Lessons From The Water Walk

By Shirley Lynn Martin

I have the honour of helping organize and also participate in the All Nations Grand River Water Walk from its inception to our upcoming walk in September 2020.  A great many gifts have come to me in being of service to the water, specifically to the Grand River—gifts that have become life lessons.  Though there are many, here are five transformative lessons.

From the beginning of our gatherings, Mary Anne Caibaiosai taught us the protocols for the water walk ceremony. As I absorbed these teachings, I began to see my own blindness.  When we really open our heart-mind to these teachings, something new awakens within because the teachings, like the Grand River, are alive.

1.  Water is life. It is alive.

Of course it is.  I know we are 70% + water and without water we would die.  Still, this knowledge was in my brain, not yet fully alive and awake in my heart.  But something awakened in me carrying the pail of Grand River water.  She is my life. I need water, the Grand River, to be healthy and happy.  Her water is the water in me.  If she is sick, so will I be sick.  If she is contaminated, so will I be—not only my body’s water, but my thoughts will be contaminated, as body and mind are connected.

2.  Water flows forward.  It doesn’t stop and look back.

Of course. I know this.  But do I?  My worries and fears paralyze my body’s water flow inside me rather than allow the natural and organic flow forward.  I can feel the slowing down and freezing in my fear.  When I restore mindfulness and notice the way of water, its natural activity, I see the Grand River simply flow forward. It does not stop in fear, reminding me to let flow

The Grand River never changes who she is.  She is always a flowing river.  Her destination is always clear to her and she never waivers from her destination.  And though she winds and loops around, admiring herself and her environment, her overall destination is clear and continuous over centuries. During the water walk, women carry the pail of water.  We never stop while carrying the pail.  Once we begin touchup in the wee hours of the morning, we walk until touchdown. 

Water flows.  She doesn’t stop.  It is the true nature of the Grand River to flow.  Even when we dump toxins in her, she flows.

In one moment in 2018, I was carrying the pail of water.  I was deep in song and looking forward.  Someone drove by and called my name.  I was momentarily brought out of my inner state of prayerfulness and in this surprised moment, began to respond.  Before I could turn, the Anishnaabe man carrying the eagle staff, put his hand on my shoulder and firmly said, “ Keep looking forward.  Walk.”  I was so grateful for his guiding hand to remind me of the protocols and to focus on the task of walking forward, of allowing the water to go in the direction she flows, unimpeded by my momentary distraction.  After handing off the pail, the person who had called my name also apologized for causing the distraction and then said, “It all got sorted out”.   Yes, that’s right, let what’s behind sort itself out if I am not responsible to sort it out.  Keep moving forward, staying focused on the task. 

3.  You never need to reach your destination alone.

The Grand River starts as a collective of small springs and begins to flow, not yet being a big river.  I was surprised and shocked that it begins rather like a creek.  The watershed along the Grand River is rich and diverse and abundant.  The Eramosa, Speed, Conestogo and Nith Rivers all join and merge with the Grand River.  At each confluence, the Grand River grows in size and strength.  At the mouth of Grand River into Lake Erie, she is a river to be reckoned with.  Indeed, she is big enough to sustain a port (which she did for a time). 

So I realized, if my projects arise from the ground of my being, do not worry how small me and my project may look at the beginning. Just start flowing with what I have.   Let what needs to, arise. Come together with the small arisings of like-hearted others and start flowing.  Trust that those who wish to join the flow, the movement of my project, will come along.  There will be confluences that grow my project organically, especially if it brings life to the community.  Just like this water walk is doing for our community.  The Anishnaabe water walk ceremony contributes to the healing and spirit health of the Grand River, the infrastructure and life of our community.

4.  Let go of fear.  Water will always find a way. 

This lesson is linked to the lesson that water, by nature, flows.  Along the route of the water walk, we carry the water through very busy centres, streets and high traffic areas.  To honour water, the Grand River, we must allow her to be who she is.  When we pick up the pail, we cannot stop walking and wait for traffic to stop, for example.   In such a moment, we must remember to walk in circles and pool as water does, while never going backward.

At rush hour traffic when people are focused on getting to work, not thinking about their relationship to water, navigating the flow of the pail forward can be very challenging.  These moments call all walkers to become fully present to the moment, always looking and aware of the opening to the way forward.  But as Josephine Mandamin taught us, “water will always find a way” to flow.  She is a river.  When we block her from flowing, she will simply create new routes that allow her to flow. It is her truth to flow. 

Now, when I encounter a problem, I think to myself, ‘become like water and flow.’  Where is the way forward?  Where is the opening so that I can be who I am meant to be and do what is mine to do?  Let go of my emotional attachment to my fear or my restricted thinking. Let go and flow like the Grand River does.  As soon as I return to this state, the opening to the flow arises, and I can see my way forward and I move.

5. The Grand River is my Elder.  She is my relative.

I have known this concept for a long time.  Walking beside her and participating in water ceremony every 2 months has restored my heart connection to her.  She now knows me by name.  And I remember her as my Elder.  She holds great wisdom as she remembers what we have done to her, done for her and with her.  Water has memory.  The Grand River has memory.  I want my relationship with her to be harmonious, to be kind, healthy and just.  When I die, I want her to remember me with love and fondness, as I do her.  She and the Conestogo River watched me grow up.  She has given me life for 50 years.  I drink from her watershed.  I play in her.  I sing to her.  I offer her prayers.  I offer her Reiki healing.  I pray that my relationship with her is healing for both our spirits.

She flows between the Six Nations on the Grand and settler communities.  She links us. She gives life to us both.  And I hear her say it is time we honour the Haldimand Treaty and the Haudenosaunee and First Nations land titles.  She loves us equally and is the Elder to us all.  She grieves and feels the deep sadness of the grave injustices to the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe and Attawandaron (Neutral) peoples, being denied their treaties.  You may wonder how a River grieves, but she does.  I say again, she has memory.  She is my Elder and the only response to her is love and respect.  And when I do remember her as Elder and relative, who sustains life, I will protect her.  Such clarity of relationship brings clarity to my lifestyle choices, values and decisions.

These are but five lessons which transformed my way of being.  The Grand River has given many experiences and provided rich learning that I now carry as wisdom.  I am grateful to the Grand River for my life, for wisdom gained and for her beauty that opens me to Love.  And when I live these lessons, this wisdom gained,  Love flows.  Like ee cummings’ poem, to the Grand River I can whisper,

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
     ~ ee Cummings

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