We had a small water crisis at our home this week. The break happened within a wall, and so we didn’t realize at first that a pipe had begun to leak until morning when my husband noticed water spreading from underneath the bathroom wall baseboard. We quickly pulled out the den couch (which shares the same wall) and after being a little grossed out by how much dust and detritus can accumulate under a piece of furniture that has not been moved in a good while, I started sopping up the water. The break was not huge — at least not yet. I tried using towels and a mop to push back the water, but the leak was becoming a steady flow and this was our indicator, a sign that something deep within the wall needed our attention. A small leak can become a larger break and eventually do serious structural damage to a house and home. This is when a wise person stops whatever they thought they would be doing that day and shuts down the main water line to begin the messy work of repairing what is damaged or broken. Although we still have quite a bit of dry wall repair and painting to do, the leak has been mended and the water is back on.
This story is a matter of plumbing, pipes and home repair. But there is a metaphor that came to me during this experience, and I’ve have been thinking about how many times in my personal life I chose to not notice a slow leak or inner call to attention. I’ve been thinking about all the times in my life that I tried to push back the water, or the times I did not alter the perpetual motion of my days to address what was seeping under the baseboards. Sometimes my attempt to push back the water looked like overwork (the most revered addiction in our culture) or a selfless form of not taking care of myself (a revered spiritual misconception in our culture). It has also looked like a wide variety of well-honed survival techniques and distractions. But, even though there are plenty of ways to keep trying to push back the water, there comes a time when there is little left to do but open up the wall and start working on the real problem.
Like my house, our essential spirits have “good bones”. We are born with with what Thomas Merton called the “True Self”, Quakers call “The Inner Light”. But then life happens—trauma, tragedy, loss, illness, grief, burdens that arrived as legacy from our ancestors, an unkindness or injustice that echoed for years. All these experiences have put pressure and stress on the good bones of our internal system. It is no wonder that life will brings us moments when we wake up from our sleep and notice water pooling from beneath the baseboards. Granted, sometimes with love and care healing can happen without tearing out entire walls. But there have also been times in my life when I needed to trust my spiritual good bones, tap into trusted inner and outer resources, and start the messy work of attending to what has been stressed or unduly burdened. The process of new growth and healing is ever present and always possible. I believe that. But working with what’s been stressed or harmed can require time and it can be surprisingly messy.
Carrie Newcomer is a Grammy winning folk singer, and a practicing Quaker. Excerpted from here.