In late summer, I would swim and stream-walk a small section of the Raccoon River. While sedimented for decades now, the water was clear in the shallows. For a few years now, the water is pea-green from edge-to-edge. For decades and worse now, this water has strongly contributed to a vast hypoxia zone in the Gulf.

In the 1980s, I wrote about the wisdom of the river, focusing on the Des Moines River as a living, very open metaphor for the essential streaming dynamic of the universe that is within us as well in the streaming of our body metabolism and thought.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Beginning To Listen To Water

Lance Kinseth, Radiance II: The Speech Of The Flower

WE COME TO WATER with a set of concepts, and this is writing is a discussion of bypassing our thinking/conceptualizing to see "water" as water, and how varying concepts ultimately meet on common ground  Then, having stepped outside our concepts as much as we can, perhaps we begin to re-imagine water and human life.  What we may begin to see is the way in which water is inside modern human life and both are changing.

WE DO NOT REALLY “see” or experience water.  Like most experiences we come to “water” armed with some concept of water.  For some, water is an external economic commodity/material resource, while for others, dynamic nature that includes us.  To then act with regard to a water issue, we tend to create dialectic [that is, really, a “battle”] between the needs of culture and the needs of nature.

Perceiving “water” as either culture or nature is muddled by other concepts that come into play.  From one spiritual perspective, we might sense human life coming into the Earth and leaving it again at death so that we either steward external resources such as water or we do not.  From another spiritual perspective, we might image human life as an expression of Earth and even as continuing to be wild and needing to integrate with the larger ecosystem.  From a strictly practical sense, we might being coming from either a sense of exploitation or integration.   

Paradoxically, yet hopefully,  there is a common ground or a core shared interest where seemingly disparate concepts of water and human life can meet.  If we were to view water and an inseparable nature wherein human life is even wild, integration with the larger Earth ecosystem, paradoxically, comes a fundamental economic issue of sustainability and survival and optimal health.  And yet, a seemingly opposite to concept of water as a commodity with human life “separate and above” water/nature shares a sense of economy at the core.  

Increasingly, there is recognition that the “interests of water” are inseparable from human interests--especially in the long run--for optimal health of both water and human life.

Now instead of using water, there is interest in sustaining water for its economic and health benefits.  Sustaining water becomes a primary rather than secondary objective in our economic designs.

Beyond a concept of water

SINCE WE REFERENCE WATER with a set of concepts, perhaps a strong strategy should prioritize listening--to be less conceptual and, in the end, more reasonable in responding to what we are experiencing before our hands. 

First, perhaps, In your home, If you have a glass of clean water to drink, you have peace.  How much clean water do you find?  Where do you find clean water?  What did it take to get it clean?

Then, perhaps presence by water landscape, a change in self identity provoked by the experience:

I, who came back from the depths laughing too loudly,
Become another thing;
My eyes extend beyond the farthest bloom of the waves;
I lose my self and find myself in the long water; 
I am gathered together once more;
I embrace the world.

Theodore Roethke, from “The Long Waters,” 
The Collected Poems Of Theodore Reothke should know that when water descends to the earth it makes rivers and streams.  The spirit of rivers and streams becomes wise people.

Dogen Kigen, from “Mountains and Waters Sutra”

This expansive change in self may begin to provoke  small actions that, in turn, might outspread into other actions:

If you go to Japan and visit Eiheiji monastery, just before you enter you will see a small bridge called Hanshaku-kyo, which means “half-dipper bridge.”  Whenever Dogen-zenji dipped water  from the river, he used only a half a dipperful, returning the rest to the river again, without throwing it away.  That is why we call the bridge Hanshaku-kyo, “Half-Dipper Bridge.”  At Eiheiji when we wash our face, we fill the basin to just seventy percent of its capacity.  And after we wash, we empty the water towards, rather than away from, our body.  This expresses respect for the water.  This kind of practice is not based on any idea of being economical.  It may be difficult to understand why Dogen returned half the water he dipped to the river.  This kind of practice is beyond our thinking.  When we feel the beauty of the river, we intuitively do it Dogen’s way.  It is our true nature to do so.  But if your true nature is covered by ideas of economy or efficiency, Dogen’s way makes no sense.

Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

When we slow down and listen, that which seems insignificant and local flowers to worlds
Stilling by a river, by returns, sooner or later,

There is the fluid sweep of the heron and the crane and the fast, rolling curves of the cliff swallows, all flying low over the matt of the river.  There are diamonds in the water and the fine-stitching flight of dragonflies and black damselflies in the rushes of the river’s brim.  There is the shrill of killdeers and the buzz of both wetland blackbirds and tall-grass katydid.  Far overhead one star, meager by cosmic standards, blasts this chamber by day.  And by night the valley is revealed to be woven to a thousand other suns.

Lance Kinseth, River Eternal

Listening to water in modern life, it soon becomes apparent that both water and human life is changing.  Water quality is now a public health issue, either because it is contaminated or because it is in shorter supply.   Water is contaminated on a global scale.  It is both dirty and imbalanced.  And to meet the needs of the current global population, water is increasingly rare.

Having peopled the Earth, economic strategies the use material resources to the point of needing to move on no longer work.  And so, our economic strategies have begun to change, moving toward sustainability.  Sustainability has costs BUT sustainability also reduces costs.

Post-modern, cybernetic culture that seemed to be even more separate from nature are now being re-imagined as still deep inside nature (and inside a cosmic system that is essentially a wilderness ecosystem).  Degrading environmental feedback is a primary driving reality demonstrating that our activities are not separate and, in fact, come back upon ourselves.

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