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Sometimes I see my face staring back at me. Quizzically scrutinizing each detail and dimple of my brown skin.

We could call her my reflection. But she is not really mine. She is water, reflecting.

Water reflects me back to me, and you back to you. Water reflects the sky, the clouds, and each bird that circles high and higher, towards some epic elevation.

Water does not discriminate. Water reflects the ones I love and the ones I fear. Water reflects what I call good and what I call bad. Water reflects what I call right and what I call wrong.

Water reflects each object it meets in exquisite detail; with a gentle caress of attentiveness. I don’t always accept what is before me that easily.

I tried to fight a river once.

My innertube and I were in a hurry to float. My feet led the way, sprawled out ahead, avoiding the water made of newly melted snow. My feet frequently lost the lead as the flow of water turned me around whenever it pleased. I was not pleased.

I tried to stay in control. I tried to “help” the inner tube along. I tried to make sure I floated to the “correct” side of each damp, slime-covered boulder.

It was hard and vigilant work. I reflected back on the lazy joy of inner-tubing as a child. “Hadn’t it been more fun than this”? I wondered.

Not long into my trip, I became wedged between a large boulder and the shallow pebbly shore.

I had fought against the current, determined to go to the “correct,” “safer,” “better,” side of the boulder. It wasn’t correct, safer, or better and now I was stuck.

My friend floated easily by, going with the current. Going with the flow is easier and more effective I noticed. The broader life lesson and I made eye contact as if floated by. 

Water says yes to what is. Water reflects what it sees. Water accepts what is there.

Because water accepts that the boulders are there, it simply flows around them. Water takes the path of least resistance. 

I noticed a difference in our strategies, the water and me. In my life, I was denying a lot. I was taking the path of much resistance.

I was trying to force my way through life’s boulders because I believed they should not be there. Water was accepting and adapting to the reality of boulders to accomplish its goal. But beyond that, the water was playing. It was splashing along, crashing up against a rock and giggling down. Rolling up on a human’s unsuspecting leg and skipping around.

There was lightness, ease, and playfulness to the water’s approach. In my life, there was heaviness, fighting, and very few giggles.

To me, it often seems like I have to fight injustice. It really does seem like fighting will accomplish my goal. I fight racism, cancer, and poverty. I fight everything and everyone I don’t like.

I “fight the good fight.” It is hard and vigilant work. I feel the sting of losing the fight each and every. Every day I fail to overcome racism, cancer, and poverty. These boulders are still with me despite all of my “good fight.”

“So what, do I give up and just let them win?”

The water ripples over my toes and reminds me that it carved a goddam canyon. Water is not weak because it is accepting. Acceptance and persistence enable water to overcome an immovable obstacle. Erosion is a powerful, but patient force.

With a playful smirk and a twinkle in its eye water chides, “I know I can win because I can outlast you. I will wear you down and there is nothing you can do about it.”

Water also draws power from its ability to stick with itself. To have its own back. Modern science calls this camaraderie “surface tension,” or a fourth phase of water called “structured” water.

Water simply knows that it is more powerful when it is more united.

A single drop of water falling in a hot spring cave merely moistens the stone below. But when each drop is followed by another and another, over months and years the strength of water surpasses that of earth. United water drills a hole into solid stone.

It is wise to heed the wisdom of water; unity with the drops around me, patient but consistent action towards a common goal, embracing both playfulness and power.

Looking back on my life I have to admit to myself that working harder but alone, and fighting what is does not get me where I want to go.

I have burned out 3 times in my life and found myself stranded on the shallow pebbly shore, stuck and exhausted. I was forced to rest until the tide of wellbeing rose to carry me forward once again.

It is said you cannot get a baby in one month by getting 9 people pregnant. Some processes take the time they take.

So I admit that denying reality, working vigilantly, and working alone won’t end oppression faster. If I look to my more successful friend water as a guide, what do I see?

I see that resting today equips me to be more skillfully united tomorrow.

I see that projects that utilize my playfulness and tender humanity touch people more deeply than fearful facts and staggering statistics.

I see that writing about what I notice in myself feels more honest than telling people what to do. After all, if we are united then any reflections of myself will reflect the humanity we share. 

So today I do less. I laugh at the neighborhood kitten stalking flies in the grass. I set aside the fear that I still have x,y, and z on my to-do list. I notice that my neighborhood has come alive with citrus and my speckled pothos needs more water.

I will talk to clients about racism tomorrow when my mind is refreshed from my rest and my heart is light from my time in the sun.

I will talk about racism when I am more like a full and flowing river, nourished by melting snow, giggling downstream.

In this moment, I will flow where I am pulled to be; united with the life in my backyard enjoying the warm sting of the sun.

Where are you pulled by life to be right now?

Reflection Questions:

  • How can my serious commitments benefit from more playfulness?
  • How does my rigidity about what I know is “correct” inhibit the flow of life towards the path of least resistance?
  • How can I be powerful and playful today?
Until next time… deepen and discover!
‘Embodied Equity,’ a limited-series guest blog authored by Leanne Alaman, focuses on deepening our understanding of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) by deepening our listening to the teachings of Mother Nature, our wise and humble teacher.

Hi, I’m Leanne! I provide paradigm-shifting equity support to organizational leaders and well-meaning individuals to move past well-meaning into well-doing. There are many ways to build your DEI capacity by working with me.  Learn more here.