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October 7, 2011

A non-anxious presence

I was recently in western Michigan at a retreat, and I spent time with Lake Michigan—a living being, a new and subtle friend. The sun on the water, the rocks, the rain, the waves that were loud one day and quiet the next. A lake that curls like the ocean, yet smells like plain water.

The beach in Saugatuck, Michigan.

During the break one afternoon I swam, and it was a highlight of my trip.

Even far from shore, the water was shallow enough that I could stand, waist deep, on ripples of soft sand. I had fun striding around out there, watching the clouds pass across the sun, watching the moods swing across the water’s surface as the bright light came and went.

And then I noticed that we were alone, the lake and I. It was a private meeting, and so I started to sing. I sang Bruce Cockburn’s All the Diamonds, in its entirety, three times. I think the lake enjoyed being described that way.

There was conversation, too. I cried and told the lake a few things, and she listened and held what I said. That lake is my new definition of a “non-anxious presence.” She can hold grief, death, anger, and tears, strongly and gently, and she’s not at all afraid.

But it’s not just the difficult emotions that she holds.

As I came back to shore, a couple arrived with their old golden retriever. She was so old that her entire muzzle was white, and she had lumps and bumps all over her body. On land she was creaky and slow, but when she splashed her way into the water: joy.

I saw the dog’s joy with my eyes, but my feet were still in the water, and I felt…well, this might sound strange, but my feet felt the lake’s joy. She and the old dog welcomed each other like dear friends, with deep affection, and without words.

My hope is that I brought a little bit of Lake Michigan home with me. Maybe I can grow in my ability to stay present to whatever comes, to hold whatever is true, without fear or a flutter of anxious words and activity. A non-anxious presence.

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