It’s the tail end of August and although it’s hot I’ve noticed that the trees are starting to change colour, the evenings are getting darker quicker, and I feel the eager anticipation of crisp air and autumn buzzing through me. How about you?
For me, this summer has been very much about swimming. In quarries, rivers, oceans. Anywhere at all that will cool and refresh my daughter, nephew and friends.
I’ve also been reminded, as I continue to do my own creative and healing work (both with other people, and with my own self), that water is powerfully connected to Taoist principles of flow, to the 2nd chakra and emotion, to sexual and creative energies, and to my own experiences of being either stagnant and stuck, or free, light and happy.
Because of this I’ve been working with the energies of willow, of the moon, of Yin. I’ve been letting myself feel my feelings more, rather than holding them in and bottling them up. As a result, my dear friend D has been on the receiving end of a great deal of my experiments around feelings. I’ve been letting myself cry, letting myself feel the range of emotions (rather than holding it in my jaw), and I’m grateful that he’s able to hold the space for me (very Yang).
This renewed focus on water has reminded me that it’s not a new journey. In fact, almost two years ago, just after I moved to Vancouver Island, I wrote about this very same theme. Here’s a reworked version of it for you.
Up till now, my life has been defined by an upward-gazing momentum, filled with mountains, trees and vast expanses of landscape.
For so long I have felt my imagination dominated by the stark alpine ranges and buckbrush valleys of the Yukon, cut through by the thick snake of some-such-river, a landscape which is rarely rained upon. Water has been something I’ve crossed, floated on, swum in, but never been absorbed or penetrated by.
Even when I’ve moved away, water has surrounded me, yet been on the peripheries of my existence. In Japan, a country of islands and coastlines, I lived inland, embraced by hotspring-filled mountains and dry rice paddies. I rarely saw the ocean.
In Montreal, a city carved upon; an island in the middle of a vast river, I lived my life unaware of this monumental fact. Bridges and waterways surrounded me, but I felt intoxicated by the thrum and throb of city life instead.
Nizhny Novgorod, Russia, a city historically powerful for it’s placement at the confluence of two thick cords of rivers, an exchange point of trading routes between east and west, was cut in three by these rivers. I noticed the trees, so huge, the roads, so busy with three million people, but not the water.
In Ottawa I was on the Carleton University varsity rowing team. We rowed every morning, early, upstream past Parliament, the National Art Gallery, the Museum of Civilization, then downstream to the rowing club, back in time for breakfast and the rest of the day. Every morning my crew and I straddled the symbolic midline in the Ottawa River, straining in equal parts Ontario and Quebec.
What I recall – fatigue, the tippy feeling of stepping into the rowing scull, being the 5th person of 9 to carefully step forward to my place and sit on the hard wooden seat. I remember strapping my feet in and grabbing the worn, solid wood handle with both hands, caressing with the palm of my right hand the rounded handle end before wrapping my fingers above, grasping my thumbs below and pushing off in silence.
Then, the brief and rhythmic slap of water on the sides of the boat and constant yelling from the coxsie and the coach, an energizing strain of movement as we rowed in unison. Vividly, steam from the river would be illuminated by the rising sun every morning. Even this felt like a periphery to the rest of my life. I wasn’t yet having a conversation with water.
How is it that I have just discovered that I have been surrounded by a depth of symbolism when it comes to water? I feel like I’ve been blind to a lover, right in front of my eyes, a love affair which is only now surfacing (how exciting)!
The humour of my blindness is so obvious now.
I swam for years on the swim team as a child – the Glacier Bears Swim Club. We traveled all over to race at swim meets. My mother recalls how I cut through the water with ease, usually placing in the top three.
When I was 14 I easily treaded water in a glacier fed lake for over an hour, determined to beat my brother in our contrived contest (I did).
I spent summers in the Okanagan in Peachland, happily swimming with siblings and cousins. It’s the only thing we did when we visited. Water, water and more water.
When I can, I take baths daily. I have a ritual. I put my daughter to bed. I run the water, add Epsom salts and fill the tub full. I light a candle or two, and close the door tight, locked. Then, finally, as delighted in my nakedness as when I was a constantly nude two year old, I get in and slide down, finding the sweet spot where as much of my body as possible is covered with water, then slowly sink under, closing my eyes and melting into a floating world where I listen to murky underwater sounds, imagining an alternate universe. One in which I have gills, am covered with scales, or fur, and have fins.
Walking by the river in Whitehorse has had special meaning – one I can’t quite decipher, but cherish all the same. All I know is that I feel fresher, lighter yet also more solid after walking in conversation with the river, watching it in all it’s rushing volume and depth.
