Wednesday, February 15, 2006

On Emotions and Water and Loving-Kindness

[Image source]

It seldom rains in the desert--a dryness that leaves me craving water, walking through sprinklers, lingering in the shower. Somehow life here has adapted--plants flourish, an amazing assortment of creatures thrive in the parched heat. These plants and creatures have learned some secret about water I am still struggling to comprehend. It is as though years in a wet climate have reduced my body's, and my soul's, ability to hold water.

I am being overly literal, to a degree, but what I really want to understand is the figurative meaning of water, its symbolic association with emotions, with the unconscious mind, the soul. Our bodies are about 60 percent water, which is striking when you think about it. We feel so solid, so stable, but we are mostly liquid, very fluid. We feel the body as earth, make that symbolic connection, yet the body is of the ocean much more than of the land.

In our dreams and mythologies, bodies of water such as the ocean are associated with the unconscious mind: Jonah, Ahab and Moby Dick, Adrienne Rich's "Diving into the Wreck." What we find in those depths is the source of our wounding and our healing. The unconscious mind is fluid with raw emotion.

I live mostly inside my mind, so the rawness of pure emotion is uncomfortable, sometimes unbearable. Emotions are not easily defined, do not conform to the rules of logic, and are simply quite messy. They cannot be controlled, reasoned with, or eliminated.

I have a pretty clear sense that this aversion to raw emotion began when my father died (I was thirteen). Something in me ruptured. For 30 to 45 minutes I was a flood of raw emotion, violent, angry, excruciatingly pained. Totally undone. Then it stopped, and with that stoppage access to my emotions became limited and difficult. The watery part of myself became untouchable, encased in stone.

Yet even earlier than that I was taught that I could not cry, could not feel vulnerable, could not admit fear. A whole realm of emotion was made off-limits. As I grew older, more and more forms of emotional expression became closed or buried. The dry sand of reason smothered that fluid, emotional part of my psyche.

Which brings me back to the desert. For years I lived in Seattle, where rain was much more common than sun. I never craved water. I never prayed for rain. And I felt no need to break through the walls holding my liquid self beyond my reach. After only a few months in the desert, however, I became thirsty. I was bone dry. I would do whatever it took to experience the psycho-spiritual water within me. It's been four years, and still I crave water--but it's getting better.

After more than 25 years without easy access to that part of myself, it's no more easy to find that place within me than to will rain clouds over the Sonoran Desert. So I write almost every day, I pray, I meditate. I try to listen for the watery music beneath the rhythm of heartbeat. And I love.

Practicing love (as though it can ever be perfected)--unconditional, unqualified, boundless love--is the purest way I know to access the part of myself that is hidden. I would like to say I love the world with that same purity, but that is beyond my abilities at this point. I try to practice loving-kindness, to extend my love to friends, enemies, all sentient beings. Some days I feel that openness, most days I do not.

So I love one woman, with everything I am, and through that love I move closer and closer to the water within me that will quench my thirst.

Here is the irony: she is watery to the core. Her emotions come and go like waves, seldom buried or repressed. She has worked her entire life to experience that fluidity within herself. In every way, emotionally, she is my opposite.

If I stand back in the distance and look at our relationship as a stranger might, I see how wise Psyche is in bringing me to this woman. I need her fluidity to soften the edges of my harsh rationality. She flows through me as a river flows through bedrock, carving a deep groove that can hold water, accept its gift.

In the nearly five years we have been together, we have often clashed as waves against coastal cliffs. Each time we clash, she takes a little of my solidity and I absorb some of her fluidity. Together, we balance each other.

Through this process, I am learning more about that liquid core within me, learning to swim in its depths. This may sound like so much hyperbole, but I feel the truth of this process each day. And each day that I can draw closer to the rain, rivers, and oceans within me, I become more able to extend love and compassion into the world.


Steve said...

You wrote, "Each time we clash, she takes a little of my solidity and I absorb some of her fluidity." What a wonderful entry you've posted, and how beautifully that quote summarizes the whole of it. I feel kind of the same way about my relationship with my wife, and I'm sure you speak for countless men in that respect. However, I must say that when I read your exquisite blog, and I try to read it virtually every day, I do NOT get the impression of a man plagued by excessively "harsh rationality." If YOU are, I hate to think about what I am. :-)

william harryman said...


Thanks for the kind comments--glad you like my blog.

I struggle often with the desire to intellectualize everything--especially during conflict or when I feel vulnerable in some way.

Part of the reason I blog is that it allows me to get out of my head sometimes in a public forum. I can be vulnerable, though somewhat anonymous, in front of people. It's good practice for me to write--a part of my self-exploration. A post such as this one allows me to reveal softer elements of myself so that I can become more familiar and comfortable with them. Other posts have attempted to look at shadow stuff with the same intent.

For more than a year I have been actively engaged in balancing rationality with emotions--there remains a lot of work to do.


Anonymous said...

I had an experience once, and it may relate to your quest for understanding the connection between water (the ocean in my case) and emotion.
I was at a cross roads in my life in 1999. It was actually a traffic circle with many exits. My whole life was in that circle, work, marriage, identity etc and I met a person who evoked the strangest experience. I had known her for at least four months or so, and we got real close. (It was platonic close, although the urge to move to the physical plane was ever increasing.) Everything was perfect. The understanding, guidance and I felt that this was as close to God as I could be. I had all these feelings like being in the ocean, carried by one wave to the next. My daily physical feeling was quite literally as if I was engulfed in something, with all of kinds of torrents and peace. It actually made me dizzy at times. Immenseness and vastness was all I could feel or even think about. The feelings of the pressure and weight (or weightlesness) of water were very real feelings. I remember those feelings specifically from dreams, day and night, as a child at my Grandmothers house. Then one day on a coffee break at work, I started staring out of the window and it started raining, thundering and lighting. I some how left this place, saw colors previously unseen, felt as if water was moving me around and that I had no control of anything. I honestly cannot remember all of the things I felt. But I when I came around, the only thing I could think of was the ocean. About an hour had passed, and my coffee was, of course, cold. I wrote it all down and sent it to her in a letter. I do remember feeling as if I was at home. It some how felt right. I still wonder about it.