In my latest meandering through Oakland, California I ended up at a local bookstore and stumbled upon the timely text, “This Is Water”, a commencement speech and book written by David Foster Wallace including some pragmatic thoughts about living a compassionate life. The opening pages hook you with one of those, I’m-talking-to-you kind of stories:
“There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, ‘Morning, boys. How’s the water?’ And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, ‘What the hell is water?'”
I found it touching, actually more like a throttle to the neck, inviting me to take a few steps back from the granular focus of getting settled into a new home and city and its nuances like, “what kind of couch should we get?” and, “where should we hang the owl?” and, “should we prioritize the bed or the coffee table?”, and connect with the bigger picture. As Wallace alludes to and as evidenced by my own lived experience, many of the most obvious realities are those most difficult to see and talk about. In this case, the reality that the difference between California and Georgia is actually a state of mind; the unsubtle truth that perception is reshaped through embracing change, a challenging and often painful process of letting go and opening yourself up in new ways; the reality that stuff is a dime-store security blanket, material focus a momentary distraction from the emotional turmoil of “starting over”. Clearly it’s much easier–and has admittedly been preferred lately–to remain focused on the sheet set and table linens.
As I connect with the bigger picture however, I feel incredibly moved by this move. The awareness I am gaining is watering the seeds of compassion and courage that have been enduring a winter of complacency buried in the soil of the deep south. I suppose there is merit to the expression, “southern comfort”, after all. Awareness in any place and time is water, and water is necessary for growth. What are you swimming in? What’s withering in your life? What are you staring right in the eyes and not seeing? Be fearless in facing your own bigger picture. Notice what your unconsciousness has been camouflaging. Expand as you experience reality reminding yourself repeatedly, “this is water“.