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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Water: The Power, the Beauty, and the Glory

From The Brook by Lord Alfred Tennyson

"I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
I slide by hazel covers;
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
That grow for happy lovers.

"I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

"I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

"And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever."

Water provides soothing sights and sounds that help us relax and de-stress. When we are near enough to water to sense even its most gentle flow, it somehow sweetly harmonizes with the other elements of our human nature. Why this clear, colorless, odorless, and tasteless liquid has the power to flow directly to our souls and form a healing union is a mystery. Science defines water as a simple compound composed of hydrogen and oxygen, but water has more symbolic understanding than any other natural or man-made creation.

The four elements of antiquity -- earth, water, air, and fire -- dominated natural philosophy for two thousand years. The premise that everything was formed from these four elements was developed by the Greek philosopher Empepedocles of Sicily, and continued to be believed until the rise of modern science. Even today, earth, water, air, and fire are not bad symbols for the four states of matter -- solid, liquid, gas, and plasma.

Water characterizes change and is necessary for the survival of all things. A large part of the human body is made up of water. Our blood, lymph, and other fluids move between our cells and through our vessels, bringing energy, carrying away wastes, regulating temperature, bringing disease fighters, and carrying hormonal information from one area to another.

Water is a substance without stability. We can incorporate the symbolism of circulation, life, cohesion and birth by associating the creative waters of the earth with the fluids found in our own body.

"We call upon the waters that rim the earth,
horizon to horizon, that flow in our rivers and streams,
that fall upon our gardens and fields, 
and we ask that they teach us and show us the way."
— (Chinook Blessing Litany)

 Water Symbolism
Thus, it is natural that the symbolism of water has a universal undertone of purity and fertility. Symbolically, it is often viewed as the source of life itself as we see evidence in countless creation myths in which life emerges from primordial waters.

* In Taoist tradition, water is considered an aspect of wisdom. The concept here is that water takes on the form in which it is held and moves in the path of least resistance. Here the symbolic meaning of water speaks of a higher wisdom we may all aspire to mimic.

* The ancient Greeks understood the power of transition water holds. From liquid, to solid, to vapor - water is the epitomal symbol for metamorphosis and philosophical recycling.

* The Native Americans considered water to be a symbol of life (further solidifying the symbol affixed in many creation myths).
* The ancient Egyptians believed their beloved Nile river was akin to the birth canal of their existence.

Almost all Christian churches or sects have an initiation ritual involving the use of water. Baptism has its origins in the symbolism of the Israelites being led by Moses out of slavery in Egypt through the Red Sea and from the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist in the Jordan. After Jesus' resurrection he commanded his disciples to baptise in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19-20).

Throughout human history water and the natural beauty associated with it have been essential components in spiritual understanding. For example, simple waterfalls have a special ability to make us aware of the essence of our lives. We are impressed and moved as we watch water descending over rock edges and cascading into broadening pools. The symbolism and the real-life connection of H20 remain as important understandings.

"Water, thou hast no taste, no color, no odor; 
canst not be defined, art relished while ever mysterious. 
Not necessary to life, but rather life itself, 
thou fillest us with a gratification that exceeds the delight of the senses."
— (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

Today We Recognize Negative Ions

While the West is only beginning to understand the benefits of water, its power has been known in the East for centuries. Through science, process of ionization and the structure of negative ions in widely understood; running water creates a unique effect known as negative ionization. Every time a drop of water splashes and breaks apart, the atomic structure changes to incorporate more negatively charged electrons. The effect of negative ions in water splashes is particularly noticeable near natural waterfalls and large fountains, where the air feels and smells clean, cool, and fresh.

For thousands of years, the Ancient Chinese have recognized chi as the universal life force found in all living things. According to Chinese principles, chi or life force in generated by water, food, and air. For centuries, fountains, koi ponds, and water features have been regarded as essential elements in the Feng Shui where water features are strategically placed to improve the flow of chi and positive energy.

By releasing clouds of negatively charged ions that purify the air, ponds and waterfalls create a relaxed stress-free atmosphere that feels miles away from the troubles of the day.

Water Features In Healing Gardens

From decorative fountains to pre-formed ponds and streams, water features have become attractive, popular garden amenities, and for good reason. The sight, sound and touch of water are relaxing and promote stress reduction and healing through their ability to captivate human understandings and imagination.

