Have you witnessed water actually begin? Like when a pipe bursts. Or when an axe hits the ground and clean water bulges from the earth. Pure, true. It’s perfect. And it’s as if we’ve opened the desert.
In his book The Secret Knowledge of Water, Craig Childs describes one such moment when he discovered a spring beneath a rock. Growing up, his father would talk about the wild things a lot and this led him to believe that everything worthy out there was a secret that other people were not to know, was beyond humans. The water he eventually accessed that day, accidently with an axe, was as he described it – perfect. It was true. He opened a hole, a gate, and let his eyes fall into its secret wisdom, and at that instant it all became the ultimate intimate act. Perhaps sometimes we crawl on our bellies looking for such secrets – looking for such purity.
Water takes many shapes – ice, vapours, rainlife – yet water is still water, always, and all its forms are what earth and human life need. Water comes from below sometimes, even when we’ve forgotten how to find it or how to come back to it. In the desert, low, exposed land uncovers subterranean streams, allowing them to surface; most often they surface in the form of barely a trace of moisture, shown as some inconsistency in the rocks, so that we can discover it; other times, it’s as measurable water gathering in the shade, where tiny animals might drink it, and even more rarely, water can show itself as a newborn stream.
Childs returned to the spring he uncovered with his father many times throughout the years, lifting the rock as carefully as opening a music box. He’d kneel to drink the underground stream. As the water would slurp off the surface, with some mud and bits of moss pasted to his face,as he drank it, he remembers that he did not even fully realize what he was really learning at that moment.
“In fact, I hadn’t learned anything, I simply knew, however wrong I may still be, that everything must be perfect, like this secret, like the euphonious voice of moving water. Then, I’d put the rock back and walk out of the canyon, my future decided.”
The secret sounds of water
Childs writes that in the Kama Sutra, erotic sounds are said to come in seven categories: the Himkāra, a light, nasal sound; the Stanita, described as a “roll of thunder”; the hissing Kūjita; the weeping Rudita; the Sūtkrita, which is a gentle sigh; the painful cry of Dutkrita; and finally the Phutkrita, a violent burst of breath.
“I have heard all of these in water, and then a hundred others, none of which have been offered titles besides plunk, plash, swish, or splash. I have heard the Phutkrita in the snapping of a tree limb during the sudden upwelling of a flood, and the Sūtkrita sigh as that same water slowly spun itself into a downstream eddy. Horse trainers have so many names for horse breeds and colors, and Arctic dwellers have entire dialects for the nature of snow, yet few names have been given specifically to the sound of water. It may be that water is too commonplace. Since it must pass your lips every day, and you wash your hands with it as a habit, it might seem too pedestrian for study. If this is true, if water is so prosaic, come to the desert and listen to moving water. I have been held for days in a single place not because I needed the water, but because I had to listen.”
The gifted listener is often times an underappreciated talent of humanity. There are secret feelings that exist beyond what we hear and see, and it is our essence that joins them; it is a meaning that unfolds within our unique emotional inner landscapes.
The art of listening is itself a reflective craft, just like poetry is reflective, needing us to stop to think. Yet sound isn’t passive, it is an active practice – immediate while continuously in a state of becoming. This becoming is the inner world of the gifted listener, and the secret threads connecting and re-creating even more images. An imaginative mind is the root for all of us creators, and the gifted listener is the one who actually becomes the magic, and the creation itself.
Listening is a talent and a gift. Our ability to open ourselves freely to experience what comes upon us and enters us like water become, allows a deepening. Listening is also a skill to be developed because it requires the ability to discern the experience and delve in the seas. There is also a certain purity that listening needs from us.
Through sound we may experience reactions such as tension, release, peace, density and clarity, transparency, smooth or textured surfaces, thunders and whisperings, pushes and pulls, resistances and attractions, and distillations of many sentiments. The power of sound is that it moves us – just like love moves us – through its various speeds, lengths, shapes and movements. It is an inner experience, just like love is an inner experience, just like God is an inner experience.
