When I went down to the water’s edge, where the trees give way to clearing, where dark gives way to light, and long night succumbs to day, I met a man. Just sitting he was. His back to me as he faced the graceful pool of water.
“Come, sit beside me” he said. And I did so, before I realised that he hadn’t spoken at all; so deep was he in contemplation, so at one with all around him, that I feared I would disturb the tranquility of his meditation.
For a long while we were in silence, he and I, side by side. Long after my embarrassment had been swallowed up by the delicious beauty of the moment, that unfurled without expectation or obligation and blossomed into breath.
“At last” he said, “you are here. I have been waiting.”
For the first time, I turned to look at my new companion. How shall I describe him? Imagine if you will a face that conveys at once serenity, wisdom, compassion, strength, dignity and love. That is how he appeared to me, as we sat beside the lake. He had the appearance of a monk, a mystic, a sadhu, a beggar, a magician, a teacher, a trickster, a sage, a father, a mother, a wolf, an eagle, an everyman, and no man at all. His hair flowed matted down to his waist yet his head was bald. He was clean shaven of face and yet he wore a long plaited beard. His robes hung loosely around his frame, and yet he was naked. He was a stranger yet I knew him.
“I have been sitting here in expectation of you for such a long time” His words found their way into my heart, ” I have seen you pass by. Searching. Yet you never saw me, and I have been right here all along. See how long my beard has become”
“If you knew I needed you, was looking for you, why didn’t you reach out to me?”
” Because, that isn’t how it works, you know that. It is you, who must reach out to me. You can only do that when you are ready. And now you are ready. You see me when the time is right. You see me when you surrender , you see me when you believe.
“I don’t understand”
“Oh , it isn’t your fault, it’s how you all think. You have been made small by the stories you have been told, stories that rob you of the magic, stories that tell you to see to believe, when everyone knows that the truth is that we need to believe in order to see.”
“I still don’t understand” I was beginning to sound like a parrot.
“Take a look in the waters of the lake. Tell me what you see.” My new companion said.
I edged closer to where the water lapped against the bank. The waters were crystal clear, and towards the centre of the lake, I could see the where the ground shelved away, only blackness prevailed, yet all along the shallow water’s edge, catching the reflection of the sun, tiny gems and stones gleamed and laughed and sparkled in the dappled light.
I leaned over: I caught sight of my reflection.
“Tell me what you see”
“I look old, my hair is grey, I look tired, exhausted, dark rings under my eyes, red from crying, face thin now, cheeks sunken, hair limp.”
“Ok, ok, stop now, ” he said gently. “Enough. Why do you chose to see yourself this way? If this is how you see yourself, this is what you will believe about yourself.And the more you believe it, the more it will become the truth. Or rather, it will become your truth.
“Let me put this another way, let me share with you what I see.”
And he turned to face me, until we are both seated cross-legged facing one another. Knees touching. He took my hands in his, and looked into me. He looked so far into me, leading me into the deeper waters at the centre of the pool, until I was out of my depth, past the facade that I have constructed as a defence against “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”; at every last secret, at every last story of mine that held pain and sadness and anger and grief and disappointment and guilt and shame; at every story that was told to me about how one should behave, about what one ought to do – the crushing weight of conformity and expectation; at every story that quashed the light of my spirit to be wild and free and unfettered by fear. And then finally, finally, when all I thought he could see was my failures and my mistakes, when I was close to running out of breath, near drowning in despair, I let go, and we broke the surface.
And there, held in the embrace of the waters, I felt Love, pure and simple. Love that is unconditional, Love that lacks judgement, Love that seeks not attachment, Love, channelled through my new companion, radiating from his soul deep into mine. Love that feels like the sun emerging from behind a cloud.
“Can you feel what I see?” he asked. “I see the beautiful soul the universe sang into being. For each and everyone of us contains the seed of divine beauty and grace, that if nurtured blossoms into a flower that illuminates, initiates, heals and preserves. But if the soil into which the seed is sown is neglected, undernourished or poisoned by our own limiting beliefs, bad experiences, by judgement, by inequality then the delicate bloom starts to wither. But what is so remarkable about these divine seeds, is that buried deep within them, is something I call hope. And hope is a wonderful thing to hold in your heart at all times, for it walks hand in hand with ‘potential’. Potential means being able. It means Power. That, my dear friend, is what I see. I see your Power.”
