I definitely had a different vision of the Prayer Walk for Seneca Lake a few weeks back than what was actually needed. I thought it was necessary for each person to walk the full 76-80 miles around the lake over the 3 days, & I was all amped up to do just that. As it turned out, the main thing was that the water in its copper pail was moved at 3.5 miles/hour (apparently an average rate of water flow) the full circumference of the lake, to be returned to the inlet where it had been collected, having been prayed over each step of the way.
The most effective way of doing this was to have relay teams to trade off every .8 of a mile, which is apparently the length most people can keep the 3.5 mile/hour pace. One person–the man if there is a man in the twosome–carries the eagle staff & the other, only a non-menstruating/non-pregnant woman, carries the pail of water. If participant numbers are tight, one person can carry both. The man’s role in these prayers for water, is to protect. He stands or walks alongside & makes sure the woman can be fully free to pray.
I’ve been praying for water just over a year now, & being of the mindset (ask my fathers) that “I can do it myself!”, I didn’t quite understand that dynamic until I had a man join me by a stream. There was a whole aspect of myself, that had become so embodied over my lifetime that I didn’t even know how much it was there–that of keeping guard & watching out for predators–& it was this that was now free to be released by. It was beautiful to feel that presence of a man simply being there for me so that I could more fully be present in myself, in my prayers to the water. Which are one and the same–me & the water–& this is why pregnant or menstruating women don’t carry the pail of water. They are already carrying their own waters at that time. The prayer itself is a song, a lullaby, & a key aspect of its translation is that I take responsibility for the water, including the sacred vessel containing the water, which is my own body.
If you’ve read my last post, you’ll know that even after all these decades, I am still being taught how to do that. Considering that only a week prior I had essentially dislocated a rib that connected into my diaphragm, so I couldn’t move or breathe, I was so thrilled to be moving at all on the first day of our walk that I walked about 23 miles of the total 30 miles. I hadn’t yet worked out that it wasn’t about me achieving those miles, but about the water moving that distance fluidly. When I saw the meditators ahead on the side of the road (something they did all the way around the lake to create pockets of calm for the prayer-walkers to move through, or to settle into if they needed to not walk for a while), I collapsed down next to them & didn’t take another step that day. Needless to say, I have a tendency to overdo it.
But then, water has its own extremes too. Sometimes water goes quickly, or far. It sprays up or falls down. It freezes, then thaws.
All the while, it is what it is.
The next day I drove the van so other people, including our leader Sharon Day, could alternate into the relay of walking without thinking about the logistics of driving .8’s of a mile, finding a suitable place to pull over (especially when there isn’t any), keeping track of people & belongings, following the map or the directions through cities. And it was when we went through Geneva that we experienced, what I called, kerfuffles–not big enough disagreements to be fights–more like people getting their feathers ruffled. We had been walking along vineyards & Mennonite farmlands & were now, quite suddenly, in a congested area on the weekend when university students were moving back in for the fall semester. In two separate instances men, who were meant to be there to help by steering the traffic to guide the flow for the walkers, but instead they ended up conflict with the woman who had helped organize the walk & who was, at that moment, carrying the water. It was most illuminating. The men wanted to protect by guiding & controlling, but they were actually blocking the flow. The woman was taking it all too personally & forgetting it’s about keeping the water sacred & moving, not whether or not she’s done a good job. But then these men were literally yelling at her in the middle of the street. Ruffled feathers.
What came to mind for me was what almost always comes to mind when I’m driving & come upon traffic–humans seem to have an inability to merge. We humans like to stand apart, so when we’re faced with the greater need to flow into one steady stream of movement, things get choppy. People’s toes get stepped on.
When the water passes hands without slowing down, at the .8 of a mile mark, all people involved say either in Ojibway or in English, “I do it for the water.”
Such a simple phrase. Such a simple task–keep the water moving, be like water, do it for the water. Yet, again, Simple does not translate to mean Easy for most of us. To be like water, to do it for the water, we would need to get out of our own way. When tears flowed for me on the morning of the last day, & people were concerned, I said, the water doesn’t ask why it falls over the rock. We don’t need to stop & understand why this water is falling now. I can let it go, trusting the flow. If you can help me out with some tissues, we can carry on.
Much of that flow was gratitude & more of my tears these years are an upsurge like a geiser from my heart, then they are pained & self-pitying. So rarely do I have an opportunity to be on a formal pilgrimage & to sacrifice for a greater cause like the sanctity of a life-force under threat–water. Yet I sense that my life will flow more & more this way–around & through the pain to upsurge & down-flow in its own joyous momentum of existence.
To learn more about Sharon’s good work, walking for water, check out her website here.
Or to watch a 30 minute video episode of the Lake Seneca walk & some of the urgency behind protecting this lake, check out this link!