THE LISTENING SEED
With a sudsy hand I gently press the plastic lever, which lets a stream of water out of the spigot, sending it sloppily over the bowl in haphazard lines like slow-motion lightning streaks in a soapy glass sky.
I release the spigot lever and adjust the bowl underneath it so that the next series of water lines can try their best to rinse the bowl. This goes on a couple more times before I swish around the water that has collected in the bowl and then dump it all into a bigger bowl in the sink, which has been catching all the runoff during the whole process.
Then I move on to the next dish, washing it with a cloth drawn from a bowl of stove-heated dish water, with only the necessary amount of dish soap (because any more makes the soap that much more work to rinse off), and then setting it in the rinse-water bowl in preparation for its drinking water rinse.
This has been the regular dishwashing process for the last two months here on our off-grid mesa homestead, and it has become quite routine.
We treat our water as a precious resource, because A) it’s a necessity and B) we don’t have much of it.
Through the experience of scarcity one gains a deeper sense of appreciation.
Photograph by Brea Fisher
The water we do have, we use with intention. We know that we’re either going to have to haul it in, one 5 gallon jug at a time down the 50-foot pathway from the car to the house, or we’re going to have to rain dance for it.
Our water cistern is 3000 gallons. It catches the rainwater that hits our roof and flows into the gutters. For two people, a giant dog, two cats, five hens, three water-guzzling ducks, and a garden, a 3000-gallon tank of water in a place of ongoing drought has been, well, not enough. At least, not in the way we were using the water when we first moved in.
So we stopped using the faucets. We fill our eight water jugs in town and use that for drinking, washing, and cooking. I bathe at a friends’ house once in a while and the mountain man goes to the river.
For the ducks and hens we use the water we catch in 100-gallon water barrels lined up around the art studio and the main house, which collect the gutter spill-off and leaks.
I have a whole system set up now to maximize our water and I keep learning new tricks along the way.
When you are lacking something, you get creative.
The 100-gallon barrels are what I use to fill the birds’ water bowls. I keep an old axe handle and use that to pound through ice if it’s frozen. Then I take a pitcher and dip it into the barrel, filling two large pots of water that I keep in the house until the morning.
At night I empty the water bowls into watering cans and use it to water the garden in the hothouse. That way the water won’t freeze in the bowls overnight, and the post-duckbath water is ripened for the herbs and vegetable plants.
Last week we got our first snow big enough from which to catch water when it melted, and there was a frenzy of managing the barrels so that we got as much water saved as possible.
I had buckets and bins at nearly every drip-spot and was outside dumping them into the bigger barrels every half hour. The day before that I had walked around scooping up pristine snow in my gloves and heaping it into the water barrels.
When something is in limited supply, and is not guaranteed to return with any regularity of amount or duration, it’s an opportunity to expand one’s own resourcefulness.
In a world in which much of its people can be inside their homes, lift a little handle, and have water come flowing forth on demand makes for a time in which many of us have forgotten how much of a gift it truly is to have access to water.
A dear friend of mine lived in Guatemala for over five years, and when she moved back to the States we were next-door neighbors. This was when I still lived in the city. One night we were making dinner together. I turned on the faucet and let it run, waiting for the water to heat up. As if by pure reflex, her arm whipped in front of me and turned it off.
I have many stories like this one— she was constantly turning the faucet off for me if I let it go while soaping my hands, and she had a routine of filling up pots with only a third the amount of water I would have used to boil pasta.
We were very close, so it wasn’t entirely odd behavior to have her jumping in to manage my water usage. I admit, it grated on me sometimes, but if you knew what she knew, you wouldn’t blame her. Her tolerance for water-waste was extremely low after having experienced firsthand what it’s like to live somewhere in which clean water is severely limited.
An Ode to Water
According to the Chinese seasonal calendar, the Winter Solstice marks the exact mid-winter point of the year, the longest night, the shortest day, and the time when the deepest dark gives birth to the return of the light.
Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we are just days past this midpoint and still deeply within wintertime qi. In Chinese Five Element theory, winter is associated with the element of water.
We can use it to help us release fear and to cultivate wisdom, adaptability, and flow.
To maximize your appreciation, respect, and care for water, I want to share with you an excerpt from the I Ching, The Book of Changes and the Unchanging Truth, by Hua Ching Ni.
I have my friend and fellow student of the Tao to thank for sharing this with me, and here I pass it on to you:
From Hexagram 29, The Abyss, K’an
“Water always takes the lowest position.
Obstacles do not hinder it.
It accommodates whatever is in its path
and never loses its direction.
By remaining low it follows its true nature
and its fundamental direction is not
influenced by superficial obstructions.
Water is always ocean-bound,
seeking to reunite with the whole.
To follow the way of water
is to return to ones spiritual essence.”
