The Water I Swim In

Thanks to Facebook, I stumbled upon a video that has caught my attention. Titled: “This is Water.” The storyline is deceptively simple but the message pushes and pulls at me for days. Based on a 2005 commencement address by David Foster Wallace, a man whose voice I’d never heard before, I’ve now discovered that he was a prolific author, a brilliant mind and a tortured soul. Note that past tense passive verb WAS. He committed suicide at the tender age of 46.

“This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life”, a slim book whose title is almost as long as the text, can be read in twenty minutes or so, but the import lingers…and moves me to tell you about its message: Probably the most dangerous thing about an academic education at least in my own case, is that it enables my tendency to over-intellectualize stuff, to get lost in abstract thinking instead of simply paying attention to what’s going on in front of me. Instead of paying attention to what’s going on inside of me…’Learning how to think’ really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think…to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience…The only thing that’s capital-T True is that you get to decide..what to worship. (Bold is his.)

He goes on to describe many of the things we worship as a culture today:

the power of being on top,
beauty that never ages,
“the freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation.” (p.117)

Wallace points out how each of these is fueled by fear, contempt, conflict and craving, eventually leading each of us to feel inadequate, incapable, less than, ETCETERA.

Living unconsciously, living on our default settings, we forget to actually live.


Take a breath, think about what you’ve just read. Really, I mean it.

And then imagine your own life lived more fully.

Take another breath.

And then – if you choose – read about my painting process for the second round of DEEP which I was privileged to experience between February and April. I find connections between Wallace’s message and my own lived experience.

For this session of DEEP I decide to go simply and playfully. I find my rolled up brown “packaging” paper, tape two big pieces up on the wall and then try to imagine how this flimsy surface is going to support one painting that takes six weeks to finish. I may have to shift to canvas midstream but I decide to trust the process and give myself permission along the way to do whatever is required to keep  one painting evolving.

Serendipity arrives in the form of a CD called Sura by Chloe Goodchild, a teacher of mine. She has the organization in the UK called the Naked Voice. I was doing grunt work of some sort while listening and suddenly realized I was singing along to a song of hers that I know in my bones but whose words suddenly had new relevance.  I paraphrase the lyrics here. A song called: Silent Laughter. The silent laughter flows like a breeze through an open window, saying BE DEEPER STILL, be deeper still, stand at zero, stand at zero.

So this painting  stands at zero for me. I begin with dots and suddenly know I have to finger paint. The energy of our painting ancestors 30,000 years ago chronicled in the film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, that energy  courses through me. Without thinking about it my left hand keeps going into the three dark colors I’ve laid out, black, blue, purple, and my right hand goes into the white, cream, peach…I don’t know why the dark and the light so frequently intertwine in my imagery but here it is again. Then I have to add a bit of color in between – red and green.

I love this muddy muddle – I don’t know why. What I do know is that I have been in the grip of true expression and that is the water I swim in!

energy builds

About Deborah

Deborah Jane Milton, Ph.D. is an artist, mentor, writer, mother of four, grandmother of eight. who inspires humanity's Great Turning: our evolution to living as a "whole" human, with headbrain and bodymind collaborating, with science and spirit dancing, with rationality, intuition and the ephemeral co-creating.
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2 Responses to The Water I Swim In

  1. miran541 says:

    Very thoughtful article with much wisdom — Like it –almost as much as I like your art work!


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