The past few days were breezy and hot, the humidity creating a sea of moisture in which we swam. The wind danced through the trees, turning leaves on their sides, bending branches slightly, and singing a sweet song. Sitting on the front porch, we felt the coolness of air moving across our hot skin.
We in the West live in an odd culture, one that privileges the knowing of the eyes over that of the body and spirit, rejecting lived, felt experience in favor of abstraction and distance. Perhaps as a result, we are given to imagining ourselves as separate, isolated beings, ignoring the immediacy of our own innate experience of interconnection.
Still, I am continually surprised when people tell me that Indigenous people are superstitious, that we mistakenly perceive that everything is conscious and notices our actions. They seem to believe that accepting the consciousness inherent in all phenomena is , as in Jung’s view, childish, and act as though gratitude, humility, and respect shown to beings and forces, seen and unseen, lacks dignity.
This is an odd position to take, given consciousness appears to be an inherent characteristic of our quantum universe, and thus of everything in it, from pebbles on the beach to ecosystems, to planets and the stars they orbit. Is it not just a very small step from an acceptance of the ubiquitousness of awareness, to the notion that we live in a totally interconnected world in which everything we do impacts others?
A number of years ago I stood on the banks of a river in Amazonian Brazil, as one of my beloved teachers, hopping from one rock to another, worked her way away from shore and into the river. She then faced upstream to where the water cascaded over a fifteen foot high waterfall. Raising and extending her arm and hand, she closed her eyes and sank into deep reverie.
When she returned to shore, she spoke to me about her experience of merging with the waterfall. She explained that she thought the waterfall might be available to aid her in healing patients, and that she had asked whether she might call on its spirit for assistance when needed. The waterfall had graciously agreed.
Up til that day I had struggled to learn the art of merging, my sense of inadequacy and insistence on things being logical creating barriers to simply connecting. My immediate thought, upon hearing my teacher’s words, was to look at the waterfall and think something along the lines of, “This is a puny waterfall on an insignificant river. Why bother?” Then I looked at my teacher’s face, radiant and joyful, and thought, “Why not?!”
I took some space to myself, assumed the posture she had taught me, and setting most of my doubts aside, reached out to the waterfall. Almost immediately I felt a deep sense of joy and pleasure, almost glee, as I became, for a few moments, the land that gave form to the river, the water falling over the embankment, and the two together. I felt the great, yet subtle, power of the place, the essence of the waterfall. I became aware of the water dividing some fifty meters above the falls, some continuing on over the falls and some surging into the treacherous subterranean cavern carved into the river bottom. Then my focus shifted to the quieter pools below the torrent.
For a few minutes I was aware of myself both as an animal who could move easily across the landscape and as the falls that traveled centimeters per year upstream. One of us would live for decades, while the other lived for untold millennia. (Our companion’s teachers had been coming to this spot for twenty thousand years, an almost incomprehensible length of time for me, but an instant in the life of the river!)
For a brief time, the waterfall and I were unique, yet connected as one. I thought, “How is this, that we can be our discrete selves, while merged as one?” Then I remembered moments of lovemaking when the boundaries between self and other had collapsed and I inhabited a shared body-mind. I also understood, in an insight filled with compassion, that the act of dropping my defenses, of allowing deep intimacy, was difficult for me as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. Even now I wonder whose compassion I felt, and whether it matters.
As I began the return to a separate self, I asked the waterfall whether i might call on it to aid in the healing of self and others. The answer was a firm, playful yes, to which I expressed gratitude before saying,” goodbye”.
Over the years, I have revisited the waterfall in memory and spirit many times, sometimes for aid in healing, other times for the simple comfort of our connection. I have learned the waterfall is capable of being gentle, almost childlike in the dry season, and of great, fierce power, when carrying the immense volume of rainfall from the Amazon’s wet season. Each time I have asked, the waterfall has been there, actively engaging with me in connection and healing.
As I write, we are between much needed showers. The breeze, which has hardly stirred all day, has picked up, and the sun is trying to burn through cloud and haze. On this rainy day I am reminded that water is truly a great mystery, circulating through all living beings and systems on our blue-green planet, and that we are truly beings of water, and thus are all kin of the waterfall!
Sometimes, I think, we look for difference rather than honor the interrelatedness our bodies know and crave. I wonder about our culture’s insistence upon loneliness, even as I find myself connected in spirit to many beings and places, and feel blessed and honored to be allied with them in the project of living and healing. Clearly, seeing is not necessary for believing; my body and spirit know what they know, and I am grateful.
© Michael Watson