Unveiling :: Sensing the water element

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Steep Ravine, oil painting by Will Noble

I woke Thursday morning to a strange sound. It was coming from the bathroom skylight. Was it a drone? A steady alarm from a distance? No! The skylight was automatically closing. I went to see, looked up, and there were raindrops on the glass! Raindrops!  

Wow! Rain! I stepped outside and felt the drops. Not enough to make a difference to our ongoing drought, but enough to wet the deck, give moisture to the air, and brighten my spirits. Especially on the very day that I planned to lead a water element meditation.

Water is life. We depend on it so much, we may take it for granted, forgetting how precious it is. How vital it is. I have the good fortune of being married to an artist who spent 25 years painting water. The walls of our home are filled with beautiful intricate explorations of the nature of water. Wanting the pleasure of water for all the senses, we built a waterfall in the garden.

As a species, humans are drawn to bodies of water, nourished by them, and calmed by them. Most of us enjoy relaxing and playing on the shores of rivers, lakes, and oceans; as well as swimming, surfing, boating, and going on cruises. The sounds of water please us: the patter of rain, lapping of waves, the gurgling of a brook or a fountain in a garden. 

In our garden, the pump for the waterfall is turned off for the duration. The garden is on water rations, and inside we challenge ourselves to find clever ways to conserve. Most of these are rooted in mindfulness, questioning assumptions, and cultivating awareness and gratitude for each and every precious drop. 

I have memories of living through droughts before woven thickly in my mental veil of thoughts about water and survival. These threads tell me that this too shall pass. But I also notice the veil is laced with threads of anxiety. Maybe this is different. Maybe in this part of the country, this is the way it will be more and more. Those threads can become heavy with the weight of worry and thus blind me to this moment, just as it is. Instead of seeing what is vibrant, beautiful, and bountiful in this moment; instead of simply setting wise intention and making wise effort to be skillful in taking care of myself, my loved ones, my community, the global community of all beings, and the earth that supports us all; I get entangled in a blindness of ‘what if’s’.

Of course, someone else’s thoughts and emotions about water will weave a very different looking veil if they live where water is ravaging lives and communities and they have memories and worries about flooding or hurricanes. Water is powerful! We probably all have similar images in our veils of a variety of disasters: massive flooding, glaciers melting, sea-level rising, and dustbowl-style drought with water tables depleting and wells running dry. 

Yes, looking at life through our veils, we can easily feel burdened, blinded, and powerless. It may be tempting to turn away, to distract ourselves with other veils, but wherever our attention wanders, our actions have power. Our choices, whether conscious or oblivious, impact life itself. We say “I am just one person. How can what I do matter?” Think how each drop of water carved the Grand Canyon. Our choices, our intention, our efforts all matter.

Acknowledging that, what can we do? We can thin and lighten the veils that blind us. To help do that, here is a guided meditation that brings us home to our intrinsic water nature. Just like the meditation from last week on the earth element, this is rooted in the Buddhist tradition of insight meditation.

GUIDED MEDITATION ON THE WATER ELEMENT

I hope that guided meditation spoke to you, brought you joy, a deeper sense of your own watery nature, and the understanding of how there is no ‘me’ water and ‘other’ water. That understanding was clearly present when I wrote this poem back in the summer of 1997.

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 creekbed.

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

One final meditation you might find healing is to rest your gaze on the painting above of water descending its way into the ocean. Sing or say the traditional Sufi chant “The ocean refuses no river.” Repeating it over and over gives great release and the understanding that no matter how unacceptable we may believe ourselves to be, just as the ocean refuses no river, we are all, each of us, welcome expressions of the life that births us, nourishes us, and receives us without reservation, and without separation.

Let me know your thoughts on this.

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