Water, Water Everywhere...Part 1 of 3
Flooding is common, and in a world (the ancient world) where you can only communicate with the people around you (in a timely manner and reliably, anyway), a big flood can certainly make you feel like the entire world has been inundated. Your community is shattered, and your perception of the rest of world may easily be impacted by that reality as well. But there is more going on with flood stories, and there are good reasons why they cross cultural lines and continue to grab our attention. The most famous is Noah, but he’s not the only one. Within our common cultural heritage in the West, we also find a flood story from Ancient Greece about Deucalion, and a story from Babylon and Assyria about Ut-napishti. I’m going to go through each one in separate posts and pair them with another way to understand the stories and why they continue to play on our collective imaginations.
Story 1: Noah (you can skip this part if you know the story...you probably know the story)
In the Bible one the most famous guys is Noah. One day, the deity started talking to him...and lets face it, that bodes well, but there wasn't much he could do about it either. He was told, in no uncertain terms, to make a big-ass boat because his godly self had plans wipe out humanity because we sucked (he said 'don't do the thing' and we did the thing...in a nut shell). So Noah builds his arc and puts a bunch of animals on it with his family. Then it rained...and rained...and rained...and rained. Everything thing on land was drowned, and everything in the water was likely dismayed because of all the new trash.
Eventually, the rain quit. Noah decided to send a bird out to see if there was any dry land. ...not yet. Eventually, the bird came back with an olive leaf. Good news, things were drying up. Soon after, the bird did not come back and Noah and his family could finally leave the arc...which was good because it was stuffy and musty, I'm sure.
The ocean, and water in general, implies emotionality and unconsciousness. The surface can be seen as our expression of those emotions. Calm waters make for great days with a margarita on your floaty. However, storms can rage, and waves can both crash on top of you, leaving you struggling to figure out which way is up, or support your surf board while you dare the heights. Beneath that is a world teeming with life that only divers, and deep sea submersibles see: people purposely exploring the unconscious, probing the depths of the human experience in all of its mystery, depth, and color. The deeper you go, the darker, the harder to get to, and more alien it becomes, but make no mistake, its all you.
Forgotten and unnoticed events fall to your ocean floor and feed the denizens of the deep. Trauma can fall very deep, but the creatures feeding on it will come to the surface, unexpected and perhaps unrecognizable, but they are yours and they may demand to be reckoned with. Other things may hang out on the surface, simply asking for acknowledgment and can be easily misinterpreted. Remember, dolphins can be assholes and sharks aren’t nearly the monsters we’ve made them out to be. A lot of our surface layer crap is like that. But, how does that work?
Well, as a peacemaking, caretaking introvert, I always considered my concern for others to be a good thing. Generally, I’m happy with it. It’s like a dolphin in my surface level ocean. I’m pretty easy to live with. My students like me. My bosses generally like me because I’m low maintenance and flexible. All good? Not really. I also drive people close to me a little insane because I don’t always know what I want…I lose track of that sometimes. I also tend to not notice when I’ve run myself ragged until I’m in the middle of blowing my top (did I mention underwater volcanoes?). It’s rare, but it happens. My sharks, on the other hand, I would equate with my anger and aggression. (Note: actual dolphins are not all happy go lucky, and sharks are not angry…but this is my symbolic world… I love sharks…but I also fear them because I watched Jaws as a kid.) I tend to equate sharks anger with negativity, likewise with aggression. But, you need that stuff. Nothing gets done in this world without a little whoop ass, and whoop ass comes from the realm of the shark (at least for me). I have trouble saying no. It feels…selfish to me. Hey Jaws, I need some help being assertive. This is why you can’t just stay on your arc; you gotta take a swim once in while and make friends with the fish…and the eels…and the whales…and even the sea snails. At the very least, meet the creatures of your sea and sign a peace treaty with them.
Flood stories are a way to talk about being overcome with all that the ocean contains for each of us. This may be especially true at times when denial is failing, and the metaphorical land we have perched on is disappearing.
You have two options when the rain comes and the waters are rising. You can hop into a boat and pray for the best, or you can take a giant leap of faith into the water. Both options bring risk. If you get in the boat, you may be functional for a while, even as the waves constantly threaten. This represents us either (1) getting through the day because no matter what is going on underneath, we still have to live in a world that (honestly) doesn’t really give crap about our emotional well being. Southern California Edison wants their money, and they don't really care that your cat died, or that you marriage is in shambles, or whatever else is going on that you may be drowning in. Dry land will appear again, but it's going to take time. Or, the boat is (2) a form of denial. As long as you can stay afloat with the last vestiges of your world, you don’t have to look at what’s happening underneath. Unfortunately, there will come a time when the waves overtake you and you will get thrown into the water. If you can work through some of the emotional turmoil (have a good cry, pour your heart out to a friend over a glass of wine or 4, or see a therapist) dry land will appear again and you can get on with the business of normal living, paying bills, and celebrating birthdays.
In any case, the flood story is a great metaphor for talking about that experience of feeling overwhelmed and just barely hanging on. It's also a good way to think about exploring your own ocean through art, meditation, or poetry. You might also think about any flood imagery happening in your dreams. What's down there? As much you may fear it, it is a place worth exploring filled with some scary stuff, but also amazing treasure.