We Must Keep Swimming
So often we think of ourselves as freestanding and in charge, because we have the simple blessing of being able to go where we want. But we are as rooted as shrubs and trees and flowers, in an unseen soil that is everywhere. It’s just that our roots move.
Certainly, we make our own decisions, dozens every day, but we are nourished in those decisions by the very ground we walk and by the quiet teachers we encounter everywhere. Yet in our pride and confusion, in our self-centeredness and fear, we often miss the teachers and feel burdened and alone.
A simple fish nosing its way along the bottom is in itself a profound teacher, and like the deepest teachers, it doesn’t even know it is teaching. Yet in its tiny, efficient gill lives the mystery of how to live as a spirit on earth. As we all know, by swimming, the smallest fish takes in water, and its gill turns that water into the air by which it lives. Though there are biological details that explain the mechanics of this, it is, in essence, a mystery.
The question is, “What in us is our gill?” Is it our heart, our mind, our spirit, or a mix of all three? Whatever it is, like the smallest fish, we must turn water into air in order to live, which for us means turning our experience into something that can sustain us. It means turning pain into wonder, heartache into joy.
Nothing else matters, and just like fish we must keep swimming to stay alive. We must keep swimming through the days. We cannot stop the flow of experience or the need to take it in. Rather, all our efforts must go into learning the secret of the gill, the secret of transforming what we go through into air.
So what is your gill? For me, it is my heart, and love becomes the unseen trail I leave behind. But whatever it might be for you, it is more important to swim through the days and honor the gill inside you than to figure out how it all works.
Whether through birds in snow, or geese honking in the dark, or though the brilliant wet leaf that hits your face the moment you are questioning your worth, the quiet teachers are everywhere. When we think we are in charge, their lessons dissolve as accidents or coincidence. But when brave enough to listen, the glass that breaks across the room is offering us direction that can only be heard in the roots of how we feel and think.
My wife Kathy and I love to rescue dogs. Currently every night at our home it’s a three dog night. We have Sadie our lhasa apso, Georgie our Cavalier King Charles spaniel, and Tigger, our malti-poo. Day by day these three teach us. Day by day I come to understand their sheer, complete, and constant presence. I never knew anything to be so thoroughly involved in the moment at hand, so innocently devoted to whatever is before them. If they are rolling in grass, the world is the grass and the feel of the roll. If they circle the rug to lie down, life is solely the want to curl and sigh. I envy our three dogs’ ability to be completely wherever they are.
I have come to understand how they know the world through touch, primarily through their mouths. Without the hesitation that plagues us humans, they stick their snouts into everything, and this immediate knowledge of things gives them joy. Our little threesome, incapable of words, teach me that there is an inexpressible feeling of foundation that comes from staying directly connected to the earth, a humility that comes from directly touching whatever we are experiencing. This direct connection helps bring things alive and it is so refreshing. In this way, the energy of the world floods through whatever moment we dare to enter fully.
Bob Mueller is the Mission & Stewardship Officer at Hosparus Health.