Treading Water

photo credit © westcoastwoman

If each day falls
inside each night,
there exists a well
where clarity is imprisoned.

We need to sit on the rim
of the well of darkness
and fish for fallen light
with patience.

Pablo Neruda

Treading Water

The tide is coming in. A long, hot summer day is coming to an end when I hear my neighbours voice.  “Come on girl, get out here”.  She stands waist deep in the cool water of the incoming tide and I lose no time in joining her.  We take the plunge together, the one I usually resist until the last moment– letting go and going completely under.

Swimming out over our heads we start treading water and talking, a talk that soon turns to a version of one that is reverberating all over the planet.  We speak of the human condition, the planetary condition, the white privilege that has allowed us to live and tread water under a rising moon on a beautiful island off the West Coast of North America.  We speak of this and more as we slowly drift from shore.

I am facing out to sea and by the time I look back, the shore appears to be distant and I am starting to lose strength.  The conversation continues as I change the movement of my arms and we both slowly move back towards a place where we will ‘touch ground’ again.  I reach intermittently with my toe, longing to feel the safety of the sea bed. There are two conversations going on, one with my companion the other within myself.

I am a strong swimmer and could have easily floated on my back if I felt too tired to swim or tread but each time my foot reaches for security and doesn’t find it there is a slight feeling of panic and then palpable relief when my toe finally does find bottom.  I am surprised by the intensity of both feelings.

Sitting on the deck later that night I realized how long I’ve had the feeling I was treading water–we have been treading water as a world community.  There is a collective need for our toes to touch the sea bed and feel the familiar security and comfort of solid ground.

As we head back towards shore perhaps we are being called to dive;  dive deep within ourselves and return with our particular part of the puzzle.  No one gets to sit this one out.  There is no ‘us and them’. There is only us.

A Call to Arms.  Arms to reach out, arms to hold, arms raised with clenched fists in resistance and arms spread in surrender.

We are over our heads.
We are treading water.
The call is out.

© westcoastwoman

photo credit Marc Riboud










21 thoughts on “Treading Water

  1. I started reading the poem and it seemed familiar. When I recognized it, I was surprised and excited to see you use it. Interesting how you took the idea in this poem to describe your own understanding of the need to dive deep within ourselves to find what we were called here for and express it, to free it up and ourselves.

    But you do this in such a conversational tone. We are effortlessly drawn in to both conversations going on—the one with your companion, and the other within yourself—an interesting dichotomy! The metaphor of treading water reveals the deeper significance of what you’re saying. There’s a lot to unpack here!

    Years ago, when I had read this particular poem by Pablo Neruda in The Sea and the Bells, it had reminded me of David Lynch and his book, Catching the Big Fish, how he catches and falls in love with certain creative ideas.

    Both artists deal with the search for illumination; finding and clarifying a creative idea. They inspired this tanka I wrote, Fishing For Fallen Light.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Janet, I would recommend you get the audio book of David Lynch reading Catching the Big Fish in his own voice. He recorded it in one take and added in subtle sound effects between chapters.

        Your description of trying to touch the ocean bed with your toe for safety reminded me of an experience a friend told me about. He and some friends, our hosts, went to a hotel by a beach in SW Java. We were on a project in Jakarta, Indonesia and I had related an unusual poem to him that had come to me early one morning. That’s when he told me that he and a friend had almost drowned swimming there. He also told me the story of the Nyi Roro Kidul, the goddess of the southern sea. There was a room set aside for her and a painting of her, which they saw before and after their near-death swim. It sounded eerily familiar!


        1. This is fascinating….and the poem obvious a gift through you. The 5 week workshop I am doing online is at its core nature based, we had an invitation to walk in nature and tell our story and listen for something in return.
          I chose an estuary very large the point where the river meets the ocean. I again saw a Heron. At one point when I was walking I started to sink in the sand, my boots were being sucked in with each step deeper and I finally got out. It was a similar feeling as with treading water but certainly not as panicking as an undertow. Catching the Big Fish…it is on my list.


  2. well said, well thought, well …you make me go places I might not want to go. But I do go. I listen some more to my heart, sore from soaking up the misery of the world before I take a deep breath & move one foot forward towards making today the most, the best it can be, given what the, where the & blah blah blah, the road will lead. Love ya ..neighbour on the ‘other side’ 🥰


    1. Thank you. I appreciate your comment so much Jane.
      I will leave it to Margaret Mead to have the last word(s)….
      “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world.
      Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has. “

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such a beautiful and profound write, I felt that panic when you were in water over your head, and the paralells with the state of our world, how we need that call to action. My heart aches.


    1. Thank you so much for this comment, this was so real for me, I had not ‘treaded water’ in a long time but the panic/relief I felt was so familiar I realized that it was a state of mind that I could feel in myself and others around me, that we had been living with given the state of the world around us. Waiting/wanting to touch bottom……..

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sheri. Feel this so strongly right now, until we see the oneness of everything, human and “other than human’ I can only see more destruction and violence against each other and the environment…… the only way out is in.


  4. Really enjoyed the power of the woven threads… and thoughtful and sombre and I am still thinking… truth seems to have been exposed…so startling. I will remember (and perhaps act out) this metaphor for a long while….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The $64K question indeed! Until there is a paradigm shift of consciousness within the human population, all life on earth will be threatened one way or another. For myself I am active in the environmental movement and keep working on becoming (as old as this phrase is getting) ” the change you want to see in the world.”
      I also see the writing that we are all doing, and all forms of Art working towards some sort of opening….in the collective unconscious of humanity.
      And there is my rant on this lovely Sunday evening:)……..

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Oooo this became visceral! The feeling of treading water is one I identify with daily. I am forever wondering how much longer I can keep it up. Your writing makes me think about how typically first world that self centered question I pose to myself really is.. Thank you for today’s eye opener….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you so much Violet.
      …..this writing revealed to me also how long I have had this feeling, a feeling that I really couldn’t name until my foot met solid ground and the relief became palpable.


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