Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 7 - Water Attunement
The water element is the shapeless shape, the passivity of reaction, the dream that does not cast the shimmering net of consciousness out of itself. It is the movement that doesn't act apart, but pulses in waves as a whole that does not quite exist.
- Water, Dreamer's Handbook
The sand was soft and the water felt refreshingly cool. Strange how there's nobody else here but us. The beach is always crammed with kids from the Playground.
"There's a prerequisite for aligning with the water element: you have to be able to breathe water. Since you can't, you will learn now - just go into the lake and breathe the water in."
Damn. What's this, get-Eric-to-kill-himself day? Again? On today's menu: drowning! Eric wasn't pleased, but he tried to suppress the displeasure by focusing on the task at hand and getting over this hurdle as soon as possible. "Yeehaw," he said to himself in a flat tone.
Eric went knee-deep, then waist-deep into the lake. The cool water soothed the tension within him. It's just water. The human body is sixty percent water - which is more than half of me. He was a bit surprised to recall such a number. Must be because of those sports-drink commercials on tv. He prodded the sand with the sole of his foot.
"In the dream world, everything is breathable. Water is next best thing to breathe after air. You can even breathe in hard matter, though it needs a bit more getting used to." Maeve chuckled. "Nevertheless, if you get stuck inside a huge slab of rock, you should work on your teleportation skills as well - take it from a person who speaks from experience."
How reassuring. Eric lowered himself into the water. He submerged his head just to get it wet, raised it again with puffed-up cheeks, and spat out a steady stream of water. Might as well have fun before I drown.
Eric waited, but no further instruction was forthcoming. He looked back, and saw Maeve engaging in a discussion with Lucy.
Eager to get it over with, Eric breathed in deeply, crossed his legs and slumped to the lake floor.
...It's just like air. It's just like air. It's just like air...
Eric chanted to himself, determined not to rise for air after his breath runs out. He held it in as long as he could, and then breathed out very slowly... as if he was trying to stretch time itself. The deciding moment came, and he gagged for air.
Everything turned ominous - he was the intruder, the enemy, and the water around him was out to get him! For a split second he wondered whether he made a really bad choice, but that feeling of detachment disappeared as he involuntarily tried to hiccup, cough, and gasp at the same time.
This is it.
Water flooded his lungs, and with it came a feeling of surrender and acceptance. Eric's mind went silent as the severity of this new reality imposed itself on his self-awareness. When Eric noticed he was still there, probably not dead and with lungs full of water, he breathed out. The feeling of water exiting his body was a thick, flowing and needy sensation. The next few breaths were more stable and rhythmical.
Yay, he remarked with a mixture of real and mock enthusiasm. The world felt different; being alive felt different. How addicted we are to breathable air! It's so hard to let go of the idea of breathing even in a dream. Eric felt that this simple realization changed him - and his perception of himself - on a profound level, but could not pinpoint exactly what has changed.
* * *
Eric stuck his head out of the water, breathed air deeply, then walked out and away from the lake.
He liked the way water and sand danced around his toes. Ever since he was a kid, swimming wasn't his strong suit, but he had fond memories of turning over wet buckets of sand and proclaiming them to be sandcastles. When a larger wave came and washed the sweat of his brow away, he could pretend to be angry at the destruction of his magnificent art.
Rose and Lucy were sitting on a blanket-size towel spread across the sand, tugging at the edges of the towels they themselves were wrapped in. Maeve was sunbathing next to them, but she noticed Eric and stood up to meet him.
Maeve wasn't a petite woman. Eric's impression was that her crimson one-piece swimming suit wasn't exactly flattering to a woman of her age and curvature. Her grey-black hair was disheveled and fastened together haphazardly.
"Here you go," Maeve said, offering him a neatly folded towel.
Eric dried himself and slumped down next to the girls.
"Finally you're not first at something!" Lucy said, grinning.
Eric didn't say anything, just smiled and shrugged.
"By the way, I'm still mad at you two for not waiting for me. What was so urgent about going through fire attunement that you couldn't wait?"
"Sorry, we just got carried away," Eric said.
"Yeah, Kyle and Lyle were so happy dancing in the fire, we didn't think it would be quite such a big ordeal. How about you choose the next class? I don't want you to be mad at me..." Rose made an overly sad face.
Lucy nodded. "Fine. I'm a little bit less mad at you, then."
"Hotheads," Maeve muttered. "You really should think some things through. I don't know why that numskull Joe is so irresponsible to leave such dangerous toys lying around... then again, we have an airhead throwing kids off a cliff to see if they fly and I too have to take time off to oversee reckless youngsters deliberately drown themselves... I need a drink."
Maeve turned around to her bag, rummaged through it, and retrieved a cocktail shaker, a cocktail glass and a tiny umbrella. She filled the glass with a translucent liquid from the shaker and stirred it with the pointy end of the umbrella.
Rose was eyeing the glass. "What's in there?"
"Gin-tonic. Do you want some?"
"Yes." Rose licked her lips.
"Well, you can't have any."
Rose frowned. "Why? Because I'm too young to drink?"
"No, because I intend to drink it all myself. Ha!" Maeve took a sip. "Besides, your elemental harmony is messed up. I don't want any of you eating or drinking anything before you complete the water attunement." Maeve lifted a metallic container out of her bag, rattled it, then put it back. "I do have some home-made cookies I'm willing to share with you after. Oh so delicious, mmm!"
"Didn't we already complete the water attunement?" Rose asked.
"What do you mean? Ah, the water-breathing; it's just a nice trick. I guess it qualifies as a minor attunement, but it's not enough to offset the fire you have. We need the real deal for that."
"Oh. So what do we have to do?"
"Have you heard of what we psychologists call a 'sensory-deprivation chamber'?"
"I did," Lucy said.