My heart was pounding, relentless, in my chest. Turning to the lake pool once again, I peered into the depths. It was remarkable, what magic and revelation, for there gazing back at me was, no longer the face of grey despair, but one unrecognisable to me, radiant and strong. And the more I looked at the reflection, the more I believed what I saw, and the more I believed what I saw the brighter became the vision, until could feel the power slowly returning to my spirit, creeping through every cell of my being, and I felt lighter, my heart felt open again, my way was clear. And I could remember all the joys I had ever known, all the successes great and small, all the laughter, all the love I had given and all the love I had received.
“Thank you, I said.
“You are welcome, but I am not the teacher, you are. You see in me a guide, a protector, a teacher, healer, an ally. Yes, I am all those things. But I only exist for as long as you believe in me. And all of these qualities are in you, or you would not be able to see them in me. I walk with you on this journey, in order that you remember just how powerful and magical you are, in order to remind you that you are capable of much more than you think, and so that whatever happens and wherever you go, and whatever befalls you, you will never be alone. For I shall always be right here, meditating by this pool, praying just for you, here if you need me.
So humbled was I by this unexpected encounter, I began to cry. Tears ran down my cheeks and fell upon the earth, and where the droplets touched the soil small white flowers pushed their way between the blades of grass into the daylight.
“The real teachers have been watching over you and all our ancestors for millennia. What do you feel beneath your hand?”
I stretched my fingers and ran my hands through the grass. Damp with dew, soft, springy, green, so many textures. I pushed down into the soil, which made way for my fingers, cool, dark, moist, roots, leaves, stones, worms, deeper and deeper I sank into the earth, disappearing into the womb of the Mother. I could hear her breathing,feel her strong embrace, I lay in her arms, suckling on her life giving nectar as she cradled me and rocked and lullabied and sang to me the stories I had forgotten of what it means to be human.
“Blessed Mother, it is I, your granddaughter, and I want to thank you for the love you show us. The food with which you provide us, shelter, food, medicine, wood for our fire so we have protection and light when it is dark all around. Like spoiled ungrateful children we ask so much from you, we take from you, we are never satisfied, and with our greed we have poisoned you and raped you, yet still, you keep on giving to us time and time again. You teach us the lesson of unconditional love. May we remember to respect and honour you, our mother, and in doing so, remember how to respect and honour ourselves.”
Then I felt a tap on my shoulder, on turning I saw that it was the Sun, reaching down from beyond the clouds.
“Father Sun, welcome , welcome, welcome to you. Thank you for bringing the light each and every day. So that we do not have to live in perpetual darkness. The darkness is of our own imagining and our own making, for you, like phoenix, rise every morning to remind us that everything goes and comes in cycles. It is how it is. And it is how we are. All part of the cycle of life, we are but one small stitch in the universal tapestry of life, our story woven into all the others. Unique yet connected. And that fiery thread reaches all the way from the Sun into our belly, our solar plexus, our navel centre where we first knew life. Here lies our spark, our creativity, our esteem, our sense of who we are, our guts, our courage, fearlessness, inspiration, our ability to manifest, to commit, be active, get on with it, to keep going when the going gets tough, and here, here resides the warrior smelting her sword in the fire of life.”
As I sheathed my new sword into my belt, a playful tug whipped my hair across my face. Immediately, en guard I turned to face my foe. There was no one there. Again, a tug, this time my skirt, I turned only the see the wind laughing at me.
“Ah, brother wind, I see you are in a playful mood. Don’t be so jealous, just because I can’t see you, doesn’t mean that I have forgotten you. You, oh mischievous one, I know how strong you are. How destructive you can be. For you, on your invisible wings, you are the storms raging inside my head, the tidal waves that threaten to engulf me, and blow away my home. Yet, magnificent one, in your immense power there is such tenderness and life. You are the breath in my lungs. You are the oxygen from the trees, you are cool and warm on my skin, you paint pictures and compose symphonies and ballets with the leaves. I hear your mournful wailing echo across the downs, singing to lost souls.When you are near the trees wave to me as I pass by, like old friends.”
