It was on another shore, later in life, that I sat on a worn cliff… I spent that afternoon in silence, just watching the vast ocean spray the stone and re-form itself, coating every surface, as if to soothe the stone’s hardness. I came away convinced that the sea is a great teacher of receiving. Always rising and falling like the clear blood of the earth, the formless water receives every thing that enters it. It rejects nothing. Always transparent, the open water gently covers everything; softening whatever it touches, giving itself completely without losing any of itself. The more I watched, the more I realized that the sea is both strong and gentle, sensitive and unwavering, it only takes the shape of what holds it or enters it. Whatever breaks its surface ripples through its entire being. So much like the heart of God. So much like the heart of experience, God’s smaller face in the world. I came away with spray on my face wanting to be like the sea, to love like the sea: to receive and give myself to everything I meet, softening its way while making it glisten.
~Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen
I’ve searched in recent years for an image that could be a touchstone for me when life’s storms blow up, when I’m faced with difficult people or situations, when I encounter pain and heartache both in myself and in others. I’m one of those people who, for better or worse, is like a tuning fork for other people’s feelings and moods—what they’re feeling resonates in me, and I often have to distance myself to regain my balance.
Over the years, I’ve read about and talked to other similarly sensitive people about “shielding” in order to keep myself from being overwhelmed. Surrounding myself with a white light or a protective energy balloon—that sort of thing.
However, sometime in the last three or four years, I read a book by a woman who is an empath (I ticked off almost all of the identifying traits she listed) in which she said that she didn’t want to block or deflect the things she picked up on from other people, because in blocking the “bad” or negative stuff, she was also throwing up a wall to the good stuff. So she used the image of allowing what she sensed to flow right through her—and keep going.
This felt a little too invasive to me; however, I knew I wanted to be present to others and allow the experiences I encountered, but without being so affected by them. I like water imagery, and I’ve used it before—going with the flow being an obvious one, and my friend’s phrase that says it in a slightly different way: “don’t push the river”—but these didn’t fit.
Then I read a passage in Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening that gave the image of being like a lake: If you drop a handful of salt in a glass of water and drink it, the water will taste bitter. If you drop a handful of salt in a lake and drink the water of the lake, the salt will have lost its bitterness in the vastness of the lake.
Finally, I had an image I could work with: that of being like a lake. I could receive what might come to me, but because it would be dispersed in the water of the lake that is me, I could do so without being overwhelmed.
The metaphor also works in other ways. I can visualize having a ripple effect on the people and places I encounter, the things I do and say and the energy I bring with me radiating out from me in waves and having (I hope) a positive effect. I can also use the image to sense what’s trying to come to me or get my attention. (Think of standing in a pool or a lake with your eyes closed…when someone gets in the pool, you know, because you feel the disturbance in the water.)
So now I have a mantra: Be the lake.
Be the lake…Allow whatever comes to wash over you and around you. Let it touch you, but lightly, gently. Receive what you want, absorb it. Allow that which you don’t want to dissolve and disperse.
Be the lake…Imagine yourself as the calm surface anchored by an even calmer depth.
Be the lake…Feel for the ripples of energy around you. Sense what’s happening, or, as Martha Beck says, “what wants to happen.”
Be the lake…Be soft and fluid, flowing with what comes.
I’m still working with the metaphor, letting it sink in and extend itself even further, but just in the few weeks that I’ve been using it as a touchstone for maintaining my center and moving through the world, I’ve felt a difference. I can say to myself, Be the lake, and I feel calmer almost immediately. What a gift.
Be the lake….