That's why water features involving water have been always important in the design of gardens, temples or cities in the form of canals, waterfalls, fountains and pools. In particular, falling or moving water has the ability to calm and inspire us. Just being around water is soothing, conducive to thought. Most fishermen don't consider the trip to the lake wasted if they don't catch anything. Gazing at it from the shore or from a boat is sublime.

Soothing sounds of flowing water help reduce stress by increasing endorphin production. Studies have found that variations in sounds produced by water can positively affect our level of relaxation. For instance, consistent bass sounds are relaxing enough to lower our blood pressure and improve our mental health.

As sensory delights, water settings fully engage us. Wetland plants can be spectacular, whether they are delicate water-lilies that float on the still surfaces of ponds, the brilliant cardinal flowers that populate marsh edges, or the carnivorous pitcher plants that grow in spongy bogs. And, the sounds of a trickling stream, a cascading waterfall or a bubbling urn produce pleasant, rejuvenating effects as these natural noises are conducive to reducing unwanted clatter, increasing creative productivity, and accelerating healing processes.

As well as providing benefits through aesthetics and sound, water features can act as highly effective air filtration systems. During warmer seasons, temperatures outside can be unbearable, as well as the energy bills to run air conditioners. Water features can help reduce temperature.

Water Features For Health

 “… Hospital patients who have a view of natural landscapes recover faster from surgery and require less pain medication. In addition, heart rate, blood pressure, and other measures return to normal levels more quickly when people view natural rather than urban landscapes after a stressful experience.” (The Sustainable Sites Initiative. Standards & Guidelines: Preliminary Report November 1, 2007.)

And, what is the value of natural artworks? The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has developed a study about the relation between art and health.This research took a broad view of how the relationship between art and health is articulated. It draws on an increasing body of evidence that focuses on the importance of such factors as increased well-being and self-esteem, and on the role of participation and social connectedness in the enhancement of people's health by building social capital.

Indicators for such improvements include:
  • Enhanced motivation (both within the course of a project and in participants' lives more generally).
  • Greater connectedness to others.
  • People's own perceptions about having a more positive outlook on life.
  • Reduced sense of fear, isolation and anxiety.
  • Increased confidence, sociability, and even self-esteem.
One major aspect of stress in the medical setting is the feeling of loss of control. Water features in healthcare settings offer patients choices in their daily routine to help restore this sense of control. Visiting a water feature is a connection to the familiar outside world, totally unlike a sterile environment of a hospital or a nursing home. The patients feel less isolated as they reconnect with nature. Water features in healthcare facilities enrich and improve the lives of patients, staff, and visitors.

Westminster Village Retirement Community, Scottsdale, Az.

"If you' re not beside a real river, close your eyes, and sit down beside an imaginary one, a river where you feel comfortable and safe. Know that the water has wisdom, in its motion through the world, as much wisdom as any of us have. Picture yourself as the water. 
We are liquid; we innately share water's wisdom." 
— (Eric Alan, "Meditation Draws Its Power From the Water," The Oregonian (September 11, 2005))

Harper's Nursery, Mesa, Az.

"There is no music like a little river's . . . It takes the mind out-of-doors . . . 
and . . . it quiets a man down like saying his prayers."
— (Robert Louis Stevenson)

                      Holdeman Residence, Peoria, Az.

"All things are connected, like the blood that runs in your family . . . 
The water's murmur is the voice of my father's father.
— (Suquamish Chief Sealth - 1854)

"To trace the history of a river or a raindrop . . . 
is also to trace the history of the soul, 
the history of the mind descending and arising in the body. 
In both, we constantly seek and stumble upon divinity, 
which like feeding the lake, and the spring becoming 
a waterfall, feeds, spills, falls, and feeds itself all over again."
— (Gretel Ehrlich, Islands, The Universe, Home)

McIlhenny Project

"We are never far from the lilt and swirl of living water. 
Whether to fish or swim or paddle, of only to stand and gaze, 
to glance as we cross a bridge, all of us are drawn to rivers, 
all of us happily submit to their spell. We need their familiar mystery. 
We need their fluent lives interflowing with our own."
— (John Daniel, Oregon Rivers)
Manolson Project

"A brook can be a friend in a special way. 
It talks to you with splashy gurgles. 
It cools your toes and lets you sit quietly beside it 
when you don't feel like speaking."
  — (Joan Walsh Anglund, A Friend is Someone Who Likes You)

"If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water."
— (Loren Eiseley, "Four Quartets," in The Immense Journey)
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