we might notice is that water carries whatever it is given. All boats float on the water, regardless of size, purpose or beauty. Can we learn from water to hold the world in this way, to hold whatever arises in our experience with a buoyancy of compassion?
There is a wonderful phrase that comes to mind that was so important to me when I found myself to be most particularly unacceptable, uniquely unqualified to inhabit this earth:
The ocean refuses no river.
The ocean refuses no river. If this phrase strikes a chord within you, say it over and over again until it sinks in that you are a natural expression of life and a valuable part of this community of beings. The ocean refuses no river.
I’ll end with a couple of poems of mine on the theme of our watery nature.


Listening to the Rain Meditation
I am cloud scudding gently floating free
Sky sponge absorbing rising mists
darkening deepening steely blue releasing…
I am rain dancing in the dust
hammering rooftops playing moist music
seaping into earth quenching dry roots
quivering dull leaves shining forests…
I am stream bounding forth
polishing rocks cavorting fish
transporting twigs, leaves, water skates…
I am waterfall in rapid descent
plunging down rock face, dissembling into pattern
pounding on pond drum, roaring through canyon…
I am lake, cupped in earth chalice
cool still reflecting tree cloud sky…
I am mighty river flowing gently
rushing rapids carving stone channel
rising, seeping, bursting levees
stretching flat fingers across flood plains…
I am tidal inlet
ebbing, flowing, receding
salty flood revealing silty marsh…
I am ocean, vast, replete, world within world,
Pounding waves, drawing boundaries
pulling tides, undertow…
I am deep spring, bubbling font of life
lacy network of unseen channels…
I am tear, swelling, cheekrolling,
burning salt hard sobbing deep cleansing letting go,
making room for laughter…
I am water.
Stephanie Noble
Wet January 1993


Creek Bed Meditation
Friday mornings at Spirit Rock, I walk the land.
I have chaperoned butterflies dancing,
sat with water skates playing in ponds,
listened to the earth symphony of birds, frogs, crickets
and water trickling in the creek.
Each week I note the subtle shifting of the seasons
as they seed, grow, ripen and fade before my eyes.
Winter-dampened fog-shrouded hills,
tree bark and boulders gilded with emerald moss,
bounding water gushing forth — all give way:
wet to dry, green to yellow, cold to hot.
Now in mid-summer, the morning air is dry and still,
the hills are golden, the frogs are quiet.
I enter the dappled shelter of a laurel grove,
and descend into the rocky creek bed.
Its deep banks rise around me,
swallowing me whole.
Night chill held in the rocks
along with the vague memory of water
rises to cool my skin.
Beneath my feet leaves crunch and crackle
in the hush of morning.
The shaggy yellowed tree moss
hangs loose and dusty.
Gnarled roots dangle over the dry creek, searching.
I duck under fallen logs
following the cavernous twists and turns
the underpinnings that shape
winter’s waterfalls and spring’s deep pools.
Not even a puddle remains.
It seems I am the only water here.
The air tingles with a dowsing awareness
of my wet presence in the midst of dry longing.
I feel the flow of myself as I move downstream.
Stephanie Noble
Summer 1997


  1. Thank you, Stephanie, for this touching post on water, the essential chemical of life. Although I'm a scientist and sadly deficient in appreciating much of art, I savored the inclusion of one of Will's paintings and your two poems. Because I mostly skip over poems when I encounter them in books I read – I'm usually to literal in my thinking to understand the subtleties and metaphors in poetry – I was surprised at how deeply I connected to your poems. I've gone back to reread two particular portions several times:

    “I am tear, swelling, cheekrolling,
    burning salt hard sobbing deep cleansing letting go,
    making room for laughter…”


    “……my wet presence in the midst of dry longing.”

    Wow, that's so sweet and powerful.
    Thank you.


  2. Thank you, Marita! That means a lot to me. Especially touched that you were willing to read the poems, given your propensity to skip them, and then to reread parts! That is a high compliment indeed.
    This is the third day of rain this week, and we are so grateful. It really does feel like November in the Bay Area after so much dry heat.


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