Rose shook her head. "You're a psychologist?"
"We'll use the lake in a similar fashion, and the water will show you its secrets if you listen." To Rose she said: "I keep several papers on my wall that say so, just in case I run out of toilet paper."
"What do we have to do?" Eric asked.
"Nothing. And believe me, that's not easy. I bet Joe gave you the head-through-wall speech, did he not?" They nodded. "It's a nice speech that breeds hotheads and airheads. It also makes my work more difficult. You can't will yourself through this one; no force or action will help you."
"I don't get it," Eric said.
Maeve sighed. "'Getting it', as you say, is optional. Understanding will let you down, especially if you wield it as a hammer to which everything is a nail. You have to be prepared to cast it aside. Trust yourself, your feelings, your subconscious - the parts of yourself you might not even realize are parts of you."
Eric looked at Lucy, hoping she had some more sensible information, but she just shrugged.
"Go into the lake, feel the waves, and let go. Whenever you're ready. This box of cookies and I are waiting for you."
* * *
Eric was swimming in the lake. He didn't know what he was supposed to do, or not do, so he just splashed around. He found that diving was easier with lungs full of water, but there wasn't anything worth diving for. Like a big pool, the lake had no flora or fauna, just water and the sandy bottom.
Eric went back to the shallows. He liked to play a little game: he would fall to the bottom while breathing out completely, hug the ground, propel himself out of the water, breathe in, and slowly let it out again. It was fun.
He experimented with breathing air and water in the same breath, but it was a yucky feeling; not pleasant at all.
Another game he liked to play was to see how long he could hold his breath. He crossed his legs and dropped to the bottom. Since he didn't have to rise for air, the game was simpler, but also less exciting.
Eric's mind wandered, and the tension in his muscles relaxed. It felt good to be in an environment that opened its own world of magic. Eric fished for a word to describe this state to himself, and the word 'meditation' turned up in his mental net. He was slightly revulsed with the word his subconscious presented - after all, meditation is something boring for old people with crunchy bones. Well, they must be doing it wrong! Eric overcame the revulsion and accepted the word as his own.
Hmmmmm... breathe in... breathe out...
Time passed, without hurry.
A voice came muffled from above. Why do you interrupt my meditation? Yet, he could hear the voice clearly in his mind, and it swirled in his awareness until the sound crystallized into words he could understand.
"The uninterrupted surface of the lake is clear and at balance. When you enter the water, you disrupt that balance. Listen to the waves and align yourself so that the lake is clear again."
Now you tell me... The words 'listen', 'clear' and 'balance' made sense to Eric, but the sentences on the whole did not. He resumed his meditation and focused on listening. What do I hear? Nothing...
A while later it occurred to Eric that the 'nothing' he was hearing was actually a static-like background noise:
Where did that noise come from? Eric noticed the sound of his heartbeat. It pumped not only the blood in his veins, but it also caused small vibrations in his body that went out and came back to him as tiny waves of water. He heard the sound of his underwater breath - water whooshing in and whooshing out.
The more he listened, the less he heard. The sounds became feelings on his skin; gentle touches of waves and vibrations.
He recalled the image of his will from the fire attunement ritual: the vision of a great, burning flame. The water around him threatened to extinguish that flame, wave by wave, touch by touch. For a moment he was tempted to lash out, let the flame loose and burn away the whole lake and evaporate all the water in it. He wasn't sure he could do it, but he wasn't sure he wanted to, either. He let the temptation wash away.
The fire became enclosed by a bubble, and the bubble turned into a wave. This strange fire threaded upon itself, and became a texture of waves Eric could touch with his awareness. The fabric felt smooth, sometimes a bit rough with a loose thread here and there. He still felt he could torch the fabric if he wanted to. As he traced the surface with the touch of his awareness, the threads and waves extended up from the two dimensions of the plane and exploded with movement in all directions - shattering the awareness that observed them.
Eric panicked - his own inner thoughts came back as sensations of touch. The gentle waves of water were not only assaulting his bodily form, but also his mind and sense of identity. He felt himself outside himself; it was alien and terrifying. The waves no longer echoed and bounced back when they hit his form - they went right through.
Where am I?! Who am I?
The questions echoed back recursively with no answer. Stronger than the panic of having no answer, was the echoing annoyance of having asked the question. Clarity, Eric thought. Clear surface of the lake.
Eric, whoever that was, started punching waves in the multidimensional fabric to clear out the echo: a wave gets cancelled out by another wave. Action-reaction.
There was only the undisturbed water and its perfect symmetries.
* * *
"Wake up, water child! Or should I say, young elementalist."
Eric opened his eyes. He was sitting on the sandy beach of the lake, legs crossed and hands resting softly upon his knees. He noticed he was no longer breathing water, but air. Did I fail? He felt every touch of the light breeze on his skin, pulling and pushing gently.
"Can you stand?" Maeve offered her hand to help.
"I think so." He reached for her hand and pulled himself up. His legs wobbled a little and he kicked out to stretch them, one after the other. There was something tangled on his foot; he reached to pick it up. My boxers! Eric was stark naked - and embarrassed. He fumbled to put his shorts back on right away.
Thankfully, Maeve made no comment.
"Did I fail? How did I get out the water?"
"No, you didn't fail." She laughed. "Did you get out of the water, or did the water get out of you? You have withdrawn from each other - how else could we enjoy this beautiful lake-side vista?"
Compared to before, Eric felt like his will waved back and resynced, reverberating from the edges of his form. Or perhaps he was just more secure in his identity with his boxer shorts back on.
It was a long day...
Absent-mindedly, Eric reached for a flat stone and threw it horizontally towards the lake. It skipped about a dozen times before it submerged.
Dawn Harshaw / Dream Magic: Awakenings / Chapter 7 - Water Attunement