I like pictures of my toes. I have them from all over the world: my toes on the steps of a temple, my toes squishing into black volcanic sand, my toes covered in dust from a way-too-long ride down a dirt road on a Chicken bus. But I think my favorite pictures of my toes are the ones I take only with my eyes as I float in foreign waters. Most of my travel, at some point, involves water. It might be an ocean, or a sea, or a cenote, or even a pool. I love to float on my back and watch my toes, the things that usually ground me to the earth, float and bob at the place on the horizon where the sky meets the water. It is my favorite souvenir of each sojourn, this image I file in my memory of me supine and levitated with the most ordinary part of myself merging two vast expanses.
I’m a Pisces and I feel at home in water. It’s an oft-referenced joke in my family that the first word I ever spoke wasn’t Mamma or Dadda, but rather Fish. Yes my mother used to rock me to sleep in front of a fish tank, whispering the phrase “watch the fish,” “watch the fish,” as her hushing lullaby to me, but I like to think maybe my first word was me knowing and declaring to the world where I would be most at home; where I would be in my element. I think about water a lot, about how it differs from the other elements. Earth holds you up, provides a resistance to move from, air and wind move past you and rush away, brushing the surface of your skin but never sinking in. Fire, well fire seems aloof not wanting much to do with humans, by nature it throws heat and sparks to keep us away. We can look but never touch. Water, now water touches all parts of you, every bend and fold, and water can hold you, caress you, carry you, it even becomes you soaking into you from the outside in. It can also move from the inside out, the barrier is permeable because really we are one with water. Scientifically we are water, for the most part.
I was on a plane flying back from my latest adventure where I had another chance to look at my toes while I floated in teal blue waters, and as I paged through the magazine in the seatback holder, I came upon an image I filed into my memory alongside the mental snap shots of my toes. It was a woman in the middle of an aquamarine pool, treading water looking directly into the camera, with small ripple rings of water emanating out from her body caught by sunlight. The thing that intrigued me was in the background around the sides of the photo you could see the edges of the swimming pool she was floating in the middle of. I started wondering if maybe one of the reasons I like to float so much is because I’ve spent so much of my life pushing off from the edges of a pool, from the edges of a lesson learned, from the edges of a failed relationship, the desire to move and grow spawned by desperately wanting to not be in the place I am. I’ve actually gained a lot of momentum and growth from pushing away from things in an attempt to move forward. Yet lately, finally, I’ve started floating. As I grow older, and more content and possibly a little more evolved, I find there are fewer things to push away from, and my decisions are made from the middle of the pool. I can move in any direction I choose. I have to admit pushing away from something or someone is sometimes easier because the choice of direction is easy: opposite and away. Starting from the middle, from floating is a little more difficult and requires more personal effort, more responsibility, more intention and decision. I know these are all rewards of adulthood, but sometimes feel heavy to hold above water and slow my movement. Thank goodness water is there in the middle, holding me, knowing me, supporting me in whatever I choose as my next direction.
I have been studying Buddhism recently, sitting silently in front of orange swathed monks each week, listening, searching, trying to understand the divine nothingness they speak of as the sacredly empty pinnacle of their practice. I enjoy the silent time, yet I have to admit I don’t think I will ever be a good Buddhist. Maybe I’m too Western, maybe I like language too much and trying to build an understanding of nothingness with the building blocks of words is a failed endeavor at inception. I just can’t find divinity in nothingness because I can’t understand how oneness can be in nothingness. I was speaking to a Monk about this, looking for some guidance, and admitted I can almost get there if I picture divine nothingness as divine everything. A place where everything merges and connects, where everything is touching everything and the edges fall away and all boundaries are permeable. And I think of floating in the middle, and being the woman in the water, and the direction I want to move next is down, slowly swirling into the silent depth of sacred connection, where everything merges into one, and the sea and sky and the blue of your eyes converge and move like I Am.