All at once, I found myself flying. I was not alone, as it turned out. I was astride a great majestic eagle. My arms around its neck, fingers pushing through feathers. Higher and higher we ascended, leaving behind everything familiar, the pool, the land, my guide all becoming smaller and smaller as we raced up into the clouds. How exilarating. How great it was to be alive. As with each beat of its wings I merged more and more deeply with this magnificent creature. Soaring and swooping I had never felt so free. Up there, removed, distanced from earthly constraints. With my new eagle eye, I looked down to survey the view, and from this privileged position of perspective, I suddenly saw the landscape of my life in a totally different way. The problems seemed so much smaller, or perhaps it was just that I could see things clearly now, from a different perspective. Or a different way around things, a different path from the one I had been walking along. Clarity and Space. Wind blowing away the cobwebs.
And in my next breath I was back beside the pool. And there he still was, meditating, just as I had left him.
“Dive in” he said, with a nod of his head towards the pool.
“But it is deep, I can’t touch the bottom, I don’t know what’s lurking beneath the surface”
“So you want everything to be safe and predictable? ”
I didn’t need to answer.I knew the question was not only rhetorical but challenging.
I dived in.
The waters came up over my head, and immediately I felt the pull of the waters from below, I couldn’t get either my footing or my breath. So cold was the water, my muscles spasmed and I struggled to swim, weeds tangled and tugged around my ankles and threatened to wrench me down.
Beneath the water I heard his voice: “Breathe, let the waters hold you, let them wash your spirit clean.”
As I surrendered, I felt as if the entire ocean was cascading through my veins, into my cells, through each and every part of my body and cleansing it of all the dis-ease I have ever experienced: purification of body, mind and soul. How intense was this sensation, like drowning and being reborn in the same instant.
“Swim to the waterfall, and there you will receive the water’s blessing.”
Easier said than done. If you have never attempted to swim beneath a waterfall, I really do recommend it. And I’m not talking about somewhere idyllic and balmy. No, I’m talking cold wet British day, when the last thing you really want to do is strip off and launch yourself into the icy black waters, head under and all, and swim beneath the cascade. Where the pure force of the water is overwhelming, and reminds you who is boss, where the flow hits you like a thousand needles, and pushes you away each time you try to draw close, and just as you think you’ve won, pushes you under gain one last time for good measure.
And so it was here, as I tried again and again to swim beneath the fall, until exhausted, laughing, satiated, invigorated I just lay back and let the waters rock me like a new born baby. For that is how I felt. Naked. New. Alive.
So I gave thanks to the spirit of the water, who teaches us about our emotions, and about how to get back in touch with the flow of ours lives, who lives within in me in my tears, my blood, my body, my sweat, and who is the source to which we all dream of returning.
On the bank I saw that my companion had laid out a kind of wheel on a rock. To the East where the sunrises was a candle for the Fire. To the south, a shell for the Water. To the West a leaf for the Earth. To the North a feather for the Air.
“This is a tool to help you find your way,” he said. “When you become lost, when you feel alone, when you struggle, and when you need to find the answer to an impossible question, consult your medicine wheel. Let it anchor you when you are all at sea. Let it remind you to look all around you and see what inspiration and teaching and healing there is. Let it take you on an adventure, wherever it may lead, and then, when you are ready, let it guide you home.”
“Will it show me the way back here? To this beautiful healing place?”
“Naturally, for now that you have remembered this place, now that you have remembered me, now that you have remembered your ancestors the trees, the rocks, the earth, the mountains, the plants, the winged ones, the four legged and two, you can never forget.
And when you learn never to forget, you will remember how loved you are, you will understand why you are here, and you will truly remember who you are and you will know what you will know.
Hush now granddaughter, listen can you hear?”
And as I sat there at the water’s edge, beside my wheel, I closed my eyes, and there, yes, there, I could hear the most glorious melody. The universe was singing my song. And, in gratitude and joy, I threw back my head and opened my mouth and sang my heart right back to the universe.