There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”
-David Foster Wallace
You are a fish.
This is water.
The automation that poses the most danger to a fully lived life is not the robotic specter that threatens to upend manufacturing. Rather, it is the human failure to recognize the opportunity to make a choice- any choice.
Hi. How are you. Good, you. Good.
Boredom, routine, and frustration turn into anxiety and crushing loneliness. If you are open to breaking out, you will realize there are other options. All you have to do is pay attention. This is water.
If you can see that this world is, at all times, sacred, you can escape. You have, at all times, access to the wonder of reality. Feel your breath fill your lungs. Let it out. How does it feel to be alive?
Look at the back of your hand. Now close your eyes.What if you could never again open your eyes? How much would you give to see again, just for a moment, the back of your own hand? How wondrous it would be to see it again!
But in every moment you have access to the most amazing symphony of color. Every interaction with a stranger can be made into a small affirmation of life.
Hi. How are you? Tell you what, I’m really lucky to be alive. Oh! Well, wow, that’s great. Thanks. Have a good one. Hey, you too.
Open your eyes. This is water.
But our metaphor is incomplete. It is not change that you swim in. One of the greatest blunders of our civilization is the idea that you are separate from the world. It’s obvious, but bears repeating: you are part of the world. When change happens, you change with the world. You just have to pay attention. Paying attention is bringing a gun to a knife fight. But no one’s fighting water. If you try to fight water, you’re only fighting with yourself. You aren’t swimming in water.
You are water.
Upon those who step into the same rivers, different and again different waters flow.
You can’t step in the same river twice, they say. They should say, you can’t step in the same river twice. Both you and the river are in constant flux. But, you and the river constantly are the same. You are still you, even if you’ve changed.
Now I’m going to talk about how you are One with the Universe, right? Om and all that. Infinite karma or something. No, calling all things “One” cuts at all that wonder I was just talking about.
But I thought I was water? Here’s one of our blunders again. We have to learn that we can have opposing natures. We hold the idea of a “flower” as a separate concept, but we can’t separate it from the rest of the cosmos that contains it and that it contains. The sugars that hold a flower’s energy were moments before that light from the sun. We cannot say what a flower is without the sun, just as we cannot tell what we are without our parents’ DNA, without the influence of our teachers, without the chain of events that connect all things. I am unique, I am special, but I am still part of that constantly flowing reality. You are water, but water is part of a cycle. It flows through rivers into oceans. Later, it is part of a cloud. Right now, you are water’s greatest, most complex, most unique form. That is to say,
You are a snowflake.
If you learn to look around, you can see this is water. Then, if you can learn to step back, you see that you are water. But don’t step back too far: you are still you. You still have the ability to think, to see, to love. To paint, to dance, to sing, to dream. To suffer, to cry, to mourn.
We humans, the universe’s masterpiece, the only piece of which that can be in awe of itself, are blessed with innumerable creative avenues, richness and depth of emotion, intelligence to improve our world and ourselves. These abilities come with their respective downsides, but make no mistake: we as individuals are incomprehensibly complex, and our inner lives can be rich beyond description. Being part of one thing, the “water,” in no way diminishes that; rather it adds another affirming layer. On our daily commutes we forget that all of life is a painting, and being able to experience it is a wonder that we can never fully grasp.
But to be in awe of that experience is a state that we can enter at any time. Every person has the ability to step back from an argument and ask themselves why a person is so red in the face about this idea of theirs that is so clearly wrong (to us, of course). But instead, nearly everyone goes about their lives without seeing the sacred place of the bird above a traffic jam. Even the traffic jam is a thing of beauty. Why can’t we see it?
You are asleep.
If I’ve done any job at all, you should be feeling life right now. I’ve tried to show you what we miss, being asleep. Seeing it – waking up – is simple. It is not easy.
Let’s remember together an experience we had. It was a great speech, a book, a quote on Instagram. We had an inspiration, a supreme motivation, and it was great. For a few days. Or an hour. But it went away. We clutched at it, but it was gone. Do you remember?Sometimes, a speech or an idea can bring you fully into life. But no matter how strongly it pulls, it is only temporary. That’s why you must learn to pull yourself into life in every moment.
It is not easy to learn how to wake up.
You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all. The price is high. The reward is great.
You are a fish. You are water. You are a snowflake. You are asleep.
You have a choice.
This isn’t religion. I am not talking about magic. I don’t want to know if you’re a pisces, the Earth Mother didn’t reveal all this to me in a dream. I’m sure your chakras are doing just fine on their own. I’m not sure essential oils are really all that essential. Gems are pretty, but they are rocks. They are sacred only if we make them so.
Now, you don’t want me to quote David Foster Wallace, Alan Watts, Maya Angelou, Buddha, Catholic priests, Eckhart Tolle, Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato, and Sam Harris at you: that stuff is too out there. You live in the real world. But thing is, I already did. Those were my sources. Nothing is new under the sun. You have a choice.
You can think, “Oh, that was nice.”
You can think, “That guy was strange.”
You can think, “Yeah, but it sounds hard.”
And you’d be right three times. But you have the choice of whether to stay at your default, which is cynicism, self centeredness, and closing off to the joy of the world. To be lost in the past, sick over the possibilities of the future. Or you can practice making the decision in every moment to wake up. It takes practice every day to remember in each moment that you have a choice. Your animal nature would rather take the safe, known, low-energy approach. Your animal nature also doesn’t really appreciate art, togetherness, or being at peace.
You are a fish. You are water. You are a snowflake. You are asleep. But you have a choice.
Camp Gemstone’s writings are about their attempts to learn to wake up. See more at