You can’t own me: a lesson I learned from water.

Photo by Anastasia Taioglou on Unsplash

There’s a ritual I practice every Sunday afternoon.

It’s a humble, worldly ritual. Yet it connects me with the spirit that moves all life in a way that nothing else can.

Every Sunday, I water the plants.

Growing up, I never considered myself a green thumb. I didn’t know much about caring for plants. But when I inherited a carload of houseplants from my biological mother after she died, I knew I would have to learn.

In the decade since my mother’s passing, I’ve grown into an adept and attentive waterer. Once a week I circle around the house, stopping from room to room, tipping a longnecked metal watering can into the vessels of houseplants that make their homes in nearly every window.

As I go, I stop to admire and tend to each plant. I pinch off dying leaves, adjust stems and saucers, rotate pots to accommodate for seasonal changes in light. I stand on tiptoe and wiggle my fingertips into the soil of hanging baskets—have I watered enough?

As water settles through soil, I circle back a second time to each plant, topping off the water for those who need more, seeking the sweet spot that lies between giving enough, but not too much, for everyone to thrive.

*

My weekly ritual reminds me that water is a commons.

In sociopolitical language, commons are public resources shared by the collective. Spaces where everyone can gather and give and take freely. Experiences owned by none and available to all.

Parks and trails, sidewalks and streetside benches are commons. So are mountain views, the ocean’s edge where all can bathe, and the shade of ash trees on an urban parkway. Air and sunlight are commons. So are the night sky and the stars.

Land was once a commons. But since we modern humans have the hubris (and the real estate contracts) to claim we “own” tracts of earth and the life upon them, the concept of land as a commons has been largely lost.

Yet we remain humbled in the face of water.

We cannot own water, no matter how much we try.

We can use water. We can channel it, contain it, freeze and thaw it. We can fight and kill for it, and we can pollute it. We can even steal it. But we can never own it.

Water slips from our fingers when we try to grasp it, evaporates should we try to encircle it, deluges us with rain showers on its own schedule. It shapeshifts from solid to liquid to gas, and cuts canyons through solid rock. It cleanses all the world with its healing vapor manifest as rain. And there is nothing we can do about it.

Nor should we want to.

Science tells us that our bodies are 70 percent water. Without water, we’ll dry up and die.

Experience teaches us that water is necessity. She quenches our thirst and blesses us with resilience, flexibility, and flow. Blood is water. Tears are water. Water is our every move.

And spirit tells us that we are part of water, and she is part of us. We dance in a relationship of reciprocity, we the containing vessel and she the prism that reflects the rainbow. Water does not belong to life, and life does not belong to water. We belong to each other.

Body, blood, breath: water is a bridge between the commons of the world, and the commons of the spirit.

*

When I inherited all those houseplants from my mother, I also inherited six cats and a dog.

The cats were accustomed to drinking their water, not from a standard-size cat bowl, but from a 5-gallon plastic bucket in the corner of the kitchen. The bucket was much bigger than needed. Yet for six cats, it somehow seemed the right size.

Amused, I watched the cats not only drink from the bucket, but wade their paws through it, peer curiously at their own reflections, and scoop it over their whiskered faces to drink and groom themselves. Touched by this activity I couldn’t bear to take the bucket away. I kept it and renamed it the “swimming pool.”

Each week, the swimming pool got a little grimy with use and needed to be emptied, scrubbed, and filled with fresh water.

It didn’t take long for me to recognize the opportunity: transfer settled water from swimming pool to watering can and repurpose it to feed the plants.

And thus began the ritual of feeding all the home’s life with one bowl.

It didn’t take long for me to sense that I was operating my own microcosmic version of the water cycle. What in the macro would be transformation from ocean to clouds to rain, in my cozy little house was mirrored as tap to bucket to watering can. And behind both the phenomena of transmutation whispered its magic: water becomes air, becomes ether and the world of the unseen.

And so, my task of watering began to take on a timeless quality, a sense of participating in something ancient. In my ritual of care I was no longer simply watering plants and scrubbing buckets. I was tending to the perennial cycles of life.

And not only tending, but participating. After all, don’t I also need water to survive?

*

Over time, I’ve learned that different plants like to be watered differently. The calathea loves to have water poured over her broad-striped leaves like a waterfall, dripping from her curves and edges to fill her saucer below.

The jade plant tells me when she’s had too much water: she shrivels up a single leaf and drops it onto the rocky soil beneath her.

And when the lily has had too little, she droops her leaves sorrowfully, one eye open to make sure I’m paying attention.