I love Childs’ passage – and I too lived in a desert once in the early nineties. There is much you learn in such dry lands, such as tenderness, and that you always find water and life, no matter the challenges. And as the Navajo say, it is the desert that reveals the true essence of our soul. In the times of limitation we see what we are made of and what comes out of us.
But what I am now tempted to share is another memory. When I was a little girl in Bulgaria, I remember that on our way towards the mountains, we’d stop at a natural spring to fill bottles with fresh water. My shoes would always get wet, and I could hear the fresh water bubbling. I have a very strong memory of this because it was almost like a whole big event happening – something important enough to stop for and sometimes wait for. And when I’d travel to villages across the country, there would always be these stone water wells that my poetic soul finds so mystical and romantic. Back in the days the women and young maidens would go and gather water from the wells and springs. These are now forgotten. And yet there is such depth, history and wisdom – ancient memories of so many stories live there, and it’s as if, if we truly listen, we can hear them.
I hear my great grand-father and my great grand-mother – how they met around one of those stone wells as he was passing through her village on his horse. It was love at first sight, or so I was told, and they met a few times after, in secret. Until the night he took her on his horse, with her consent of course, and they built a life together. So I hear the ancient voice of love, like a folklore love song played by the kaba gaida, in the stone walls of a water well.
Drinking tea as a sacred practice
In many parts of the world drinking tea is a sacred practice. And there is a reason why monks drink their tea in very small cups. It’s small because we need to take our time. Nowadays in most places tea is served in large cups and there are many fancy names for it: Stormy Night, Magic Potion, White Peach Moringa. But people have forgotten how to drink it. And if we don’t know how to drink it, then it is only a commodity.
A tea is a movement, an inner experience, just like love is an inner experience, just like God is an inner experience. Tea is a living teaching about life and how we can experience life through our body. Water doesn’t care if it’s muddy, if it’s vapour or ice, if it’s limited as a lake, or in a glass. Water is water and it is sacred. We are sacred as water. All we ever needed to do is notice, pay attention, listen, and give ourselves some time – to remember that everything, and we, is all perfect and pure, as it is right now.
My last night in Positano
On my last night, I went to the beach to see the sunset but ended up staying a couple of hours. And I could hear everything. The forks and plates in the restaurant behind me, the violin on my right side, contrasted by the dance music on the hill on my left side; the faint voices of people walking on the pebble beach, and a thunder rumbling at the edge of my ear, in the far distance. In front of me, and as if all around me and in me, were the sounds of the continuous waves, with occasional motor of a boat, either coming closer or going further out in the sea. And the sound of stars – or crickets, that became louder as the sky went darker. And I’d hear the wind … across my silk blue dress, and I’d hear my exhales too, and how water from the bottle warmed by my hands, would touch my lips, enter my throat, and run through my entire body.
There is something about sounds and the art of listening that keeps its distance while it wraps us in the closeness of its intimacy. It is simultaneously outside and away from us, and inside and a part of us. As gifted listeners, we may contemplate it while being completely swayed by it. And in some strange and mystical way, we are led to ourselves again.
Suddenly, all these sounds were me and I was them – until I was so present that we were all simultaneously connected and of each other, and yet all of us were unmistakably our own selves. I heard my happiness and my peace – and I realized that whatever I thought I had forgotten or lost, was back, and in fact, it had never left my heart. In that night and in that moment, I was enamoured by everything. I settled into the intimacy of it. I remembered: this is what my devoted sacred love life sounds like. I knew and felt deep in my soul that I was exactly where I needed to be.
I don’t have to go to Positano to feel that way. Sometimes I forget how far I’ve come, and I allow the voices, expectations and projections of others to distract me from myself. Perhaps I don’t seem like I’ve come far enough in a particularly material way – but it is very far, in a way only I know. And in the times when I hear the laughter of my family, or go to the park to feed the squirrels, or allow myself some time to pour some tea, in a smaller cup, with a candle burning beside me – I settle into the quiet corner of my heart which tells me clearly, this is so perfect.
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Cover Art by Boyana Petkova.