Water as Healer

By Katherine Murray

The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea. –Isak Dinesen

Water. Imagine the sound of the ocean waves, spreading across the smooth sand like loving hands reaching to touch your tired feet... Remember the pattern of raindrops falling in a steady, comforting rhythm on your roof... See the calm, still surface of a freshwater lake mirroring the deep blue heavens... As Isak Dinesen said, salt water in its varied forms offers cure for the strains, stresses, and struggles we seem to attract in our busy workaday lives. It invites us to relax, release, and let go of what we’re clinging to, whether it’s a problem we’re trying to solve, a heartache we’re trying to hide, or a physical challenge we’re trying to overcome. A simple, basic gift, water supports and sustains us. And over the course of our lives we slowly learn that if we trust it, we float.

Flowing Naturally
Continually moving, always changing, into and out of form—our lives, like water, are in constant flow. We almost catch a glimpse of the essence and then it’s out of sight, coursing first within our banks and then overflowing with sweet abandon, the wild and loving essence of who we are. The flow never stops. As a beautiful expression of One life through bodies, minds, and souls, it must move, touch, nourish, fill, satisfy, transform, and connect. With no beginning and no end, the flow of love through our lives continues unhindered. We may create channels and dams; we may try to direct or divide it; but ultimately the water must move naturally, rising to the air and falling again, fresh, to run through our lives in a new way. We can pool it, bottle it, share it, save it for a rainy day, but ultimately it again rejoins the One, making its way to the seas, rising only to fall in beautiful silent cycles of life.


Becoming Part of the River
In our everyday world, most people and objects we encounter have clear edges we recognize and respect. We each have boundaries that mark where one of us ends and another begins. My skin seems to be the surface of my physical self, even though I know on a cellular level I am continually interacting with all the elements that comprise me—water, wind, light, and soil. Years ago I traveled to the Columbia River Gorge and was suspended in awed by the beauty I found there. Hiking down the bank to a shallow spot, I peeled off my socks and shoes and waded out into the rushing water. Standing in the water with my bare feet on the smooth stones, with the cool current pulsing at my ankles, I felt sense of rightness—the calm of peaceful connection. Who was river and who was woman? In that moment, there was only Life, enjoying.

Finding the Calm, Still Surface
Thoreau said, “Instead of looking into the sky, I look into the placid reflecting water for the signs and promise of the morrow.” The clarity and calm of a still surface has the power to draw us back to that point in ourselves that is still, resting, at peace. When we gaze out over the beautiful reflection of a still lake, we see, feel, absorb the open space, the clear energy, the magnificent reflection of a limitless sky. In challenging moments, however, it may be difficult or impossible for many of us to travel to a point of beauty at the water’s edge. What can we do for a moment’s tranquility when a hike is out of the question? Drawing the calming image to mind is one possibility, but accepting water’s invitation is another. The water that runs from the tap in the kitchen, the water in the rainbarrel, the water in the bottle at the office—it is all the same water, essential to life, a gift of welcoming, spaciousness, calm, and possibility. Yes, it may be chlorinated by your local water provider, or sold for a profit by any one of a number of vendors. But no matter what its conduit, the water, the essence, invites you. Enter in. Feel the smooth coolness on your palms. Splash the liquid peace on your face and neck. Know that you are connecting with a vital source of your very own embodied life—these drops know each other. This contact with water wherever you find it reminds you that you are the calm, still surface, even now.


Honoring the Rhythm of the Rain
Rain falls in not one rhythm but many—dripping from trees, falling straight from the skies, here fast; there slowly. And yet the entire sound of the rain, with its many and varied rhythms, is beauty, peace. Torrential rain drums a throbbing beat on the roof; gushes water through the downspouts, offers the countermelody of puddles receiving the drops. Light rain is quiet, more air than water, soothing, soft, gentle. We are many in rhythm, energy, and melody, but one as the expression of life and love. Perhaps when we are tempted to see our many differences as evidence of separation, we can let rain teach us about our unity—one in flow and cycle, one in source and expression, one in bringing the unique rhythms of our lives to the masterpiece of the whole.

Healing Expression
Many of us sweat reluctantly. We take great pains to stay clean and dry, avoiding any exertion that might “work up a good sweat.” Perhaps this is one risk of the spiritual path: we can lose touch with our own sweat. Not only do we not want to deal with it—we don’t want to impact other people when our warmed scent wafts into their vicinity. As mammals, we have the unique and fascinating ability to regulate internal temperature through perspiration. The process—ultimately uncontrollable—happens automatically, in service to your overall being. You don’t pay for it; you don’t manage it; it simply supports you in flushing unneeded minerals out of your body and cleansing what’s left. Your activity invites the beautiful process of harmony to show itself in your own body. Enjoy it. You are part of life’s joy expressing, like dew on the grass. You are a part of the rising of the tide.


Renewal, Refreshment
Turn on the water and step into the shower. Rest for a moment and let the water flow over you. It brings rest, comfort, refreshment. If you let it, the falling water can wash away what is clinging to you of previous moments, helping you release what you no longer need. Now you can start again. More than a soapy task we perform mindlessly every day, bathing is a sacrament of renewal— making us new, releasing the old, a fresh start in a new day. Learning to let the water cleanse us emotionally and energetically as well as physically can be the work of a lifetime. Regardless, the water falls, true to its nature, washing away discord, hurt, struggle—and making us part of the flow.

Water as Solace
And then the sadnesses of life come, perhaps like storms—sudden and dramatic—or more like drought, a time of dryness, brittle without joy’s nourishing presence. In times of brokenness and anguish, water invites us to attend the deeper places, mixing tears with the essence of source and sustenance. With the gift of embodiment comes the question of agency—how much of creating this daily life is up to us and how much is allowing life to arise in and through us? Sadness often comes for me when a creative, loving effort—sometimes a blossoming creative force—is unfruitful or unfulfilled. Water says, come. Float. I wade out into the lake, not completely trusting. I think about it. I debate myself. I sit down. Relax. Stretch out your legs. I do. I feel the sun on my knees and the water beneath them. I am for the moment the physical marriage of light and water. The water is cool; the sun hot. Life feels a little better. The water invites me. I float. When I emerge from the lake, whatever drew my sadness may still be there. But my tears and my allowing—the floating, the letting go—have opened up a space of peace in me. Returning to the sadness, I remember who I am and, knowing now, I take that sweetness back into the waiting world.


Katherine Murray is a writer, spiritual director, mom, and nana who lives and works in Indianapolis, Indiana. She integrates pastoral Earth care with contemplative writing and publishes two related blogs: Practical Faith (http://www.revisionsplus.com/practicalfaith.html) and Narrative (http://www.revisionsplus.com/narrative.html). This essay is included in the book Water: Its Spiritual Significance (Fons Vitae, 2009). You can find out more about Katherine’s spiritual direction practice by visiting Practical Faith or sending her a message at kmurray230@sbcglobal.net. Peace.