The wise men of Miletus thus declared
The first of things is water.
Thales of Miletus. known as the Father of Greek Philosophy, founded his school of thought over 2,500 years ago on the premise that “All things are water.” On the other side of the globe, Taoists like Lao-tzu and his disciple Chuang-tzu were teaching that water is the model for human behavior, the tangible expression of the flowing, organic pattern of nature. “Man is water,” Chuang-tzu said. “It congeals to form man, and his nine openings and five viscera appear. . . . What is it, then, that has complete faculties? It is water. There is not one of the various things that is not produced through it. It is only he who knows how to rely on its principles who can act correctly. . . .”
Water moves through all things. A jellyfish is 99% water, and our own bodies are literally pumped into shape by water. Like the Earth, we are more than 70% water. Water is the common fabric that unites us with the Earth and all its creatures.Theodor Schwenk says that water is the substance that “makes the earth organism one single whole.” Water provides our link with our fellow creatures, human and non-human. It is our link with the cosmos, our link with the past and the future. Not only do we drink the same water that George Washington drank but also the same water that was drunk by his horse; and the moon’s pull that produces ocean tides acts just as surely on the water within us. Alan Watts observes that “The patterns of flowing water have been shown by Schwenk, Kepes, and Huyghe to be memorialized in muscle, bone, wood, and stone, and to have found their way into human art from very early times.” The graceful, aesthetically perfect pattern of water is present in the ocean wave or the merest trickle.
According to Schwenk, there is also present in all water, whether it is in the ocean or in the inner ear, a system of music-like pulsations and vibrations. “These are rhythmic movements,” he says, “lying below our hearing threshold, but nevertheless present and actively setting bodies of water vibrating.” Water is, thus, “the element in which we can discern nature’s heartbeat.” And as such,
“. . . it is the polar opposite of a mechanical pumping device: its alternating swing is free. And this eccentricity, this subtle freedom it retains, makes it the element that keeps nature from becoming mechanical, that is, from dying. Indeed, water is the overcomer of the mechanical, and that is why it is so important to imbue thinking with the qualities of water.”
If water is, as Schwenk asserts, “a gigantic sense organ of the earth” that extends over the whole planet and permeates everything “like a consciousness that links and makes a single whole of the closest and remotest parts of the earth,” it stands to reason that the pollution and mistreatment of water are serious spiritual problems that concern us all. It also stands to reason that spiritual problems require spiritual rather than technological solutions. “The problem of rescuing water from death,” Schwenk says, “must therefore be solved inside ourselves before we can solve it in the external world. When we have transformed the inner scene, the outer one can be restored to order.”
If Schwenk’s belief that we must seek the solution to the great environmental problems inside ourselves seems impractical, consider that it is also the way of the great teachers. Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is within us, and Lao-tzu said that all things can be accomplished by the individual who turns inward and becomes “truly whole.” Both spoke of water as the path to salvation. Here again is Theodor Schwenk:
Today ‘s environmental problems are clearly recognizable as newly resurrected spiritual questions that have become matters of life and death for present-day humanity. They cry out loudly, demanding solution after so many centuries, solution with new human capacities.
The consciousness of humanity as a whole has completed its descent into earth and the kingdom of dead laws. Now it has become the obligation of the individual–the ‘needle’s eye’ of the human race–to travel the road to the realm of life, to a rebirth learned from water’s being.
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