Water Is Life

Let’s heal our relationship with water, an irreplaceable liquid

| March/April 2012

I do not know exactly when it happened: perhaps during a summer swim as I weightlessly flew underwater, dreaming of curious sea lions who glided upstream with me from their ocean home. It might have been years later as I canoed miles upriver to catch a glimpse of a fledgling osprey. Somewhere, though, my body became a part of the Big River watershed in Northern California. The waters’ spirit cracked open my heart, bidding me to always remember that this natural beauty is not only a luxury to revere, but also an indispensable key to our collective coherence as a species.

The simple and profound equation is this: Water is life. Yet the startling reality is that today, more than a billion people worldwide do not have access to safe drinking water, resulting in nearly 2 million fatalities a year—mostly children—due to waterborne diseases. With water scarcity increasing due to human population growth, pollution, and climate change, clearly our relationship to water must change.

First and foremost, we must secure access to clean and safe water as a basic human right for everyone in every country. This will require not only changing our detrimental use of water, but also ensuring that no institutions or corporations impede this life-giving right to water. Communities around the world are now engaged in critical struggles to protect their local waters, and it is time that we uphold water as a global commons for all. The United Nations took an important step toward this goal in 2010 with its adoption of a resolution recognizing the human right to safe and clean drinking water and sanitation.

To support efforts to protect and defend water, we also can look beneath the surface of the stream into the deeper currents of our understanding about it, and in this manner begin healing our relationship with this irreplaceable liquid.

Big River is part of the Mendocino watershed where I have spent much of my life. This gentle, sauntering body of water, whose sloping banks are adorned with willow, fir, and redwood trees, emerges just south of town to join the Pacific Ocean. The redwoods and the entire river’s integrity have almost been lost on numerous occasions due to efforts to log even the last hoary stands. Taking in this beauty involves awareness of the river’s story, her health, her wonders, and her battle—like that of rivers around the world—to survive.

Like many, I have always been enamored with water. This precious element seems the ultimate teacher of movement and shaping, both physically and spiritually. Everything has been touched by water. It has sculpted the landscape of our world, and we, too, are shaped by water. As we look upon the fluid-cut forms—mountains and gorges shaped by snowmelt rivers; craggy shorelines chiseled by waves—so, too, is our consciousness molded.