I first became aware of water as a great spiritual metaphor during my last year at Excelsior High School in Norwalk, California. I was taking the "Great Books" course, a philosophical sampler which included Lao Tse's Tao Te Ching. On a hot lazy Spring afternoon I read these words from chapter 8 of the Tao:
That which is best is similar to water. Water profits ten thousand things and does not oppose them. It is always at rest in humble places that people dislike. Thus, it is close to Tao.
Thirty years later, I still associate the heart of Taoism with the image of water eroding away the vast Rocky Mountains in Colorado. Drop by drop.
Going back further to the dawn of my memories, I enjoyed watching water dripping from a leaky faucet. I would watch and wait between drops. Wondering how much a single drop would swell before it fell off into the white porcelain abyss; only to smash into the brown rust stain formed by countless prior drops. Followed by a hollow drip sound within the chambers of the sink pipe.
The age of Sputnik dawned, I became a junior scientist. I studied the chemistry of the water molecule which consists of two hydrogen atoms bound to a common oxygen atom. At room temperature and normal air pressure these two chemical elements were gases. Eventually, I ran a direct electrical current through an acid solution, and collected hydrogen and oxygen from two electrodes inside separate test tubes. This was one of my life's greatest moments.
But did I really know water? The power of water was just an abstraction. The Pacific Ocean was thirty minutes away, but I had never stepped into those vast waters. The fear of water gripped my mother -- be it a rain storm or the ocean. I was my mother's child.
Not until I was married did I learn to swim. The body is lighter than water, it will float, if you don't struggle against it by becoming stiff and thrashing yourself down until you take in gulps of something quite alien to our mammal lungs. Water is hard. Fall into the pool and water will demonstrate its solidity. Water is seductive. As you swim more and more, it takes on the feeling of a sensuous substance that enfolds you within its body. Eventually, you feel free like a fish or a soaring eagle. Moving and flowing in a pool is its own self-sustaining pleasure.
After some months in the pool, I braved the frontier: the roaring Pacific Ocean. I became a beach bum. Sun and surf. Day after day. Throwing the body into the waves. Catching a wave of salt water that carried this finite human body to the soft sandy shores of Corona Del Mar not far from Newport Beach. I took in life from the vast water. Union. Yoga.
Today, I wanted to feel really rich. I decided to take a hot bath. To soak my body and slow down the mind until I felt limp and relaxed all over. The water washed away my drive, my concerns, my worry, my thoughts. I become overcome by a gentle joyful bliss filled understanding of reality itself. An ocean in a bath tub.
A man with a Sparklet's truck delivered drinking water to my parents. When I moved to Berkeley, tap water was as good as the bottled water. Twenty years later, I want bottled drinking water in the Bay Area. Now, I enjoy sampling different kinds of water from Canadian glaciers, French mountain tops, Rock Mountain streams, or the Feather River near Sacramento. Each of these waters has its own character. By the year of the Millennium, I predict water tasting will take on the high class character connected with wine tasting. Pollution adds value to pure water with minerals.
Water is nothing; water is everything. Water is the Tao. Every drop mirrors the entire universe. It is grand; yet so simple.