preface: I wrote this in August 2017, before the tide of #metoo and all the rest of the awakening women have been undergoing, to stand up for themselves and for one another. Long may this liberation continue.
It’s an enormously simple thing. Walk with water and pray to—and for—it. If it’s a river start at the headwaters and then walk it to where it flows into an ocean, or to its confluence with another river. Or choose a spot on a lake, walk around it and return to the start. How can something so simple be so profound? I can tell you what I’ve experienced in the indigenous-led walks I’ve been blessed to join, but, like any spiritual practice, what I tell you will only be my finger pointing to the moon. You must find the moon for yourself. You must walk. I cannot do it for you. Although, if you wish, I will include you in my prayers with the water.
And what does this even mean—to pray for someone or some thing? How effective is this sort of intention or energy that we call prayer? Or that we avoid calling prayer because of all the damage done by religions. How can we reclaim this word, and therefore the practice of, praying? What does it mean to pray? In my limited experience, prayer emerges from a wider perspective that recognizes our place in the scheme of things. Yes, I feel I am divine — an individuated incarnation of all-that-is — and at the same time the more I learn the less I know and the more infinitesimal I feel in the vastness of all-that-is. This remarkable world we’ve had the good fortune to (choose to) inhabit is still beyond our mental grasp. Try as we might to untangle all the systems and to separate functions out from forms, we cannot conceive of the vast complexity of Existence with our small brains.
In my experience, prayer is a petition arising from the recognition, the re-member-ing, of the Great Mystery. Don’t get me wrong, I have no issue with science. I have all-ways been annoyingly curious about too many things, yet I do know that knowing things will only carry me so far. Our paradigm is premised on nouns, on the idea that the world can be fixed and finite, which is not necessarily right or wrong. It is, however, only one view. Another view would see the flux, the flow, the infinite openness and changeability of creation. This is difficult to even convey adequately in English because English is a language oriented around the nouns. I wanted to say that each moment is unfolding, but that’s still oriented around the noun of “moment”. What if our words were more like becoming-a-moment? No fixed edges to cling to. No assurance of stasis. And oh how I have tried to cling!
But when we walk for the water we get to know its ways. From early morning to late afternoon or even early evening we walk quickly, handing off the copper pail (click here for an audio of the beads on pail) that holds the water we gathered at the headwaters so that it can continue steadily, swiftly onwards. In this case, downstream. If I were to make it about Me and try to carry the water all by myself to prove I can, I would tire and the water would suffer. When it moves, it moves. When we walk we do so as quickly as we can for .5 – 1.5 miles and then we hand it off to the next walker. We never go backwards and we don’t stop until we put the water and the eagle staff to rest at the end of a long day. When water is healthy it does not stagnate; it flows ever onwards.
And when more water is added to the river — from rain, snow, run-off, or another river joining it — the merger is seamless. Unlike humans. Ever notice how most traffic on roads is from the human inability to “merge like a zip”, as the signs on New Zealand roads admonish us to do? Humans resist merger with a passion. There’s too often a desire to get ahead. Where are we all going so fast? What will it benefit you to get one more car ahead, really? This ego-centric competitive way of being is not water’s way.
Competition, as I’ve written before, at its roots, is about striving together and I saw that in the recent Nibi Walk I was on. If one of us goes a little farther on her turn in the relay, the others also want to go farther. If one runs with the water, the others want to give it a try. Our aim is to move the water, in this case the Missouri River, as quickly, and as reverently, as we can from the headwaters in Three Forks, Montana 2,341 miles downstream to its confluence with the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Missouri. Like I said, if I get all high on myself and think I can be the one responsible for that feat, I will fail. Not just in the accomplishment of the mission, but in the intention underlying it–each step is a prayer. It will be about my self-gratification instead of about the collective health.
Not only are we in ceremony from when we set our opening circle, usually about 6am, until we have our closing ceremony 30-40 miles down the road, we are essentially in ceremony 24/7.
