Water is our teacher in the school of life


Water is our teacher in the school of lifeThe premiers and the prime minister are at present scoring political points whilst pondering the problem of the Murray-Darling basin. The problem is so severe that more is now needed than the unlikely prospect of a metre of annual rain to bring the basin back to good health. It is questionable whether the money that will apparently be spent will achieve that affect.

It is curious that we are grappling as a nation with water, as the qualities of water are at odds with all this battling and debating. The aqueous substance which covers 70% of the earth, and which makes up the same approximate percentage of our human bodies, is a giver of life. By quantity, it is a substance which dominates the globe upon which we live and the bodies we inhabit, yet it functions in quite a different way. Rather than dominance, water acts to absorb, reflect and purify. As it falls and flows, it collects impurities and pollution; as it filters through the earth, water rids itself of unhealthy elements, before evaporating in order to cycle harmoniously to earth again.

Water acts with 'sensitive chaos' as Swiss researcher, Theodor Schwenk, describes it. When left to its own devices, it prefers meandering to linear behaviour, tracing loose coils across a continent. It resents angles, corners and positions and flows to the lowest point rather than occupying a position of status. St Francis of Assisi characterised its sisterly qualities in the Canticle of the Sun, translated for children as "so humble, precious, pure and good, it works for us so well".

Bernd Kröplin and a team of researchers at the University of Stuttgart have investigated water and explored the absorptive qualities of the substance. Analysis of droplets of human saliva reflect human health, emotional status, even the effects of technological implements like the mobile phone on the human being, through the relative order or disorder of the resulting patterns evident in the saliva. Masaru Emoto crystallised water and showed the effects of music on the emergent patterns.

If such sensitivity and fluidity is becoming rarer on the globe, or transforming from useful sources of freshwater to increasing levels of salt water, what is it that water is asking of us?

It seems to be demanding our stewardship - although demand is too harsh a verb for such a gentle substance. Perhaps it requests our care. We need to develop a deeper awareness of our attitude to water. The drought and global warming have forced us to account for our usage of water more consciously. As we carry buckets of grey water to the garden, replace exotics with natives in our gardens, or create mini-deserts of succulents, we gain more and more understanding of the role water plays in our life. As we congratulate ourselves on nurturing a verdant place in our lives with the cast-offs from our washing, we commence a more significant relationship with it.

Similarly, as we watch the water in our creeks diminish and cover with algae, and grieve for the faster flows and purer streams of yesteryear, we see the earth cracking as it yearns for liquidity. When pondering the great river red gums of the Murray, with their Heysenesque might, we can only shiver at the ghostly possibility of huge stumps in the future.

So what shall the governments of our great, dry continent decide? Perhaps $10 billion dollars will be enough to slake the thirst of the premiers. Morris Iemma, with his mind on the looming state election, thinks the money is the answer. Others hold out for more detail, greater independence, and other guarantees. Mike Rann, premier of our driest state, is the strongest opponent of the Commonwealth takeover.

In a culture in which most problems are accorded a dollar value, and understood through this mechanism, the mooted spending to fix our water probelms are extraordinarily high, as Peter Costello boasts. Market forces will still be expected to play their role, with greater prices for irrigation and household water. Allowing market mechanisms to play a part will not, however, address the change of attitude needed.

The more receptive, patient and ponderous qualities of water suggest an alternate path to a purely financial response. Throwing money at our water problems is not the only way. Reflecting on some of the qualities of water and seeking to emulate them may be a starting point for receptive and sensitive ways of being and existing in the world. Let us hope these qualities are not hidden in the footnotes of any agreement that is reached on our water future.



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Existing comments

What a curious article! A really different, offbeat take on the stuff of life. I really enjoyed this piece. It is exactly what Eureka should be publishing, and just what i loved about the print magazine.

Caroline | 20 February 2007  

Thank you for a very refreshing article!One of the suggestions for my community's Lenten reflection and action was to take more responsibility for our use of water and to try and appreciate it as a part of God's cretion and somrthing pf great worth.creation.

Maryrose | 21 February 2007  

Great piece, whose style reflects its thoughtful message. But I'd love to hear a little more - two or three suggestions as to where a 'follow the ways of water' approach might lead us.

Charles | 22 February 2007  

I feel, that we should take matters partly in our own hands. What about rain water tanks? It is a begining, but it makes good sense. We all have at least some roofing, which makes a good receptacle.

Theo Dopheide | 16 April 2007  

Nice article. Emulation of water's cycle in the natural world will lead to many interesting options and pathways, I think. All of our water is recycled by the natural world, so learning to recycle water in ways we do not fear, but that enhance our lives and communities, would alleviate other types of water projects that bring in water from distant resources or are primarily consumption-based. Recycling water should be fundamental, but will have challenges, and to meet water at its every level will require solutions that are not only pragmatic and scientific, but artful, creative and beautiful.

Michael Mark | 31 December 2009  

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