Joseph Hakim Anderson

Matthews Beach

It turns out that offering water blessings has its challenges.

After my wonderful Ocean experiences in early November I have been going every weekend now for three weeks to sacred water locations in different places in Seattle. Last week, however, I hit a bump in the road when the person I had invited to chant with me cancelled due to illness. It was a cold and drippy day, not inviting at all, and after a bit of vacillating I went out on my own, over to Matthews Beach Park in northeast Seattle, where Thornton Creek flows into Lake Washington. Tramping along the creek in the damp I found a good spot to sit near the point of confluence, but along the way I stumbled into a boggy patch and got both feet thoroughly wet. With my socks completely soaked, feeling disappointed and alone, I still managed take my place, play my drum, sing my songs. But it felt oppressive. Where was the bliss of chanting? Where was the pleasure of making music together? Why were my feet freezing?

Sometimes the work is like that: it's messy, and cold, and frustrating, and your friend doesn't show up, and the singing seems pointless, and you're really not sure at all that any magic is happening. I think I have just enough maturity to handle that, when it happens. But oh, those expectations: I'm noticing my mind, and its completely unrealistic way of imagining each new project to be completely smooth, calm, and seamless, with nothing to discover, no challenges to learn from, no twists in the road to provide unexpectedly interesting scenery--just the flawless execution of exactly what I imagined. But why do I expect that, when absolutely every new project I've ever undertaken, of whatever kind, has proven beyond a doubt that such a perfect fulfillment of all my imaginings never happens? And anyway, what would be the fun of that? And what would be transformed?

But something else happened there at Matthews Beach, quite apart from my normal mind games (you'd think I would eventually get bored enough with this folly to give it up and become wise...maybe someday). I realized with a shock, as I was sitting there with my wet feet and my drum,  that almost exactly 100 years ago (in August 1916), the Lake Washington Ship Canal was completed, the water from Lake Washington was released in the direction of Puget Sound, and over the next three months the level of the lake dropped nearly 10 feet. Traditional fishing grounds disappeared, ruining much of the livelihood of the native peoples in the area. One river flowing out of the lake reversed course, and another dried up. So there I was on the beach, sitting in a place that somehow belonged under water. The air I was breathing, the shoreline with its nice homes, even the particular babble of that creek and the lap of those waves, all had been raised from the deep by a massive human intervention.

The waters of Lake Washington retain their sacred properties. They have no less ability to confer blessing, just as they are. And I, sitting in this place three generations later, have within me still the capacity to bless too. But it feels to me that the place is in need of purification. Sitting there with my wet feet, I was reminded that my intention to offer healing and blessing to the water, and receive it in turn, was about more than a personal blessing. There is a responsibility I'm taking on as well, to work with the consequences of that 100-year-old intervention - not to reverse those consequences, but to help heal them, and to uncover and make available the exchange of blessings that is possible now, from the water as it is.

I think I had an intuitive sense that things would go this way when I first conceived of this water blessing project, and now there is no mistaking it: the purpose is deepening, and the water blessing is expanding to include the healing of energetic disturbances that have resulted from human manipulation of the waters' way of being. This deeper purpose also makes it clearer than ever that this work is not to be undertaken alone. From its beginning the water blessing project was intended to be shared; it needs to be shared. Therefore I have decided that I will go no more to chant for the waters on my own. For now I will stick to my original plan to bring another individual along to join me in chanting each time. And it may beyond that before too long as well.

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I wrote the first draft of the above last night (Saturday); after thinking about it I called my friend Daoud and he agreed to meet me at Matthews Beach this morning. Today the weather was cold but sunny, with surprisingly large lake-waves breaking on the beach and hordes of seagulls, ducks and geese sharing with us the light sparkling on the water. We fell into an improvisatory blessing-chant that went on for a good long time. The spirit of the place seemed to rise up to meet us in a fierce embrace, and the lament for the water lost from the lake 100 years ago became a cry to that water to return to us in the form of tears - of grief, of remorse, of clarity about where the planet stands and how much work needs to be done. And then the tears turned to a joyous celebration of the beauty of what is there now: the many blessings bestowed on the millions of people in our region who see those lake waters every day, during their commute, while walking or boating, And that became in turn a sense of resolve for each of us to walk our sacred path with integrity, with alertness, with determination.

I am so grateful for this profound experience, for Daoud's wise and powerful presence with me, for the generosity of sun and waves to treat us so kindly today, and for the spirit of the waters speaking so clearly to us. Much is unfolding. There is a sense of connection between this simple little project of mine for blessing the waters of Seattle, and the presence of many Native Americans and their supporters at Standing Rock in North Dakota, standing firm as I write this in protection of the sacred waters of the Missouri River.

Let all these processes--what is taking place inside me as I learn and grow and do the work I need to do; what is taking place in my circle as I call others to join me in blessing chants for our waters; what is taking place in our country and beyond--let these processes all find their perfect expression. May they dance together as they need to. May we all find healing; may we all be a source of healing.