Reflections on ‘This is Water’

this-is-waterMy sister-in-law Laura posted this commencement speech on my Facebook timeline. Laura is a scientist. She is one of those people who always surprises me with her depth of spirit and intuition. At first glance she seems very logical and rational, and I’m never surprised at her intellect. That’s a given. But the things she reads and her empathy and her depth of spiritual intuition always seem to catch me off guard. That’s probably because I’m so stupid sometimes in thinking that people are what they seem to be on the surface. I love people like her in my world that constantly remind me that I know nothing about another person’s heart and spirit unless they share it with me.

I am not familiar with David Foster Wallace‘s work. A short Google search tells me that he was another one of the tragic tales of a genius who struggled with addiction and then later committed suicide. Ironically, in his speech, he foreshadows his own suicide with a firearm.

Think of the old cliché about “the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master.” This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in the head.

For it is our thoughts that torture us day in and day out with their incessant chatter. This speech was very through-provoking for me, and I found myself noodling its meaning tonight when I walked Ashok.

In the opening, he tells this story:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet
an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says,
“Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a
bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes,

“What the hell is water?”

I thought about the analogy of ‘water’ in a human’s life. My first thought was that it is air. We are surrounded by it, and we breath it, and we often take it for granted. But, since fish don’t really take in water, the analogy is not perfect. I thought and thought – yes, I think too much – and I finally realized that God is water for me. What else is there, permeating every pore, facilitating every breath and enveloping me in its grasp? I’ve often heard people say, “God is either everything, or He is nothing.” I argue that God is water. Maybe not for a goldfish … but for me.

For a very long time, I couldn’t stomach Christianity as a religion. I had a strong faith, but I had a really hard time with the practice of the religion because of my own issues. I still have a hard time with it in practice, but I’m much better at understanding the difference between the practice of the faith and my relationship with God. I saw a Christian counselor because I was beginning to accept Jesus as my version of God, but I was still struggling with how to put that into practice. She asked me about reading the Bible. I got real tense. I had no idea where this was going to go, and I struggled with the Bible. Every time I read it, I felt so inadequate. I would never be able to follow all of those rules and guidelines. I’d get frustrated and mad and put it down. I decided that I was paying for this session, so I just told her that I had trouble reading it and why. She assured me that I wasn’t expected to be able to do all of those things. And I asked her to explain how I was supposed to interpret it since I’d experienced so much judgment and condemnation with those verses. She described the Bible as a handbook for living. My life will be easier and I will have less trouble if I live by those principles. But it is not a law. It is a teaching tool. That one conversation opened up the path to God for me.

Wallace says that we have to understand that even though everything that ever happens to us makes us feel like we are the center of the universe, we have to try to focus on the world as if we are not. It’s not that we will be bad if we don’t. It’s just that it will make us crazy. There is no event in my life that I have ever experienced that I didn’t feel like I was the center of the universe. The fact is I am the center of my universe. My challenge is to understand that God is the rest of the universe …. AND He is me. And I fail at it miserably.

God is in the running of my marathons. God is in my divorces. God is in hot sex with forbidden lovers. God is in every sunset I have ever seen. God is in every act of kindness I have ever made. God is in the relationship between me and my dog. God is in the middle of every argument I have ever had. God sees all, hears all, touches all that I do. Even in those moments when I don’t feel Him, He is running through me. He is water. There is no life without Him. He is either everything, or He is nothing.

I’m not a particularly religious person, but I am a very spiritual person. I love yoga because it quiets my brain and allows me to sense the peace of an unthinking brain. When my mind is quiet, I am less apt to believe I am the center of the universe. I sense the water. I even noticed the other day when I had been off sugar for over a week that the ‘noise’ of the sugar had died down. My addictions, like sugar, keep my mind revved up and engaged … wanting more .. more … more …. and trying to land on a thought that will drive me to ‘use.’ I crave the quiet because it allows me to hear and feel and touch the ‘water’.

I thought of my codependency when I was considering God as water. Everything in my life teaches me lessons if I’m just cognizant enough to listen. In other words, if I’m not caught up in being the center of the universe, I am much better able to see the bigger picture. When I am waiting desperately for a door to open, God is there waiting with me. In fact, the waiting may be the fire that teaches me something I can learn no other way. When I am lonely, and I’m so frustrated that my life looks the way it does, God is there breathing through my loneliness with me. While I am processing, feeling and coping, He is enveloping every pore of my body and holding space for whatever changes need to happen within me. In my codependency, I felt like I needed to help people through things and save them from pain. I had such fear of somebody hurting or going off the deep end, that I’d intervene to save them. I was not allowing the ‘water’ to flow the way it was supposed to in that person’s life. It took me so long to understand that my pain was not the center of the universe, and it was none of my business to get in the way of their process.

God is either everything, or He is nothing. I can’t tell you how comforting that is to me. Tomorrow, my brain may be in a different place. I may be back at the center of the universe. I feel sad that Wallace had to end his life. But, I know that even at the moment that the bullet entered his brain, God was enveloping every pore of his being and was holding him through the experience. With every ending, there is a beginning, and, that, too, is ‘water’.

Talk to me, please...

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