We spent our summers at the lake with Mom as kids. That freezing cold plunge late May marked the beginning of the season filled with lazy days basking in the sun and playing in the sparkling clear waters of northern Ontario. Books, puzzles, hot dogs, popcorn and swim breaks – no rush, no fuss.
As often as not, our water adventures left us covered in leeches and running for the salt shaker. Garter snakes, raccoons, frogs and other creatures wove their way in and out of our attention. On weekends when Dad joined us, seven kids and 2 adults crammed into a wide-bottomed but tippy, metal motor boat. Fishing gear, towels, snacks and the essential “fisherman’s brew” my father concocted with his own secret ingredients and the rumoured dollop of beer to add some spice, all fought for space between scabby knees and sunburnt bodies. It wasn’t really about fishing – it was about being together on the water. Life, like the boat, was full to the brim then and still is.
Five years ago, I felt a strong urge to live near big water. I still dream about a home by the sea but for now, Lake Simcoe is our ocean. I had no idea I would fall so deeply in love with these waters.
Sunrise walks have become a nourishing and inspiring way to start my day. Most of the time, I can’t wait to jump out of bed and race to the water with a greedy grin on my face. Everything else can wait – even brewing that first cup of coffee. That fiery ball of sun over the soothing cool waters never ceases to ignite my own inner light. However full it is, my day always goes better when I start it at the lake. Fire and water – two halves of a whole.
In 2009, Mom and I spent almost two weeks paddling the Yukon River with a group of women. It was June so we got to experience the land of the midnight sun with only a couple of hours of hazy dusk before the sun came up again.
Many people believe that we are constantly receiving energetic downloads from the sun in addition to our doses of vitamin D. I think there’s something to that theory because spending 11 days outdoors in the pristine Yukon sunlight awakened a desire in me to be more active in caring for the earth and her waters. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I joined the Four Winds shamanic training later that same year. The impact of fire and water on me is still very powerful.
According to the Dagara tradition, my year of birth makes me a Fire Sign. Shortly after we moved to Innisfil, I had a life reading with West African Elder, teacher and Author of several books including “Of Water and Spirit” Malidoma Somé. The reading was insightful, reassuring and revealed that my need to be near water stemmed from a prolonged period of time spent in the fires of passionate creativity and transformation.
This made sense to me. Energetically optimistic at best, and relentlessly tenacious and driven at my worst, water helps to balance the fires alive in me to avoid being consumed or burnt out.
Living with water helps me to be more fluid and in the flow of life. I find it easier to let go and trust my intuition around water. Water ritual has become an important cornerstone for me.
A few years ago I had the privilege of hosting Elder and Peace Maker, Mandaza Kandemwa for a few days. As part of the community sharing, we held a Water Ceremony at “my beach”. Mandaza, who is initiated through the tradition of njuzu (the water spirits), shared his experience of meeting with the Water Spirits where he was taken to several underwater villages and councilled by the many beings living there.
Mandaza’s teachings invite us to develop a vibrant, interactive and living relationship with water as a sacred and living being. He pointed out that wild animals like turtles, birds, seals, bears, hippos, elephants and many others play and immerse themselves in water in ritualistic ways.
We begin our lives in the waters of our mother’s womb. When we immerse ourselves in the water in ceremony and with respect, we are in a womb-like space again. Here, we can experience balance, a sense of lightness and even a sense of oneness – of coming back to our creation.
Mandaza reminded us that water rituals are performed around the world and in many religions. Holy Water is used for anointing, baptism and other blessings, while ritual washing or immersion in sacred waters is common in some cultures. In Mandaza’s county, Zimbabwe, the Zambezi River is considered sacred.
In many traditions, sweat lodges, saunas and salt pools work with the energy of water to soothe, heal, cleanse and purify. Like every other living being on earth, we are completely dependent on water for life. Unlike people in countries like Zimbabwe, and other places where water is scarce, many of us living in North America have a tendency to take water for granted. Water Ritual is a way of overcoming that tendency.
The last kind of water ritual Mandaza taught me about is Water Burial. In this ritual, the person is usually covered in sand up to their necks for a period of time before immersing themselves in the water three or more times. In my own water burial ritual, my feet were buried in the sand with offerings of rice and red wine. I was asked to close my eyes and shake my rattle steadily. I quickly entered an altered state and was astonished to see vibrant, fiery beings of light emerge from the water and come towards me. The vision lasted for some time and there was a sense of celebration and healing. Initially, part of me resisted fire beings in a water ceremony! How silly – fire and water are two parts of the whole.