September 19, 2017

The Mantra that Brings me Back from the Brink, Every single Time.

“This is water,” is my mantra on most days.

Because life can be challenging and life can be banal.

Day in and day out, there are responsibilities we have as parents, as partners, as friends, and family members, as well-adjusted members of society.

We have responsibilities that move us through our days in automatic ways, barely noticing the minutes and hours passing by, until the end of the day is reached, and we wonder where it has gone.

We wonder why we didn’t get those five things done on our to-do list, while at the same time we managed to finish 10 other things that day.

In today’s world, our lives are filled with demands, busyness, and distractions. Sometimes distractions are of our choosing, our failed attempts to disconnect and tune out, looking for peace. But distractions never reveal those moments of grace; they push us further into the autopilot of life.

When I am feeling overwhelmed, lost in the busyness of my day, or just plain fed up, I watch “This is Water”—a speech by David Foster Wallace that he gave at Kenyon College in 2005. It brings me back from the brink, every single time. Please take the time to watch it before reading further—trust me, it’s worth it.


What David Foster Wallace talks about so eloquently in his speech is that all of it is water, all of it is life.

We are swimming in it every day. Whether it’s an ordinary day, one of basic existence, or an extraordinary one, filled with celebration, or a special occasion, it’s all the same. It’s all water, this is water.

Viewing our lives through the lens of “this is water,” changes how we think and view each moment of our lives. Do you see things as chores or choices? Do you view moments as beautiful opportunities for connection and growth, or as society pressing on you with demands and needs? Can they begin as one, and when you pay attention, become another? Can you view each one as sacred and precious, even the hard ones?

When I choose the sacredness of every moment, when I breathe into the moment, bringing my full attention, and choose what I am going to think about that moment, it changes everything.

Can I see the flat tire I didn’t know how to change, as an opportunity for learning? This happened to me last week. When the mechanic showed up, instead of being angry and frustrated and thinking of all the ways this was impacting my day, I breathed into it, and thought, “This is water.”

The young mechanic was kind and patient and took the time to teach me how to change a tire on the spot. I left feeling grateful and empowered. I wanted to hug him when he left but instead shook his hand, looked deep into his eyes, and said, “Thank you.”

Can you remember “this is water” when…

You walk into your teenage son’s room, and can barely see the floor, covered with a week’s worth of clothes. Then remember he’s had two papers, a test, and four soccer games this week.

A friend cancels on you at the last minute for dinner when you were looking forward to a night out. Can you see this as the gift of a wide-open evening that you can fill with anything you like?

You are sitting at the hospital with a loved one, tired and weary to the bone, waiting for some good news, and afraid it’s not coming. Can you breathe into the worry and tiredness, and acknowledge the strength that keeps you there, offering love and support?

Your partner does that thing that drives you crazy and no matter how many requests you make, it never changes. Can you recognize it as an opportunity for patience and further communication, or perhaps simply acceptance and peace?

A busy day, leaves you going through the drive-through for dinner on the way home. Can you be kind to yourself and notice sitting down to talk with your family over dinner (even if it’s from a bag), feeds your soul more than an hour spent in the kitchen cooking?

This is water. We are swimming in it every day. For fish, the movement of water through their gills gives them life. As water passes through the gills, oxygen is removed—it’s how they breathe. Take a fish out of water and it dies. Our lungs don’t operate like gills, but can we feel the water around us, remove the life-giving pieces, and see the gifts they bring.

“This is water,” asks us to see ordinary as extraordinary. To choose to pay attention and to be present.

In those moments, those challenging moments when life feels hard, when you are tired and drained, and can’t seem to find the sacredness in a given moment, take a deep breath, and silently chant, “This is water, this is water.”


Relephant Read:

Everything the Buddha Ever Taught in 2 Words.


Author: Adrienne L. Pieroth
Image: Jeremy Cai / Unsplash
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy editor: Leah Sugerman
Social editor:Leah Sugerman

Read 9 Comments and Reply

Read 9 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Adrienne Pieroth