I spent my first year on Vancouver Island bathing myself five days a week at Bikram hot yoga, feeling the drips of sweat turning to sheets of water running down by body until, at the end of class when I kneel to roll up my yoga mat, I slipslide sideways on the floor my knees are so slick with watery sweat.
When I go for walks here in the Cowichan Valley, I always seek out trails that lead to rivers, journeys that take me to the liminal edges of the sea, and it’s always at the water’s edge that I pause.
For years I’ve been enthralled with specific Celtic fairytales. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her astounding, dense and blindingly bright book Women Who Run With The Wolves discusses Sealskin, Soulskin. It is a story of powerful love and personal transformation about the Selkies – sealfolk – who have the astonishing ability to come ashore, shed their skin and live as human, until the time comes to return to the sea. They cannot stay long before the call of the salt sea becomes too strong to resist.
When singer/songwriter Feist came out with the song Sea Lion Woman, I played it and played it. Just the image of a sea lion woman is enough for me. What it is, and what makes it enough, I do not know. All I know is that I love it.
And, my first home of all was a floating place, in the amniotic sac of my mother’s womb.
How have I not known I was being held in the embrace of water all this time; the most loving mother of them all? How have I not loved her back?
I had two experiences that allowed these observations to arise. A couple years ago I spent some hours with my mom, daughter, and a family friend walking in the forests in Courtenay BC, alongside a small river and over bridges, witnessing salmon swim upstream.
I had never seen our life cycles in such graphic vivid detail before. At first glance, the rivers and streams seemed empty, a fact that only betrays my untrained eyes. A few moments later, the clarity of seething masses of salmon three feet long, angled upstream, swimming steadily, became obvious.
What also became obvious was the volume of carcasses in the water. Grey and soggy, dead and decaying, they lay underwater, on the sides of the streams, wrapped around rocks and logs, layered on top of other carcasses, accompanied by nearly dead salmon, hook-jawed gasping movements the only thing still alive. The living ones still strained, bursting upstream in powerful surges of whip-like movement, snaking to the side to bite their neighbours then whipping back and away, swirling and chasing each other in circles to spawn; eggs and sperm salting the water.
A deep peace settled over us all. I was overcome by the small space my petty worries and concerns take up in our world.
My second experience involved a sailboat and seals. The other day I sat in a marina on a sailboat that D was checking out and, feeling the gentle and constant rocking, I noticed how my body relaxed and my mind calmed and settled. Life cycles were made obvious again, as the elderly owner of the boat teared up, describing his love of the boat, of sailing and the water, accepting that his eyesight was no longer good enough to keep the boat, seeking an appreciative owner to care for and enjoy the boat as he did.
I watched a thin film of oil float by and my attention fell into the light of rainbows at play in the swirls and beautiful patterns it made on the surface of the water.
I watched seals play in the water. Oh my goodness, was I ever enchanted! Their eyes, so much bigger than I’d imagined. Their fluid movement, so much looser than the fat stiffness I’d imagined.
Their playful, delightful, puppy-like spirit, which I hadn’t imagine at all. The limpid depths of their inkblack eyes, suggesting more than I can even imagine. I wanted to be in there with them, enrobed in fat and fur, swift and changeable. The mythology of the Selkies so greatly captures me. The ability to shed one’s skin, yet to be so intensely and pleasurably just as you are, is incredible.
Life has a funny way of reminding me of what I am meant to be doing.
I thought I was moving down to Vancouver Island (yes, I realize now, it’s an island, of course!) to spend time in the rural treed countryside, surrounded by farms and quietude. Instead, it rains all the time here. There are puddles everywhere. For my first year I found a stilthouse to rent, literally, right over the water. My view, and my yard was the ocean. I was a companion to the wind, the waves, the whipping sheets of rain.
Water, water, and more water!
Lately, I’ve been taking willow as my teacher. The properties of willow (which seeks out and loves water) are to be flexible, to bend with life and resiliently spring back. Willow also teaches a greater connection with the feminine cycles of the body, the earth and the moon (waxing, waning, and the ebb and flow of tidal rhythms) as well as the female sexual energies, creativity and the Yin qualities that I have forsaken for so long.
All of these lessons revolve around letting things flow, allowing waterways to carve their own paths, to refrain from ‘pushing the river’ even as I actively move towards creating and making my world a place I feel good in.
Interestingly, and finally, water is the element related to the second chakra, which sits right inside the pelvic bowl, the ‘dwelling place of self’. Water flows, moves and changes, and change, and finding a way to flow with the change, has been a theme these past few years.
So, what better element and inspiration could I have than water, as I explore and rediscover my ability to flow with the movement of life, relearning to live creatively and in my skin with pleasure.
My dear friends, I am so curious.
Have you experienced any similar obvious-in-retrospect realizations lately? What is your relationship to water like? To your own physical rhythms and cycles?
Until next time,
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