By living together in tight quarters, we are learning how to let go of what gets in the way of the water’s way, which is to flow, to move. Obstacles within ourselves, within the group dynamics, on the road with strangers, or with physical blocks like miles of construction, are liquified and released as soon as possible. There is no time to hold on. Who I thought I was, who I imagine I might be, what I remember about the world, and where I dream I might move next, are water that slips through my fingers. Even if I attempt to dam it, as man loves to do with the wildness of water, or to contain it, which he also loves to do, it will evaporate eventually. It will shapeshift up into the air. Or freeze. Or find a crack to drip thru until it has widened that crack into a fissure and it flows wildly on. And all of this is what we must do.
Our insistence on going it alone will be our demise.
We must converge, merge, and emerge from separatism into confluence, into a unified flow. This is what calls me to walk the water, as water IS life, or “Mni Wiconi” as the Lakota say, and as Standing Rock made widely known. ‘Water is Life’ is not just a catchy phrase but an undeniable fact for all of existence. We all need water. It is something we can all stand for, and pray for the health of.
How could you not?
How could you say, “Ah I don’t care what happens to the water. I don’t care if it costs more per volume than oil. I don’t care if I can’t drink it or swim in it or even wade in it because it’s so defiled by industrial waste, fossil fuel pollution, pipeline accidents, agricultural chemical run-off, the exhaust from high-speed motor boats, everyday rubbish… I’ll just drink…”
What? What isn’t made with water? What doesn’t require water to grow? Where will you get your food? How will you nourish your family? Forget washing your car or watering your golf course, what will keep you alive, if not water?
This is something I can not only stand behind, but walk for. And, yes, run with.
This is everyone’s work and everyone is welcome to walk with us, yet this is particularly women’s ceremony. Whether you choose to conceive and birth children, as a woman you have the capacity to hold life in your body, just as the earth holds all life and all water in its body. When those of us in the follow-van (to keep our walker safe from traffic, dogs, & curious folk on the roads) see one of our own shift from walking swiftly to running, our spirits are lifted. At the end of a long day, after more than 30 days straight walking, when the walker is flagging-tired, but she then lifts the eagle feather or the eagle staff higher, it’s such a small thing but in that moment it is everything.
And we all surge forward with her.
I had a simple vision one day by the Manawatu River in New Zealand, apparently the most polluted river in the Southern Hemisphere. This was where I did my water ceremony each day for the three months I lived nearby. In my mind’s-eye it was dawn, just like it was in that moment, and as far as my eagle-eye vision from above could see, there were women along both banks of the river. Each woman had her spot, her private place to connect to the waters of life as they moved along, as they moved through her. In her act of caring for the water, which is also herSelf, the river moved towards greater healing.
It’s a simple thing. Wherever you are, connect to the water, and daily. You are so much water. Developing a relationship with an external body of water brings you into intimate relationship with your own internal emotional body. But be warned, you’ll feel more. You’ll see more of what’s right in front of you as well as what may have been hidden deep inside of you.
A few months ago I was at a drumming ceremony and we journeyed to the ancestors of that upstate NY land. One woman was so disturbed by their pain that she wanted it to go away. Others were kinder than I was. I said, “There has been great pain here. How can we heal if we don’t know the sickness that we’ve been?” You yourself may not have hunted down Aborigines or burned down the homes of the Seneca people or force-marched the Dakota people to their deaths. But your ancestors may have. And their blood is in your veins.
Until we all own all of it, we will act unconsciously.
We are so much water. Let’s run it clear. Let’s move the stagnated bits out, flush the filth, purify out the poisons, and wake up to how we treat our waters, our women, our mother earth.
For more on how You, yes even YOU!, can help Aotearoa’s waterways, go to my good friend Grant’s site. And for those on Turtle Island keen to check out/support the remarkable woman, Sharon Day, who led our 1700+ mile water-walk along the Missouri River, her 14th walk, flow to this site.
If you feel overwhelmed, start with the water that supports your life–love it by knowing it and thanking it. I’d love to hear from you about your relationship to water. What has this writing or the recent dramtic environmental shifts done to heighten your appreciation of water?