becomes saturated with pollution,
it gets led back to the original water, the ocean.
After a year of receiving starlight,
the water returns, sweeping new robes along.
Where have you been? In the ocean of purity.
Now I am ready for more cleaning work.
If there were no impurity, what would water do?
It shows its glory in how it washes a face,
and in other qualities as well,
the way it grows the grass
and lifts a ship across to another port.
When the river slows with the weight of silt
and corrruption, it grows sad and prays,
Lord, what you gave me I gave others.
Is there more? Can you give more?
Clouds draw the water up to become rain;
the ocean takes the river back into itself.
What this means is
we often need to be refreshed. --Rumi (trans. Coleman Barks)
Having just been on spring break, and trying to rejuvenate myself for the end of the academic year, I was struck by this piece from "A Year with Rumi," compiled and translated by Coleman Barks. As always, I'm floored by how this 13th-century poet is able to articulate something so timeless, and especially by how he does so with simple imagery: in this case, the water cycle and the act of cleansing. It reminds me that pollution, in a whole slew of ways, is a part of life and that the repetitive washing away is what provides that "ah" moment of refreshment. Sometimes it is the body that needs rejuvenation, sometimes the mind needs emptying and relaxing, sometimes the spirit requires cleansing, and sometimes your environment needs to be swept clean or refreshed. Spring is a great time to tackle these as the earth starts to warm, shoots peep up through the earth, rain falls, and the days lenghten. Snow melts, streams run harder, and ponds, springs and lakes fill. Things start to look, feel, and smell verdant, green and wet. -Over the next few weeks, I'd like to address ways of refreshment in my blogs. Given the theme of water and cleansing, today I want to stick with a "hydro" theme, so to speak.
This morning, I came across an article in one of my issues of "Spirituality and Health" called "Bringing Grandma Home" about an 87-year-old elder of the Takelma tribe (located in what today is Oregon) who decided that she needed to reclaim her tribal tradition of sitting on the "Story Chair" and overseeing the harvest of salmon. She was in a nursing home trying to get over pneumonia, but despite doctors' and relatives' protests, she proceeded with her dream. See, it had been 80 years since her father had occupied this position on the chair, and 160 years since an elder had seen to the fish. Her need to be at the river, to sit on the special rocks that formed a throne, and to oversee the catching and roasting of salmon, was about cultural refreshment. It was a rejuvenation of native traditions that had been stamped out by the Gold Rush in the mid-nineteenth century, by the building of electric dams (which have since been removed) in the twentieth century, and by the weakening of indigenous culture through centuries of domination by another government. Grandma Agnes Baker Pilgrim took on a huge project when she decided to reclaim her ancestral heritage but what an inspiration for the rest of us. (Repainting your living room a fresh color truly pales in comparison, no?) In order to reach the rocks that formed the "Story Chair" a group of expert kayakers had to paddle her on a raft to the spot, lift her out, and get her to the seat (which required a bit of walking on her part--difficult given her health, but she made it). What a tale of diligence. Her tribe's tradition gets at the necessity of water--in fact Takelma translates to "People of the River"--and how the resource of the salmon needed to be managed mindfully. The elder sitting on the Story Chair and managing the fish had to do with settling tribal disputes over taking the food source (people were killing one another) and being respectful of nature's gifts.
So, to connect this to my own narrative, a couple of days ago, I was reading an article about herbal infusions and I got enthused. Herbal infusions aren't something I generally consume in cold weather, but they are great when things start to warm up. Infusions are different from teas--they must steep considerably longer as the idea here is to extract all of the mineral goodness from the plant material, not just to get scent or flavor. So, I was excited about brewing up herbal infusions and immediately logged on to Amazon to look up bulk dried plants one uses (nettle, red clover, burdock, dandelion--to name a few). My order was up to $75 when I stopped and caught myself. Wait a minute, I have BOXES of single herb teas at home, I know I do. And I have a whole crock full of dried oatstraw--in other words, what am I doing? When I got home I cleaned out my tea cupboard. Sure enough--four boxes of nettle, a box of peppermint, the aforementioned oatstraw, a box of detox tea (dandelion), a box of St. John's Wort, and assorted bags of sage, uva ursi, and horsetail. I hauled it all out and have decided I'm working my way through those bags first before ordering a single thing. Last night I brought a large saucepot of water to a boil, turned it off, added five nettle bags and one uva ursi, put the lid on and left it overnight. I now have a pitcher of cool nettle tea in the fridge--the highest bio-available source of calcium you can imagine. It will refresh me physically and it reminds me to use the resources of this earth wisely and prudently. Dr. Claudia Welch author of Balance your Hormones, Balance your Life, once said in a conference call that she couldn't understand how people were willing to throw away spices and herbal preparations. As she put it, "chew those seeds and tell me they aren't strong, we need to stop wasting these precious resources." That's my paraphrase, but it really resonated with me. Spring is not only a great time to clean out, but also to repurpose.
So, lessons to take away from Rumi, from Grandma "Aggie" and from Dr. Welch:
- What do you need to wash away and cleanse?
- Will herbal infusions refresh and revive you? I'm including a link to Susun Weed's info on preparing infusions: http://www.susunweed.com/How_to_make_Infusions.htm
- Perhaps just drinking more water, room temperature or hot, is what you need for cleansing.
- A dandelion/detox tea may provide the refreshment you need.
- Hydrotherapy (hot baths) are also great for body and mind. Add baking soda and an essential oil--I like citrus this time of year (lemon, lime, orange or grapefruit).
- And finally, is there a family/cultural tradition that you can incorporate or revive in April (for Easter, Oestre, Passover or Earth Day). Perhaps bake or grill some salmon in honor of Grandma Aggie and think of her courage and persistence.
Enjoy the glory of water and the beauty of refreshment!