I float on my back held up by a Watsu practitioner who moves me gently through the water, making sure my head stays above the surface so that I do not get water up my nose. Watsu, or water shiatsu, can be a means of water therapy, but I have been going to Watsu sessions at the Beit Zayit pool to celebrate special occasions, like my birthdays, to enter into a dream state, to sink to the depths of my subconscious and to emerge anew.
I wrote this poem about ten years ago, when my mother was still alive.
in a pool overlooking the Beit Zayit reservoir
I lie here in water, bathed
in light, swayed
like seaweed, swung out in an arch,
to my watsu practitioner’s
and for a moment I become a baby
once more (the one who almost died
at birth) while I am filled
with relief, oh what a relief,
at not having to stand guard, to eternally
stand guard, in order to stay
With no feet on the ground, I dissolve
like that photo with my head
A winged bird, a skin
diver, I hover
in outer space, as my smile ripples out
to the reservoir in the valley below
Then my practitioner stops
all movement and I become a rock,
my lungs are hard, my chest
and I hear my mother cry
she’s tired of being blind, of staying alive
If only I could hold her in my arms
and let her dive
beneath the surface with me
at last, in this sweet,
May 10, 2018
Returning to the same pool to celebrate my 71st birthday, I chose to do “water dance” – a dance that takes you underwater, sometimes just under the surface, then turning you upside down, letting you touch the bottom of the pool - with a clip on your nose, to make sure you don’t get water up your nostrils. You start out as in the regular Watsu, on your back, with slow movements, until the practitioner feels you are ready for the dive.
I am a swimmer, at home in the water, but have never done any scuba diving, even if I grew up on an island in the coral-rich Caribbean. Perhaps this is what is it like, to be in a world of total silence, to experience a sense of space that extends into infinity. Even if I kept my eyes closed, and there were no corals in this pool, I would see the colors of the sun penetrating into the water, in many sparkling hues of reds and oranges. If not a scuba diver, then I was a fish myself, a manta-ray with spread out wings, at times a speeding shark.
Was it an examination of complete surrender? Of finding out what it is like when you almost reach the point of drowning, and then breach the surface again, taking a first breath, like a newborn?
It was the first time I had a male practitioner. Now, contrary to my experience in the poem above, I did not have a sense of being mothered like a baby, of letting go of the heavy burden of responsibility for my own life.
Still, here was a man holding me underwater, moving me around according to his will – and I gave him my complete trust. I trusted that he would read the signs when I needed to come up for air. I was totally in his hands – a situation that could have been frightening – a woman being held underwater by a man.
I did not panic when I felt the need to breathe before he brought me back up again, a couple of times I let him know with a gesture, almost all the time he could sense it. Later he tells me that it is a human reflex of the midriff to feel we are out of air, and that we have another two or three minutes of air left after that reflex, and you can be trained to expand your ability to free dive. Who knows, maybe one day I will take such a course.
I thought of the time when I was still a student in the Boston area and attended a workshop at MIT led by the dancer Ann Halprin and her husband, the architect Lawrence Halprin. We were split into two groups, according to gender – and each group was asked to create an environment for the other. The women created a soft, caring, womblike place for the men. The men, on the other hand, stood in two parallel rows, with their arms stretched out, clasping each other’s hands, bouncing us women across this row, from one end to another.
Many of the women – it was the late sixties, the beginning of feminist consciousness – were upset about being thrown about, roughly manipulated by the men, that the men should create a space that so typically showed their power and control. But I was flying, going off into the air like a trapeze artist, letting go completely. It was the men who were working for me, I felt– I was the one who was using their efforts for my own exhilaration, for my freedom from gravity.
And here too, in the water dance, it was the practitioner, who happened to be a man, who was working to create this incredible sense of renewal for me, to celebrate my 71st birthday.
Another session, now to celebrate my friend Doreen’s birthday.
Watsu brings up all sorts of feelings and thoughts from the depths of my consciousness. This time they were thoughts of death, more so than birth – and not my mother’s as in my poem, but my own. It was a very peaceful, sweet death - just dissolving into the waters, spreading out into the universe. A slow dimming of the lights, into total serenity.
A death without anxiety. I understood there is nothing to fear, if you don’t fight it, if you can wholeheartedly accept it and just let go. This is what Watsu is all about – letting go. Like going to sleep. Like going under in swimming before you come up again for air. Little deaths. The French la petite mort refers to “the sensation of orgasm as likened to death." (Oxford English Dictionary)
It is the reaction of fighting back - an instinctual reaction of survival - that causes such anxiety. The big question is, when do know you reached the point when fighting back is useless, when there is no hope of being saved?
I admire my father for letting go. With cancer, at 79, he refused treatment, not wanting to become dependent on doctors and medications, and in the end, to die in hospital. He said he had lived a full life, there was no reason to extend it artificially. It is a lesson in acceptance that I learned from him.
website of the Watsu pool in Beit Zayit, near Jerusalem: