If you can't sit, consider swimming
Recently, Mary Hunt, a good friend and co-director with Diann Neu of WATER (Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual), emailed me. Mary is very committed to contemplation and asked me about swimming as a type of contemplative practice similar to Thich Nhat Hanh's walking mediation. The thought stayed with me, and although I can't get to a pool as often as I used to, I decided to go for a swim and experience its contemplative qualities.
As I began to prepare for a contemplative swim, I recalled the work of Masaru Emoto in The Hidden Messages in Water and thought he might provide additional insights.
Water is amazing. Life emerged from water. The average human body is 60 percent water; at birth, we are about 78 percent water and in old age, about 50 percent. We exist mostly as water, and this applies to all humans. Emoto decided to look at the world from this perspective and began to see things in new ways.
I began to think about how important it is to make a shift of consciousness, from seeing only one's own tribe, religion or race as connected to you to the more planetary view of the "connectedness" of all beings. This kind of shift in consciousness that sees things in new ways is certainly a fruit of contemplative practice. Over time, as we engage in contemplation, our consciousness begins to shift, to evolve to more complex stages. We begin to see things differently. We come to understand that we are more connected as a people and as a planet. Reflection on water as an essential part of who we are and the medium in which we do contemplative swimming seemed promising.
Emoto notes that water has to keep moving to stay pure; if it becomes trapped, it stagnates or dies. It must be circulated constantly. He states, "When you are living a full and enjoyable life, you feel better physically, and when your life is filled with struggles and sorrow, your body knows it. So when your emotions flow throughout your body, you feel a sense of joy and you move towards physical health. Moving, changing, flowing — this is what life is all about."
In contemplation, we open ourselves to the divine life within. We want to release it from the stagnation of our "egoic" selves. Over time, alignment with our deeper self flows through us with unconscious effort. The circulation of divine love generates a sense of joy, wholeness and wellness. Swimming invites us to keep moving. Our bodies flow in a constant rhythm. We are at once totally aware of our bodies and not thinking about them at all.
Emoto has worked in homeopathy and with water crystals. He states that his life has been changed by the realization that water has the ability to copy and memorize information. He writes, "If we were capable of reading the information contained in the memory of water, we would read a story of epic proportions. To understand water is to understand the cosmos, the marvels of nature, and life itself."
I couldn't help thinking about how water can lead us to this more mystical understanding of the universe and our place in it. How we too hold the memory of that which went before us. We begin to see our unique place in evolutionary time.
It was in his studies on the formation of water crystals where I found an invitation to action. Emoto's work on photographing water crystals confirmed the amazing reality that water crystals can be well-formed or deformed based on the vibrations of the music and words to which they are exposed. After exposing distilled water to classical music, the crystals were well formed with distinct characteristics — delicate, elegant, lovely detail. When exposed to violent heavy metal music, the crystals were fragmented and malformed.
The experiment continued with writing words like "thank you," "let's do it," "fool," and "do it" on pieces of paper and wrapping them around the bottles of water with the words facing in. The results showed that the water crystals exposed to the positive words were beautifully formed, while those exposed to the negative phrases were once again malformed and fragmented.
Different vibrations can positively or negatively affect the formation of the crystals. With Earth and our bodies composed of so much water, the positive or negative vibrations of our everyday language can have a profound effect on how we feel and on our larger reality. Reflect on the negative rhetoric of our political discourse through the primary season to the present. See how slurs, fake news, and adolescent videos tweeted by the president (showing him beating up the news media) make you feel. Can you sense the water crystals of your body fragmenting?
Over time a contemplative practice invites you to act from your God self. I think we have a lot to learn from water. I am more and more aware of the language I use, how I choose to express my negative emotions. There is a challenge to us not to contribute to the negativity, which can make us sick and has the power to destroy. Rather, we need to find ways of expressing our passion and our anger in ways that can have a more positive effect on the world. We cannot allow ourselves to become a sick and malformed nation.
Then it was time to go swimming.
Aware of water's profound qualities, I found that entering the water for a swim was like entering a sacred space. The water was cool and clear, refreshing me instantly. Not being a great swimmer, I gave thanks for having my own lane. Full of gratitude, I set my intention to be open to the workings of the divine within me and surrendered to the water.
There is great trust in swimming. You lean into the water and expect it to embrace and hold you. Even if you've been swimming for years, you may still take a lap or two to find your stride. As you lean into the water, your arms and legs begin a flowing movement. One arm moves forward out of the water while the other is moving down, pushing the water backward. You move your head and breathe while your legs continue to kick. The movement is rhythmical and constant. You feel your muscles working and the water caressing your body. There is no rational thought as the energy flows through you. You are there alone in the womb of our beginnings, surrendering to the divine working within you.
Happy contemplative swimming!
[Nancy Sylvester founded the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue iccdinstitute.org and has served as its director since 2002. She served in leadership of her own religious community, the Sister Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Monroe, Michigan, as well as in the Presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Prior to that she was National Coordinator of NETWORK, the national Catholic social justice lobby.]
To read Nancy Sylvester's entire series, click on her author name above or click here to see a list of her columns.
Check out Horizons, featuring reflections from younger sisters.