Aren’t we humans like this too? We all need the same basic elements for survival. Carbon and oxygen. Nutrients and sunlight. A place to spread our roots and call home. And water.

We, like the plants, each need these elements in different measures, more of one or less of another, depending on our nature. And we ask for them in different ways, too.

It’s humbling to know that we humans have a deep, shared need for water, something we don’t own and can’t control.

But it can be a joy to awaken to the shared blessing of interbeing: something that no one owns is something that belongs to all.

Water gives herself to the lily and the jade, as she gives herself to the songbirds in the morning birdbath, the sloppy grin of a dog paddling in the river, or the squeal of a child splashing in a mud puddle. And me, running barefoot and laughing into a rainstorm.

In interbeing, we get to be simply one more part of nature. We belong.

*

Recently I’ve added a closing step to my weekly plant watering ritual.

When the watering is done and the bowl is scrubbed and all have what they need, I pour myself a glass of water, and drink.

The life of the world is in a dire state. The planet needs us humans to care about the commons of life, from the forests to the oceans to the thawing tundra. The web of interbeing spans the globe like ocean water, all our fates suspended within it.

The need can seem so big that we may feel incapable to help, or unsure of what to do.

This is where mother water can be our teacher. In her generosity, she nourishes us all, each in the place we are, according to our need. And in quenching our common thirst, from plant to animal to humanimal (us), she reminds us how intimately we’re all connected.

Never does she stop to ask whether the task is too big.

Ironically, in a time of great collective need, it may be the smallest of tasks that teach us how to heal.

What if we could sink into that great need, and feel our place in it? What if we could ask from there what small thing we have to give, and give it?

One small thing doesn’t solve every problem, but it does help us show up as part of the solution. We can start with what is close at hand. Give to each what is needed. And know that should we cease to grasp, and let our gifts flow, there will be enough for all.

From that place we might remember our great power as one essential drop in the great ocean of spirit that moves all life.

I remember, and I pick up my watering can.

*



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Wake Up, Human 010: Everyone is an Artist

The Nature of Creativity with Denise Kester


Listen here…

…or check it out wherever you enjoy podcasts:


There’s more to life than meets the eye…there’s something going on that’s deep and rich and strange.

Denise Kester

In this episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast, I talk with Denise Kester, an artist, writer, teacher and dream-keeper, about the fundamental power of creativity.

My conversation with Denise explores creativity as a portal to our deepest knowing, a source of inspiration, information, and contribution. We’ll weave through discussions on creativity as a doorway to the unconscious, the relationship between creativity and dreaming, and the notion that creativity is not a luxury, but an essential need of the human being.

We’ll talk about strategies for accessing our creativity, including Denise’s practice for getting out of our heads and into our bellies. We’ll discuss the phenomenon of “art abuse,” and why it’s important not to listen to critics and judges of our creative work, internal or external. We’ll learn why it’s important to exercise our “imagination muscle.” And we’ll explore the essential truth that every one of us is an artist, in our own unique way.

Denise is an elder, a grandmother, and a wise woman, and a teacher to be grateful for. I hope you’ll enjoy learning from her as much as I did.

You can learn more about Denise, and find her book and her beautiful artwork, at her website, www.drawingonthedream.com.

Our conversation was inspired by Denise’s video, “Important Things to Remember,” available here.

Enjoy the episode, and let me know what you think!


Episode at a glance: (some of) what you’ll learn by listening

  • How does creative work help to connect us, and remind us that we’re not alone?
  • What is the key practice Denise recommends for getting in touch with our creativity?
  • What is our “imagination muscle,” and how do we exercise it?
  • Why should we choose our words carefully when talking about our own and others’ creativity?
  • What advice would Denise give to someone who believes they’re not creative, or “not an artist”?
  • And why the world really needs you to remember that you are an artist, too.

No matter what you create, it still has information for you… You really have to deep listen, going within yourself and letting that voice come through.

Denise Kester



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Wake Up, Human 009: Meditation as Medicine

Meditation as Medicine with Shannon Wills


Listen here…

…or check it out wherever you enjoy podcasts:


There’s more to life than what we ‘think.’

Wake Up, Human

In this episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast, I’m going it solo. Rather than post an interview, I’ve decided to spend some time talking about a single topic, one that’s been foundational to my own development, and one of my favorite tools for waking up: meditation.

My intention here is not to teach meditation or promote any particular practice (though I’ll list some resources and favorites below). Rather, my intention is to unpack a specific theme around meditation: meditation as medicine.

