Vast Expanses of Water
Updated: Jul 20
The ground beneath me rocks back and forth. Past turbulence has tempered enough for me to regain my upright balance for some time now, but the sways have yet to settle into a predictable rhythm. I found the erratic swing compassionate nonetheless. Any form of moderation from Mother Nature was a blessing since the storm.
It has been ages since I had experienced the sensation of stable ground. I woke up one day to realize I have traveled far from home. The coastline of the continent was long gone, and birds and seagulls have disappeared. Vast expanses of water surround me these days. Their bare horizons hide the direction in which I am going, although the reassuring air gliding around my skin tells me I am indeed in motion. Not too long ago, those same horizons were concealed behind dark clouds and engulfing waves. But the great storm that had dominated my life has gradually dwindled and allowed them to reveal their own mystery. Ironically, the long awaited harmony, now unfolding around me, has so far provided me with more questions than answers. It's funny… we wish for one phase to end, only to be confronted with another challenge on the other side of it.
Now that the storm was evidently scattering, I felt odd. The image of tranquil blue waters was nearly lost on me. In the early phase of my voyage, shortly after I left the familiar shores of my life and embarked on an unforeseen journey into the unknown, I enjoyed some days of sunny skies and smooth sailing. But those were quickly replaced by darkness. A vision of the enormous black green clouds engulfing the skies almost three years ago, as I drove across the Belgian-Dutch border with my friend, was still vivid in my mind's eye. The memory clearly foreshadowing the heavy storm of my life looming around the corner.
I do not wish to say much about the storm or its darkness. Like all storms, it was a test of endurance and faith. Holding onto my balance, while roaring waves threatened to throw me over, was my only objective. The fight was physically and emotionally tasking. It was not the mere force of the storm, but rather its duration that proved to be most testing. Duration–time–chips away at you, the friction molding your body and being into new forms. And with time, any situation may be accepted as normal. I did not know how long the storm would last, but my memories of sunny blue skies diminished as the months and years went by. My aching muscles were not just a product of the extended struggle for balance; they grew weary from countless futile attempts at reaching out to find something to hold onto. Over and over again, as the solidity of my life liquified, my attempts at holding on to anything remotely familiar failed. So, finally, I surrendered to the storm as it raged on and no longer wasted energy on reaching out; limbs and internal resources were solely dedicated to maintaining my footing above water.
But after some time, it dawned on me that taking my voyage into unknown waters was not merely to cross their surface; I embarked on a journey into the depths of my own waters. Not having a clear sense of direction, I allowed myself to surrender to the storm and leave the ocean's surface. And so began my descent into the depths of the ocean’s watery abyss. A lot was different underwater. It was harder to move and breathe, but it was calmer. Things moved at a different pace and it was easier to become aware of one’s own attachments to the physical world. Letting go of the wants and expectations of external life was my biggest challenge. But the storm’s rampage felt distant in the water's depths, and the silence drew me deeper inwards.
Dark waters enveloped me for several years. With time, the ocean became my natural terrain. I intimately familiarized myself with it. More than that, my surrender merged me with it, swinging me back and forth with its violent turbulence. And, thus, something deep inside me transformed–water trickled into my being and dissolved my limbs. Inner waves carried me from hope to pain and back again. I became water. It was a new sensation, being supple and formless. Fire was more familiar to me. I always loved and fought hard, fearlessly exerting my power against any obstacle on my path, burning bright with passion, joy, anger, and love. And when I was not fire, I was air. Words and questions constantly swirled in the winds of my mind. And with the air, my inner winds danced, painted and wrote.
Yet water is adaptable and elastic, transparent, cool and patient. It does not push, pull or resist its obstacles, but allows its own path to be formed by them. Water lets windy air excite it, lets fire evaporate it and the earth soil it. It takes on the form of its environment without protest nor judgment, but with complete surrender. And none of these facts make water any less miraculous. Its soft persistent flow in turn sculpts the hardest stones and rocks. All of those concepts were foreign to me, but in order to survive, I had to master them.
