An analogy for anxious times
As a person, I walk this Earth for some eighty years. Born of my parents, I thrive, suffer and die. As one of billions, I think, speak and act, a tiny yet distinct fragment in a societal mosaic.In my travels, I behold magnificent sites, listen to bewitching sounds and otherwise take in my surroundings. Seen this way, I am a body harbouring a mind. This person is experiencing anxious times in a world turned upside down.
Beyond this human evidence, I suspect there is more to me. I appear ill equipped to fathom just what that is, but in magical moments I can conjure a glimpse of my greater self. It is only an image, a pale representation of the ungraspable, but it holds and fortifies me. No matter whether it is a window on reality or a useful metaphor: when I access it, my world calms, and I process events with less neurotic waste of energy.
In one such moment, I imagine myself as water — not just some water but Water, all the H2O on and around this planet of ours.
When I picture myself as Water, I traverse the sky in cloud guise, sometimes puffy and white, others thundering and charcoal. I hang, muggy, on humid days, beading the outside of a cool lemonade glass. And I fill that glass, mixed with other substances. I float in cubes on the drink’s surface. On high, my vapour drifts, pregnant, until I gather in drops, ice pellets or flakes. Then I fall, for months at a time in Southeast Asian monsoons, hardly ever over deserts’ crust and dunes.
As Water, I cover the poles and mountaintops, cold and solid. I swirl in dancing spirals when winds whip my powdery form from its sparkling blanket on moonlit meadows. Frozen, I flow, glacially slow, thick and white, until I melt on Everest’s lower slopes. Or I crumble as giant bergs into myself, the sea.
I, Water, move as awesome waves in the Southern Ocean, as a short-lived vortex at the swish of a tuna’s tailfin. Lightless and heavy, I rest in trenches eleven kilometres beneath my own surface, which covers three-quarters of the Earth.
I trickle in clear streams. As languid river or rushing alpine cascade, I descend, seeking my ocean self. Fallen rain, I soak the soil, pool in lakes. And I gather in Life, composing and moving through plants and animals, microbes and fungi. Falling over turbines in furious torrents or rising through them with steaming force, I power human endeavour.
In my Water fantasy, I am the hydrosphere, a water world that bathes, cloaks, permeates and connects everything on and in the Earth’s skin. I take vastly different forms, appearing as countless seemingly separate instances. I may be a dewdrop poised on the tip of a drooping leaf, but I am not only that. No matter where, when or how I manifest, I am also all that Water is.
Water outlives and transcends all its forms, but it is not separate from them. How much truer is this of Life?
The lion, the wildebeest, the bacterium, the chicken and the egg are instances of Life. Each lion. Each chicken. Life manifests as the rose, the beanstalk, the truffle and the hemlock leaf. It has cycles and phases. Life consumes and repurposes itself. Life is Ouroboros — the mythical snake eating its own tail.
Yes, the good Samaritan, the executioner, the rich man, the caring mother and the naughty child are Life. Alongside the majestic, Life’s forms include the unkind, the ignorant and the unfortunate. Good and evil sit comfortably in Life’s arms. Innumerable instances of every being I can imagine, these are Life’s equivalents to Water’s drops, flakes, bergs, floes, clouds and mists.
In Life, as Life, an embryo becomes a child (or a cub or a calf…). Life takes care of digestion. It breathes in all its forms. Life fights, flees or freezes when it meets threat. In some awkward cases, like mine, it contemplates itself.
This blessed life
I am a tall, bearded man in London, UK, but is that all I am? If Life both composes and transcends any life, as Water does the dewdrop on the leaf, what does that mean for me?
This man was born and will die. Each of his thoughts and feelings has a beginning and an end. Each experience he has arises and passes. If he is an aspect, a fragment of Life, which am I? The man or Life? I know I am alive because I think and feel, because I experience living. Does the man do that, or does Life? Might Life do it through the man?
The Christian New Testament invites a parallel consideration of Jesus as the Son of God. Was Jesus a man or God? Were Father and Son two entities? Perhaps God lived on Earth as Jesus. Might the Father and Son be One, because the Son is a very special manifestation of the Father? The Father may be God in transcendence; the Son, God made imminent. Could that apply to us all as God’s children, a truth Jesus’s story can help us realise?
Life manifests through every life. Life lives as each life, including this man’s. I am man and Life. The man only exists as an expression of Life. Life only ever appears as a specific being, looking out and experiencing from a particular perspective. Each needs the other. They are two sides of the same coin.
Sometimes, Life, as a life, recognises this truth. If that life is an awkward, self-contemplating one like mine, this recognition may allow it to relax and surrender to Life in even the most challenging times. My life may glimpse itself in the image of the dewdrop — suspended, a liquid prism glistening for some time at leaf’s tip, then falling to earth and continuing its journey as Water, to Water.