Tao Te Ching Be like water

Summer has finally arrived and the temperatures are already into the 30s. My wife derives pleasure in developing flower pots filled with different types of colourful annuals to brighten our deck and the front entrance.  I contribute by watering the plants and love doing so, because I find it therapeutic. It is as if one goes into a meditative state, the eyes observing only the stream of water splashing the leaves and flowers while the mind focuses on “feeling” how “thirsty” a plant is before moving on to the next waiting recipient. Occasionally, feeling guilty at not having liberally soaked a plant I return to drench it some more, ceasing only when the water starts to flow over the top or stream out from the draining hole at the bottom of the pot.

I am sure each of you has their own routine for watering the plants and the lawn etc. Recently, I had a revelatory moment while engaged in this routine. Twilight was transitioning to dusk and the ambient noises were dying down. Using the “soaker” setting on the hosepipe, I was completely engrossed in watering our small collection. As the gentle water stream hit the dry soil in the pot, there was an almost imperceptible hiss before a lapping sound could be heard. It sounded just like a thirsty dog or cat greedily slurping the milk or water from their container. Moving over the rest of the flower pots, I enjoyed listening to this sound over and over again.

It took me back to the time when as a kid, I acquired a 2 weeks old spaniel. My mother told me that the little puppy whined at night because he missed his mother and siblings. Each night, I would position his little blanket-lined basket right next to my bed so that I could dangle my arm for him to lick my fingers and feel secure at night. A pan containing a small quantity of milk diluted with water was kept alongside, in case he felt hungry. I would frequently be roused from deep sleep by that lovely slurping sound of my pet Zippy lapping up his drink, each providing security and comfort to the other against the ominous shadows and sounds of the dark night. I lost him when he was attacked by a larger animal a few months later and remained disconsolate, vowing never again to acquire a pet. In my mind, Zippy came alive suddenly the other day after many years, thanks to the begonias eagerly lapping up the water.

Indulge me as I now jump to the other end of the spectrum. Those of you who have been to Niagara Falls would be familiar with the thunderous roar of six million cubic feet of water rushing over the crest each minute. It is a truly spectacular sight with the majesty of nature on display in all its glory. However, when accompanying the many visiting friends and family members to the Falls I always make a beeline for its rim, which draws me like a magnet. It is fascinating to stand and watch enormous quantities of water come rushing in from upstream, crashing and sloshing around rocks until, just over the crest,  all sound ceases and sheets of water topple silently over the edge, cascading downwards before landing with a continuous thunderclap on the rocks below.

Sounds of water cast a unique spell through each stage of its journey. Deafening downpour of monsoon rains in a forest. Tinkling trickle of pristine icy springs snaking through foliage down damp mountain slopes. Calm gurgle of deep rivers. Gentle whisper of a wash, or, the thundering crash of sea waves on coastline beaches. Drip of a leaky faucet. Relaxing water jets splashing in the shower. Gurgle of a draining bathtub or the toilet. Raindrops on a rooftop.  Water running through eaves troughs. The gentle slap of paddles slipping into the water as a kayak glides in a silent fjord. The soundless dried-up tears in the eyes of an emaciated child, seeking but a drop of water.

Strange thing, this stream of unending thoughts flowing constantly across time.

Zen Master Lao Tzu reminds us, ““Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”

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