Luckily, my mind was given space to expand as my body liquified. The storm raged on and I turned my attention within, to my inner waters. I investigated the inner and outer realms of my mind and dedicated time to completing my thesis in the philosophy of science. Articles, books, thoughts and ideas floated in bubbles around me. Voices of past thinkers, revolutionaries and artists who must have immersed themselves in their own waters filled in the spaces of uncertainty. Books became my companions during the days when my watery path removed me from social interactions. Some I discovered myself, others made their way towards me through dreams, people or magical bookshops. Few were selected for me. All of them collectively changed how I see the world.
One book, titled “Vast Expanses: A History of the Oceans”, was prescribed for me by my master’s program. To my surprise, the author opened the book by reminding the reader of what I was experiencing myself; the ocean has many dimensions. You can limit yourself to its surface, sail across it and play on its shores. But you can also dive into it. Humanity, as seen by its history and relationships apparently, still treats the ocean as a surface.
I couldn't help but sympathize with the argument the author was making. The ocean is the body of water that birthed us, and by entering the ocean in all of its dimensions, we can come closer to understanding our own selves. This is true for our emotional oceans as well as our physical ones. The ideas presented in a science history book suddenly resonated with themes familiar to me from Jungian dream interpretations and tarot readings. Water is the symbol of emotions and the subconscious self. The only way to see clearly in the water is to dive in, wait long enough for the storm to pass and let the air bubbles and mud settle. But instead of diving into our own depths, we dream of better places in the distance. Escapism to space is preferred over a descent into the depths. Who knows what might be hiding in our own dark waters, in the realms where the sun cannot reach and whirlpools are out of control? Escapism is a far easier option for us humans. There must be something better out there in the infinitely expanding universe than in the dark muddy waters, right?
Not many venture underwater. The problem is the fear that such watery depths awaken in us. The oceans are not our natural habitat. They intimidate our safety with their darkness, depths and storms. Their waters threaten to fill our lungs and dissolve us. We fear losing ourselves before we can reemerge back into the air. Why get deep when one can get high?
In fact, it seemed that most forgot that people, like oceans, are not only surfaces to glide over, but are whole worlds waiting to be discovered if one dared abandon their surface and travel to their depths. And in people, like in oceans, there are hidden gems and lost treasures waiting to be found and cherished again. We have all heard childhood stories about brave scuba divers and treasure hunters daring to dive in and retrieve hidden treasures from deserted old shipwrecks. Perhaps these stories were only meant to nudge us and give us the courage to dive into our own waters, or the waters of another, for the sake of retrieving what is hidden and lost from our waking selves.
Through the book, I realized that at some point, I made this choice. I am not sure exactly how, or when, but, at some point, I chose to dive in. I chose to leave familiar shores and sail out into the unknown. The problem is, I don’t remember making such a choice. Was it when I moved to the Netherlands five years ago? Or perhaps when a decade-long relationship and marriage came to an end? Maybe the choice was made long ago, when, a wide eyed, 21 year-old me decided to follow a childhood dream to become a ballerina in New York City. Or maybe the choice was made for me, disguised in the endless closed doors I experienced whenever I attempted to create a professional or personal home for myself. Perhaps it was not really a choice at all but more of an attitude, as if my movement in the world was determined by some invisible magnet pulling me in different directions. And, this time, the magnet pulled me deep into the vast expanses of my stormy dark waters.
Time molded me and allowed for a slow transformation into a new state of matter. Once in a while, I would come across another brave diver. We would share our stories of how we ended up underwater in magical moments of understanding and transparency. But we continued on our individual paths as soon as our inner magnets started pulling us further towards the depths. Until, one day, I felt the magnet pulling me upwards. The waters grew clear once more and allowed the sun to shine through.
Swaying on the surface of the ocean, I was now moving horizontally. But my successful transformation into water did not dissolve my yearning for harbor and earth. There were moments and places to dock along the way, but none so far have granted me access to their inner realms or have appeared solid. The horizons surrounding me are still bare. But somewhere in the distance, I see spots in the water; probably other voyagers before or after their own descent into the watery abyss. Messengers in the form of flying birds in the clearing skies signal land may soon be near. I feel the sun stroke a light fire on my skin once again. So, without the need to row, push or pull, I set up my white sails in surrender and allow water and wind to carry me onwards. My little piece of earth must be somewhere out there in the distance, beyond the vast expanses of water.