Diving In and Finding Ourselves In the Deep

Tuesday, May 6, 2014 - 7:50pm
Photo by Bruce Mozert

Diving In and Finding Ourselves In the Deep

“In the deeps are the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us. But if you ride these monsters deeper down, if you drop with them farther over the world's rim, you find what our sciences cannot locate or name, the substrate, the ocean or matrix or ether which buoys the rest, which gives goodness its power for good, and evil its power for evil, the unified field: our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here. This is given. It is not learned.”

—Annie Dillard, from Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters


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Mariah Helgeson

is a digital editor at On Being. She earned a degree in International Affairs with concentrations in the Middle East and Conflict Resolution from George Washington University. She grew up in Minnesota and was a program associate at the Sustained Dialogue Campus Network. When she’s not submerged in a good book she might be found laughing with her teenage sisters or playing chamber music.

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This is exactly what I have been doing for the last year or so, perhaps to the extreme; it has been a turbulent ride, to be sure, but I would not wish it any other way.

Go to your dreams and don't let anyone in your way

This is a helpful quote during times when being overwhelmed by news can drive tears.

For six years in my 30's, I rode this wave in weekly analysis with my Jungian therapist. Thirty years later, in my mid-60's, I find myself cycling back to what I learned with her and understanding it much more clearly. What I learned is what the Taoists call "wu wei", "to achieve by not trying to achieve, in Christian terms, surrender to being no worse, but also no better, than I truly am - to be human, rather than to be perfect. It's a long dive into a long journey, and always our choice.


I have a Gyre for you. The mind-expanding source of it will be revealed in the story--a bit like the First and Last sentences in John McPhee's book "Basin and Range."

While climbing alone in a unique place last August, I stopped on a perilous scree slope to blow for a while to extract what I could from the half atmosphere as I was trying to scramble up an unnamed peak that was too inviting to pass by. I looked down on the Spiti Valley two thousand meters below through the clear dry air, and realized that if I tumbled, I might be there rather soon after a not very pleasant transit in free fall. While clutching the one bit of fixed dolomite protruding through the slope of broken talus, I slipped and snatched at the loose scree. A rock came away in my hand, and I tossed it upslope to grab at others until one held. The one I had tossed rolled down toward me with the cascade of loose rock that gathered momentum in rock slides past me so I held still for a while as the rattle and roll of the tumbling rocks echoed into stillness. I had caught the one I had tossed, and was still holding it when I finally looked at it as my eyes refocused from far distant to the close up present.

It was in the pattern of a Gyre. I looked at it closely and saw that it was of marine origin in what once had been a sediment on the floor of what we now call the Indian Ocean, about where there is a concerted effort just now to locate the "pinging" of a flight data recorder in the vasty deep. I believe this is an "ammonite," a relic of deep pre-history, a life form now extinct, but still letting us know it had gone about its daily business of staying alive and passing on progeny, now revealed as an individual after untold eons outside recognition or remembrance.

Stuffing this special souvenir rock into a pocket, I completed the climb and returned from the summit along couloirs filled with similar "ball bearing" rocks ready to whisk me downslope on a rapid express descent with any mis-step. I was now on a hunt--a rock hound--no longer gazing out over the enormity of the panorama, but looking at a much closer focus for each rock that might have a fossilized gyre within it. We look for only what we know, and therefore find it; how many more unknowns might there be for which we have not dialed in the focal plane? Sure enough, here is one. And there another. I had no pocket space left after I had made only a half descent. I held one in each hand as I semi-skied down the last of the slopes, eager to get to Kaza and tell of my "discovery" probably known to each of the Buddhist Sherpa montagnards except me. They already knew all about life cycles.

If what goes around comes around in the spiral staircase of the gyre, that only makes sense in reference to a center point. It is not that the gyre is "like life," it IS life--as these now inert rock residuals were. That the ammonite may not have been very reflective about their existence or purposeful about their destiny does not mean that they were not part of a pattern--spreading out into the unknown from a centerpoint--figure and ground. Each had been expanding beyond self-centered boundaries, creating a pattern reflective of origin as we seem to have migrated into a quite distant and foreign environment.

Change is a fundamental constant, as we can be assured even in the bedrock of our "solid ground" such that the summit peaks of the mightiest mountains on the planet had their origin in the abyssal depths of the Tethys seafloor a world away.

As I remember, the first and last sentences of John McPhee's deep view into geologic time were the same: make no mistake, the summit of Mount Everest is marine limestone.



Yes I Swim

Her back is arched indicating a stretch better than any yoga.
Her head is up ready to throw a butterfly that hugs the world and transports herself anywhere within it.
Her eyes are open, seeing with clarity that not possible on land.
The bubbles are gone so she can feel the silence of the earth's heart.
She feels safe, safe from the overwhelming pain of others .. and can truly feel only her pain.
There is an expectation of bone crushing, muscle stretching healing.
And is measuring hydration in a way that is impossible on land.
Her mouth is open, being truly cleaned and maybe even playing with the bubbles in her nose.
The veil and hair is measuring catch and turbulence that feels better than the wind.
The legs are getting a massage that can be felt 40 years later.
She is celebrating escape.
The deep is coming, but is of her choosing.
It's darkness implies a new birth practiced through dream death.
She's momentarily new-born infant using her god-given 60 seconds.
Yes I swim .. .