Trusting, Softening & Unraveling in the River of My LifeNov 29, 2021
My whole life I have been obsessed with being an underwater creature.
At ten, I would squeeze both of my feet into the opening of one swimming flipper, squirmy in their union. My child’s mind could initiate the transformation of flesh into scales, mermaid skin spreading over my boney leg gap. I loved plunging and swaying with the currents of the water and the mixing of temperatures, never being entirely sure if I was up or down. Then, I would find the water’s edge, my lone flipper smacking the surface for effect. I thought I was mystical.
Gradually, this flurry of effort would wane, as my legs would grow heavy and I would sink toward the bottom of the pool, listless.
“Dead” but very awake.
I would carefully inspect every otherworldly treasure I could find: a wad of gum, a soggy Band-Aid, a forgotten hair-tie. A time machine seemed to grab the seconds and hold them back, hypnotizing them into something drunk and docile. Infused with a muffled peace, the dreamscape of this water world offered me a pause, an antidote to the aggressive marching of time gone by. My coral lungs could expand and vibrate, finding a truce from my everyday existence.
Again and again, I returned to the secret underwater world in pools and lakes and oceans. Really in any kind of water I could find. I found ease there, even in the crushing moments of a wave pinning me down, skin rubbed raw in the sand at the seashore. Peace was there, even in the inky black of the lake, obese and secretive, threatening to keep me in its weedy tendrils. It was there in the clear waters, too, sparkly and compelling, a collection of light flecks and bubbles.
So many years later, I still visit the water world, although less often and with no flippers. I still love to rest my belly on the bottom of a pool and listen. But with time, I have learned to be curious about opposites and I have also taken to playing above the surface. I have taken to floating, resting with my face toward the sky, my ears still in the water, intaking my own loud breathing. The echo chamber of my blood beating the drum of my pulse in my ears. Alien and intimate. This is the breath and blood of a child, young woman, and adult mother. I find all of myself here, in the hover of belonging.
Occasionally, as I float on this windowpane of water, the glassy surface will be unexpectedly broken by summer raindrops dancing like little fingertips musically touching the surface of my flesh and the skin of the water. Rain will pitter on my face, creating a reflex of blinks. The drops sing of change and the unrestrained movement of nature. The simplicity of the moment has the effect of expansion, ripples upon ripples, into more ripples.
The water in my own cells want in on this evolution, these circles dancing with each other, water everywhere, inward, outward, above, and below. I feel all of the past and the future in this brief coalescing—the barriers of separation dissolving away.
With my adult imagination, I see the barrier of this pool break open, a levee gone mad. Out of it flows the great river of my life, and I am awash in its currents, picking up speed, just barely remembering how to swim.
This river knows me and my tricks.
It knows how I long to control; my white knuckles clenched in distrust and false control. These waters submerge me and toss me over while asking: who are you, really? Who are you when you live for yourself, with the voice of your soul leading the way? When your soul’s life is your truest responsibility?
The great river of my life encourages me to know my own authority, beyond the invisible tethers of family, culture, and society. It moves me to find depth in my questions and answers. Often the water is docile enough for me to take in a quick breath before submerging again. I hope there will be air to breathe soon.
I have forgotten how to rest in the tides with all of my adult pushing, striving, and doing. So much worry and weight. This river is merciful but relentless. It encourages me to lose “myself” in all kinds of experiences. To allow for the creative ebb and flow of everything.
My early water training serves me well here. I call upon that girl within, the mermaid creature who loves to swim. She has never died in self-doubt. She teaches me about confidence, sovereignty, and mystery. The gentleness of being cradled. She feels the rapture of being a nature spirit, reminding me to turn over onto my back.
No, you won’t drown.
She asks me to remember that there is a sky up there with paths of stars, the light-filled pinpricks of heaven’s lace, that guide the way. She holds my hand as we glide along and then she whispers in my ear: trust in this river.
This trust asks us how much we have been relying on survival mode. It asks what percentage of each day our cells get the message to be tense soldiers instead of dancers of biological beauty.
Trust is not a thoughtless acquiesce or a passive faith that things will easily flow your way. It is an empowered surrender as an active participant, fueled by courage and action versus apathetically wishing things were different.
Trusting, softening, and unraveling can be downright terrifying. Despite wanting to trust and desperately yearning to lay our bodies down in the posture of prostration, head touching the ground, often our cells, muscles, and mental doings turn reflexively toward defensiveness. Over time, this feeling of being tense and restricted wants to move from the mental-emotional realm and trickle into our physical form. Tension creeps into tissues of our bodies, the connective sheets, and fascial layers turned into compressed, shrink-wrapped guarding.
Trust is persuasive, gently coaxing your body to rest, every time your spine gets rigid and your head pops up from sleep. Trust reminds you to unclench your fingers, let your belly grow supple, let your traps unravel, and let your jaw hang low. It convinces all your receptacles of tension to unfurl and flow.
The birthing process teaches this trust for a mother always dilates more than she contracts. She expands her physical body further than she ever thought possible to allow for her child’s essence (and huge head) to move from the fluid, trustworthy, watery world of the womb to the solid, earthly external world. Just like a mother in the becoming, we must birth new possibilities within ourselves.
Call it expansion, call it personal evolution, call it faith—trust is the greatest softener I know. I am brought back time and time again to this trust.
I have always been drawn to the Earth with its biting white peaks, clumsy piles of boulders, crimson canyonlands, and knife-sliced basalt cliffs. I have searched my entire life for ground. For stability, safety, security. For feet pressed in sacred dust and body laid in wet, enveloping grass.
I guess you could say I was unconsciously searching for the comfort of something impervious to pain. And who doesn’t want that really? But over time I began to perceive what all of this predictability was doing to me. That pretend certainty was not really my friend all along.
I was mistaking comfort as true joy.
I realized I am not here to be safe. Perhaps instead I am, as we all are, here to risk it all.
Searching for comfort was its own trap. Its own lumbering, heavyweight. A block to truth.
I still love to feel myself as an Earth-being, but I have become more open to water and the way it wants to shape and carve and move through my earth.
I have become available—no, dedicated—to my beautiful erosion.
There is this water of enhanced flexibility and fluidity that wants to work on me now. Something always moving in me to trust completely in the river of my life.
An excerpt from "Throwing Thunder: Awakening the Forces of Nature in Every Woman," reposted at Elephant Journal.