At the end of a silent retreat I attended last year, the phrase “be like water” came into my head. In that original moment, it simply meant to choose the path of least resistance, in finding a seat to enjoy the retreat’s final (non-silent) lunch. I certainly didn’t expect this short phrase to move into my head and make itself a home.
But it has. It has popped into my consciousness enough times over the last 6 months to make it notable. Each time it arises in my thoughts, I find I’m participating too much in an attitude of resistance to something in my life, often something as simple as wanting the dogs to walk on their daily round at my pace instead of theirs. Water finds the easiest path to its end – as it moves down it will wind across softer earth, move through empty spaces the human eye does not perceive, persistently wear away at the surface that it moves over, to create space for more ease of flow. In my mind’s eye, the phrase evokes something easy, healthy, gentle, small, but poignant in its easy persistence; never stagnant, and nor raging.
This weekend, we had near record rains in the triangle area. My partner’s property has a small river that runs through it. As the rain fell and drained from lands into the natural waterways, his river (and all the others in the drainage basin) rose and rose – escaping the banks and carrying away fallen trees and detritus of previous winters and storms with swift current – a powerful clearing in a matter of minutes and hours, the energy of which would take weeks to replicate as a single person moving logs and detritus. Be like water. Indeed.
A few days before this, I realized I’ve been carrying an undercurrent of fear – about having enough money, enough time, to enjoy my life as much as I have this last year. I’ve chewed relentlessly on numbers and math and the logical aspects of how numbers add up and get spent. I’ve found myself considering continuing to work part time in IT, and just practicing massage on the side. I’ve found myself convincing myself that such a choice would be fine, and then also heard myself quietly berating myself for “backing out” on this decision I’ve made. This hasn’t been a loud conversation, and on hearing it I realized I’ve been having this conversation for weeks, unnoticed.
An unnoticed conversation in my head is definitely, always, an opportunity for inquiry. And upon inquiry, I found the old familiar fear that, when I began along this path, had me dreaming that I was falling off the surface of the world. This fear undermines what I want to do, this fear of having enough, and I don’t want to give it energy, consciously or unconsciously. It’s not a new struggle. So perhaps it is time to be like water, but like flood water – to build so much energy towards where I want to go that I clear out anything in the way, just with the momentum I have created. I want my channel to be clear, so that there are no nooks or crannies where this fear can settle in unnoticed and take root. Be like water, in deed.
The end goal of all of this is, of course, to be like water – like the water that comes to mind for most people – serene, clear, still at it’s heart, full of life and and a clarity that is fascinating to look into… in whatever situation I find myself in life. But the river reminds me that, sometimes, the image in the mind’s eye needs to be stretched and tested, to overflow its banks, to become for a moment something of power and awe, in order to remain true to itself. In all ways, be like water.