Seeing Water

By Peggy Metta Sheehan

Once there was a fish who had heard tales of the Source of Life, which would bring whoever found it their heart’s desire. The fish swam to every corner of the ocean, asking: “Where is the Source of Life? How can I find it?” She kept getting pointed toward different tasks and to more remote parts of the sea—farther, deeper, higher.

After many years of seeking, the fish arrived back at the place where she had first started. Entering her home waters, she encountered an older fish who asked, “What is going on with you, my friend? Why do you look so worried and dejected?”

“I’ve spent years looking for the Source of Life,” the fish explained. “I can’t even begin to tell you how many things I’ve tried or the number of places I’ve searched—all in vain. I don’t suppose you know where I could find it?”

The old fish smiled and said, “I’ve heard many names for the Source of Life in my day, but the simplest is ‘water.’” (Loch Kelly, Shift into Freedom)

I know we can all relate to this and even profess to how hard it is to see! The path of Zen is fairly simple and straightforward. Sit quietly, unmoving even, so as not to create waves, and water will be revealed. Once we see water, a radical shift in perspective has occurred, and we now know for ourselves that everything, everything is water. And that includes the waves themselves. In fact the waves may even show you the way to water.

The blessing here is that once we see, we can’t not see. Even if our view becomes clouded at times, we still know water. We know we are swimming in it.

And I’d like to suggest that in the same way our Zen practice opens or exposes the way of water, it is long past time to acknowledge the waters of racism that our culture has been swimming in for centuries. Once we see it, we can’t not see any longer. That is a radical shift. And as with any first glimpse, it is just the beginning. Immense work, dedication and ruthless honesty will need to follow. This is our Work, the Way of courage, humility, patience, listening, and genuine inquiry. Will we still be stupid, insensitive, oblivious, hurtful at times? Yes. But we now know this water and we’ll begin to behave and act differently, for it is the natural consequence of true seeing.

We can change. It is absolutely possible to change these tides. It happens again and again in the practice of awakening. In an instant eighty thousand teachings are fulfilled.

There is finally a deep crack in the structure of systemic racism because, at last, enough of us see. Cracks have occurred before, but this time we will not allow it to be covered over again. May we forgive and be forgiven for how long it has taken. From this right view, with openness, inquiry, and letting go over and over of unfounded defensiveness (ego clinging) we will step into water that holds and cares for us all and always has.

1 comment

  1. Yes! “Cracks have occurred before, but this time we will not allow it to be covered over again.” Thank you for writing this.


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