The wisdom of water


In my last post, I wrote about this feeling of being Water, hinted at the way I have somehow dismissed this energy in me as being less-than the energy of fire, which I can never seem to hold onto for very long. I simply cannot live at that level of intensity. It dissipates into something else. I have often dismissed this quality in me as weakness, but this weekend, while writing, it suddenly came to me, this knowing of myself as Water.
Over the last week, I have spent much time seeking to understand. At the beginning, I expect, it was a defense mechanism. as humans will ask after any disaster, asking
‘Why?!’ I went searching for answers, picking up pieces here and there from the debris of my shattered view of humanity.
I read and I read and I read. I listened to lectures. I learned about working class loss and pain and I thought about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, how difficult it is to turn outward when your own security is lost.  I learned about our country’s long slow arc toward justice in a long story of immigration, one that is not as simple ‘bring me your poor…’ as we have understood it to be. I learned about the way that our primitive brain can quickly revert to tribalism when it feels threatened by real or imagined disintegration. I learned about the human need for feeling connected, for belonging, for a sense of community with common ideals.  I thought about how hard it is to come together as one and realized on some perverse level that this is what people fear in diversity I thought about native cultures being annihilated by the mass immigration of white Europeans and wondered about our own fear of mass immigration. I see how long humanity has struggled with this.
I learned about the ethics of cosmopolitanism and nationalism. I read the philosophy of hospitality of Immanuel Kant and I read the conservative philosophy of George Will and its indictment of dividing into too many small populations. I learned about the conservative morality of loyalty and cooperation for the common good.   I subscribed to some right-of-center newspapers to balance my reading of the New York Times, so that I could try to see what they see… their ideals and their fears, to see what they see when they look across the divide at us, and yes to note their often blind hatred of us, too. I talked to people on the other side and held my tongue as I listened rather than jumping immediately into ‘but’ demonization. I listened to Van Jones speak of empathy as not necessarily seeking to agree with but to understand. I thought about the things I have been blind to, so caught up in my own world view, which of course everyone in my world affirms is good and true because I have isolated myself everywhere from the ‘other’.  In everything from my online community, my news sources, my spiritual community, my neighborhood, I have surrounded myself with ideas that support my goodness and the other’s badness. I listened to the diplomacy of Barack and the holding-on-to-hope of Hillary. I read stories of expressions of hatred, now out of the closet, that made me weep. I went online to donate to the Extraordinary day of Giving and learned about hundreds of non-profits in our backyard full of goodness.
In the weeks leading up to the election I’d noticed the way I felt disgust for the other in this election season for the first time. In some ways I had been fed what to believe about them and their motives from my own hyperbolic, gut response, and surface sources of understanding. I didn’t like noticing this in me. I wondered what had happened to poison me.

Last week, I read these words by philosopher, moral psychologist, Jonathan Haidt “Diversity is difficult and often divisive. It’s not shades of skin color that divide; it is the perception that people in other groups have different values, and that they behave in ways that violate our moral worldview” He warns about the toxin of disgust. I realize that is what I have swallowed, this hatred of the ‘other’ as morally vacant or less-than. I dehumanized them the same as we claim that they dehumanize others.

I pulled my heavily earmarked and worn copy of Etty Hillesum’s diary from my bookshelf, was reminded how this young Jewish woman hung onto her heart, found the goodness of humanity, the presence of Love in the midst of her time in the workcamp. I listened to Jon Stewart proclaim that we are the ‘ same country with all its grace and flaws, and volatility, and insecurity, and strength, and resilience exists today as existed two weeks ago.”

And along the way, I noticed that something was happening in me. In this search for understanding I had found forgiveness. I’d fallen in love with humanity again.
It came to me last night that I have chosen to see this inability in me to stay angry as weak. I have perceived my inability to put up walls around me as a sign of broken boundaries, turned away from honoring it as a gift, shrunk into believing it was a sign of my disempowerment. I have, like many of us, craved what the other possessed, which somehow looked more valuable , more powerful, more vital to me. But last night, I saw my ability to understand  for the first time as strength.
The image of water came to me then, in the way that I’d felt my energy diffuse and spread out to take in the other. Water also has no boundaries. It falls where it will. It cuts through stone. It softens and offers a drink. Water is as powerful a force of transformation as fire. Perhaps not so quickly or so intensely (save those hurricanes and floods, of course) but it has its potency, nonetheless.
And I realized that what I have been denigrating as my weakness is perhaps my power. It looks so different from the power that I have been taught to recognize. Today I wonder if perhaps Water is Wisdom.
This morning, I woke up to listen to a cherished radio program/podcast, ONBeing. This week’s episode’s title was ‘The Heart as the Final Frontier’ and in it I heard these words “Empathy is the recognition of the common humanity within the other”.  I don’t think I can demand it of others unless I am willing to do it myself… in the hard-to-do unchartered places of fear within me, in that wilderness of my own heart.  So perhaps I am a pioneer woman, with more resilience and courage than I have believed.
And this understanding is rising up like a great tide within me.

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