I’ll review the concept of “separation sickness,” (from Episode 2) the ailment of separation from nature and wholeness that so many people suffer in our fast-paced, technological society. I’ll offer my take on meditation as a medicine, or a “reconnection remedy,” for separation sickness. I’ll give a short overview of meditation, share some personal stories from my journey, and provide some practical tips along the way.

I offer this episode, not as an expert or master meditator, but as a longtime student, still on the journey toward self-mastery in relationship to the mind. I hope there’ll be something here of benefit to both experienced meditators and beginners alike.

I hope you’ll join me for this personal (and somewhat philosophical) episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast.


*Shout out to Naturalist Jon Young, from whom I borrowed the terms “separation sickness” + “epidemic of disconnection” referred to in this episode.


Episode at a glance: topics we’ll explore

  • Why is meditation an excellent tool for waking up to our essential nature?
  • Why do I call meditation a “medicine,” and what is it a medicine for?
  • I share the story of my first meditation experience, and how it blew my mind.
  • What do I mean by meditation? I offer a basic explanation of meditation practice.
  • I discuss gaining sovereignty and self-mastery over our thoughts, and why it matters.
  • I share a daily practice for making space between our thoughts and our beliefs.
  • Why meditation is not a cure-all — and some of the other things we need to thrive.

Suggested Resources for Meditation:

Meditation Centers/Teachers:

  • Eknath Easwaran and Blue Mountain Center for Meditation: I recommend Easwaran’s books, videos, and the community/courses offered at BMCM.
  • Shambhala meditation centers: The lineage is Tibetan Buddhism, teachings are highly practical and modern.
  • Transcendental Meditation: a simple meditation practice similar to what’s discussed during this episode. You can find a teacher and take classes. But for background, I would honestly start by just searching YouTube and watching a few videos on TM from personalities who interest you.
  • Vipassana Meditation: For those ready to go deeper, I highly recommend the 10-day meditation experience of Vipassana meditation in the tradition of S.N. Goenka.

Recommended Books:

Extra: “Meditation as a Lab”

“There’s a lab for this class. It’s called meditation.”

Michael Nagler

If you were intrigued by the episode segment about meditation being a “practice lab” for Peace and Conflict Studies class, check out the link below. Michael Nagler’s Metta Center hosts a recording of his 2-part PACS course at University of California at Berkeley, recorded before he retired in 2007.

In the right sidebar are links to an updated set of recordings Prof. Nagler has produced since retiring, followed by a note on the Meditation Lab, including instructional videos and a short e-book on “Meditation for Peacemakers.”

Peace and Conflict Studies & Meditation Lab for Self-Study, Metta Center for Nonviolence

May it be of benefit.


When we’re quiet, receptive, listening…there’s a universe of experience waiting to open our eyes to the mystery and wholeness of life.

Wake Up, Human


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The Wake Up, Human Podcast is Alive!


I’m pleased to announce the inaugural episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast.

Like Wake Up, Human itself, this podcast is dedicated to reawakening the essential powers of the human being.

Podcast episodes will examine the ways we humans have become disconnected—from our innate wisdom, from each other, and from the natural world—and explore practical strategies for returning to wholeness. We’re waking up together.

In each episode, I’ll be interviewing people whose lives embody, reflect, or inspire this important work.

Drop in for information and inspiration to help us reconnect and heal ourselves, our relationships, and our planet.

The first episode is up!

Podcast Episode #1 has just gone live, and I’ll be sending it out immediately following this announcement. The episode can also be accessed below, as well as at the new podcast link on the WUH website.

Note that the podcast is not yet live on Apple Podcasts, Google, etc., but will be soon, and when that happens I’ll provide subscription links on the main podcast page.

This project is a labor of love that has been months in the making. I hope you’ll enjoy and benefit from what’s inside.


Episode 1: The Mythic Resistance with Tonja Reichley

In this inaugural episode of the Wake Up, Human podcast, I talk with Tonja Reichley, an herbalist, ritualist and author in the Irish Celtic tradition. Our conversation centers on the theme of the mythic resistance: exploring myth as a tool for reclaiming our place—and our power—within the often confusing matrix of modern cultural and social identities.



There’s a monthly digest of this stuff…

Thank you so much for visiting! If you liked this offering, you can sign up below to receive the monthly Wake Up, Human digest, which includes writings, podcast episodes, and other offerings, sent on or near the time of the full moon. Have something to share or suggest? Head over to my contact page and drop me a line.

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