I’ve made an audio recording of a guided meditation you can do simply by listening to how your body responds to the words above. Please find a quiet place in which you can rest while listening. The meditation is about three and a half minutes long, and can be done sitting or standing.
Whether you have abundant water or the lack of it, there are ways to cultivate a sense of deep gratitude for it.
That being said, there’s nothing like a well gone dry to suddenly make you real thirsty.
How beautifully Life gives us the opportunity to create, by placing before us obstacles that spark desire.
Without a thirst, one lacks the impetus to seek.
May you seek new ways of being, born out of your desire. May we all learn to cultivate appreciation and respect for water, and the resourcefulness and creativity it requires when its plenitude has been jeopardized.
As a postscript I am sharing a link to learn more about how you can take action to help the movement in protecting clean water. Show your alliance with the Water Protectors at Standing Rock reservation and give your support by donating or signing the petition to stop the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
Thank you so much for reading. I’m really interested to hear your thoughts on water and what may have come up in response to this article. The idea that the lack of something creates movement forward toward new goals goes beyond water, of course; where in your own life can this idea be applied? Is there something lacking in your life that is causing you to get creative?
Leave a comment below!
I was going to tell you the story.
I was going to give you all the gory details.
I even had it written out: all the ways in which life seemed to be crumbling around me, not just in my personal world, but in the whole world.
But I deleted it all. On purpose.
So you’ll just have to take my word when I say (or empathize deeply for what you may be feeling, too): Things have been challenging, and that feels like an understatement.
Sometimes it’s not helpful to rehash all of the parts of one’s life that are less than great.
It’s good to have a person who will listen when you need to let it out, but then it’s usually best to move on and focus on what you do want.
The amount of things going wrong, breaking down, and slipping out from under me was piling up at such a swift rate that it was becoming comical.
And I really was laughing. Well, first I cried. And complained. And worried. But I couldn’t do that for too long because something new would come up, and trying to fix it, as I so valiantly did, only made matters worse.
All there was left to do was throw my eyes to the sky, lift my palms, and let out a big, fat laugh.
Defeat Laughter. Let Go Laughter.
Sometimes the only thing you can do in a stressful situation is breathe, because anything else just makes it worse.
I was working so hard to keep control of things and in response, all Life did was give me more examples of how little I ever have control over.
The only thing we really have control over in life is how we respond to it.
You can moan and wail, or yell and argue, hide in a hole, or fling yourself into chaotic action, but until you relax, you will not be on track toward finding relief.
In my kung fu training, the biggest lesson I have ever received is this:
The most powerful thing you can do is stay calm.
Stay Calm, Photograph by Brea Fisher
My sifu always began leading his taiji quan form by saying, “Relax the mind. Relax the body.” I do this also. But it’s something that isn’t only for tai chi practice. This mantra and intention applies to all the things you do; tai chi just serves as a way to let go of resistance (i.e. RELAX).
So I did my best to do things that helped me get calm. I practiced kung fu with ferocity. I cut through my obstacles with sword practice. I quieted my mind with meditation. I relaxed my body with tai chi. I balanced my emotions with qigong.
When your life seems to be driving you into the ground and your brain is grinding its gears, you can get things flowing again by moving your body.
Don’t get all jammed up because your mind is trying to fix this or heal that. Just move your body. The body knows what you need.
Moving your body focuses your qi back inside you, instead of having it scattered into the world around you.
As you go about your day there are all sorts of ways your energy, or qi (pronounced chi), gets dispersed. Things you are working on, dealing with, or worrying about send your mind out in different directions, which simultaneously leaks qi from you.
“Where the mind goes, energy flows.” Ernest Holmes said this and it is true of all thoughts, without discrimination. The good and the bad, all your thoughts lead your energy somewhere.
So where do you want your energy to flow? Outside of you? Toward ideas you fear? Or inside of you? Toward the deeper part of you that knows exactly what you need?
The solution is always out there— really, many solutions exist for any one problem— but in order to get yourself lined up with one of them you need to clear the way.
The pathway to your solutions only becomes clear when you are relaxed and balanced.
One way to do this is to practice tai chi, kung fu, or qigong.
The Five Element Qigong form called, Moving the Emotions, calms the mind, brings your focus back into the body, and balances you inside and out.
Using the Chinese Five Elements— Water, Fire, Wood, Metal, and Earth— one is able to balance qi within corresponding organs and body parts as well as cultivate emotional harmony.
By practicing this form you will gain a powerful tool to relax, get balanced, and find clarity in your life.
The complexity of the world is at its peak. And even though it sometimes feels like it’s all breaking down, if you can stay calm you will begin to see things differently.
Quiet your over-worked mind. Move your body. Get clear. Feel better.
You can do this. I believe in you.
Did you follow the qigong form? Please tell me how it went! I am always available to answer any questions you have. You can leave a comment below, or send me an email.
Did you like this article? If you did, share it with your friends! I would be so grateful to you for it. Truly.