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The living ocean

A beautiful evocation of the aliveness of the water element.

Iroquois wisdom

Talking to Jeff Ferrannini of Planetary Spirit radio yesterday, I was blown away by a passage he read out, which he said was a Hopi Prophecy.

There was one part to the quotation Jeff read out which does actually seem to be Hopi (I’ll post that elsewhere). But when I researched this teaching it turned out that what I’ve quoted above was (according to an article written in Yoga Journal in 1999 by Gary Gach — who I happen to know) from an elderly Iroquois man called “Uncle John,” and passed on by ChoQosh Auh-Ho-Oh, a Chumash teacher, at a Y2K conference in Oakland, California, in February 1998.

Here’s the part of the quote that astonished me, because it’s so close to the message of Living as a River.
On the web you’ll find this all together as one quotation, but it’s actually the words of several people, and I talked to ChuQosh Auh-Ho-Oh, the conduit for all of these words, to find out who said what. I must thank Matthew for helping to track down ChoQosh’s phone number.

[Uncle John] There is a river flowing now very fast. It is so great and swift, that there are those who will be afraid. They will try to hold on to the shore. They will feel they are being torn apart and will suffer greatly. Know the river has its destination. The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

[The following is an addition by ChoQosh] And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate.

[Back to Uncle John] ChoQosh, be sure to tell your people: At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally. Least of all, ourselves. For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a screeching halt.

[This bit is Uncle John] The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves!

[This is Philip Deer, a Muscogee Creek Elder] Banish the word struggle from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

[This is ChuQuosh quoting Marianne Williamson] We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”

Later: I heard the “Iroquois Uncle John” version of the story on a Prophecy Keepers’ Radio interview with ChoQosh Auh-Ho-Oh. It’s on this page: if you want to hear just that, skip to the third segment of the show, and then scrub forward to about 9:45. But she’s a fascinating speaker, and if you have the time I’d suggest listening to more of the program.

The Story of Bottled Water

Living as a River is a book about our interconnectedness with all things. It’s not primarily an environmental book, but a perspective of valuing the natural world does tend to crop up!

Here’s an interesting video on our relation to the water element…

The preciousness of water

Book extract: Although our world is drenched in water, we rarely appreciate just how little water there actually is. As we look at a globe and see 71 percent of the world’s surface covered in water, we rarely consider that it is spread in an incredibly thin film over the planet’s surface, less than a thousandth of the diameter of the earth at its deepest point, and on average three ten thousandths. If the earth were shrunk to the size of a soccer ball, the average depth of the ocean covering it would be 65 microns, or about twice the thickness of a grocery store plastic bag.


Based on “Global water and air volume” (Adam Nieman, Science Photo Library). Photograph credit: NASA

The image above gives a graphic representation of the size of the Earth, its total water supply (the white sphere), and the accessible fresh water reserves (the tiny, dark sphere at 9 o’clock relative to the white sphere). 97% of the total water on Earth is salt water, roughly 1.7 percent is locked up in the ice caps, glaciers, and permanent snow, and a similar amount is soaked deep into the earth. Approximately 0.007 percent of all the water on the Earth is available for direct human use, including water in rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and accessible aquifers. You may have to look at the diagram above very hard to notice the tiny dot representing this.


Here are two recent stories illustrating some of the problems we’re facing because of our lack of respect for the Water Element.

Coming March 22, The Story of Bottled Water

The people who brought you “The Story of Stuff” have a new feature coming soon on the bottled water industry. The video above is a trailer. “The Story of Bottled Water” looks like it’ll be really fascinating.

The self as a river

Extract from Chapter 9: The Water Element

The most striking thing about the Water Element is its quality of flowing. It’s because of this characteristic that I too think of Water as being the archetype of all the other elements. The Earth element does flow, to be sure. It flows in a literal sense, as with landslides or the movement of tectonic plates—but these movements are either rare enough that they spring to mind infrequently, or happen on timescales that are remote from our day-to-day experience. We generally expect mountains to remain where they are, and the ground beneath our feet to provide a reliable support. Fire (energy) and Air also flow, but these aren’t directly visible in the way that the flow of water is. On the other hand it’s part of my everyday experience to perceive water flowing. I see water flowing from the sky, flowing along the river that passes by my house, flowing from faucets, and flowing down drains. I hear the trickle of urine on my periodic trips to the bathroom. I can feel the blood pumping in my arteries and the saliva sloshing in my mouth. This ready familiarity means that the flow of water becomes a metaphor for the other elements that compose our bodies. As the Buddha once said: “Just as a mountain stream, coming from afar, swiftly flowing, carrying along much flotsam, will not stand still for a moment, an instant, a second, but will rush on, swirl and flow forward; even so … is human life like a mountain stream.”

Woman in waterfall

When I meditate upon the various elements entering this human form, swirling around, and passing out again, it is in fact the image of a river that most often comes to mind. Sometimes I imagine that I’m sitting next to a six-foot-long stretch of river that represents my self—my body, feelings, thoughts, and memories. I sit on the bank, watching the waters flow by in this length of river that represents what is myself, me, and mine. As I watch the waters roll by I’m forced to recognize that what constitutes this me is forever changing. What I’ve just identified as “me” is now gone, and has been replaced. This is disconcerting, and I begin to realize more and more that I constantly grasp after a kind of self-definition and try to delimit of the self, as if I fear that I will be lost in the flow of the elements. The grasping becomes more conscious, the identification obvious. Yet as I continue to reflect on the transitory nature of the elements as they pass through my form, I realize that grasping is futile. One may as well try to hold on to flowing water as to claim the elements as one’s own, or as oneself. The moment of identification is followed so closely by the moment of dis-identification that they are essentially the same moment, and the moment of grasping becomes the moment of letting go. I find myself experiencing a sense of ease, less compelled to try to grasp the ungraspable. I begin to feel liberated.

Sometimes the image is different. I imagine that I sit before a waterfall. The sheet of water is like a cinema screen, and on it is projected a photograph or movie of my body. I can see myself, and yet there is nothing static within the image. What makes up the representation of myself, what constitutes the substance, what is apparently “contained” within the image I see of myself, is not a thing but a flow, an endlessly changing current, an ever-moving wall of water. In no two moments am I the same person, because the waterfall is not the same waterfall. As with the image of the river, the contents of the form are forever being replaced. There is an appearance of substantiality—of something static—but there is no essence. And again, sitting with this image, as I continue to observe the transitoriness of my self, I have a sense that there’s nothing to grasp. Indeed I begin to sense there’s no one to do any grasping, since it’s my self that is empty of substance.