Estuaries are partly enclosed coastal waters, in which river water is mixed with seawater. These bodies are beautifully diverse (think Chesapeake Bay & Lake Pontchatrain), with a unique mix of plant and animal life.
They act as transition areas for salmon and other marine life—salmon eggs are laid in the freshwater, and the brackish estuary provides a transitional place for the young ‘fry,’ helping them adjust to the saltwater over time.
The estuary is where the salmon move from homey/cozy freshwater to tasting the saltiness of the ocean, and they go through an internal change called smoltification—a mysterious alchemical process in which their internal environment is completely rebuilt.
This process, along with caterpillars turning into butterflies and frogs regrowing legs (and a billion other mysteries in our biological reality) doesn’t make sense from a materialist worldview—the worldview that says things are separate, operate themselves, and are disconnected from the rest of life, with one DNA packet per separate, solid life form.
But major internal change—this kind of smoltification process—including completely new shapes & operating systems, is more the norm than the exception in nature. And it is actually the norm for us humans (though we are taught the materialist worldview that we are nouns, instead of verbs).
It is the natural process of evolution—a radical transformation in which our whole being alters, finding a much bigger space to occupy, as we drop old constrictions (limiting beliefs) in our system. And this evolutionary process is built into us, just like the salmon.
But it takes some healing, some time in the brackish waters—letting go of old patterns, old internal systems…eating some salt, as it were.
The word healing literally means ‘returning to wholeness,’ like returning to the ocean. But our transition—this healing into our expansion—takes an internal, physical transmutation.
And it takes an estuary.
Monks & nuns & many healers & spiritual teachers know this. They value time to find truth & real healing— because they know that it’s necessary (not because they didn’t try to find a loophole, just like the rest of us!),
In some zen practices, meditation is considered a ‘mixing practice’—meeting the density of thought and tension in the body with stillness/silence/pure awareness—‘mixing’ pure silence with our inner conditioning, over time.
In this way, the monastery or meditation house can be seen as an estuary—a safe place to metabolize the ‘salt’ of our conditioning and transform our inner being. A place to heal, to let in the vastness of our true nature.
There’s no rushing at the meditation house. The salmon don’t rush either. They take on a little bit of seawater at a time, swimming with the changes, and right alongside their brothers and sisters.
We humans tend to avoid our natural healing, our transmutation—due to stories of fear, installed in our childhoods.
We attempt to skip over it, rushing to the ocean prematurely (more my style!). Or we avoid our pain & healing work. Or we fall for the commercialized estuary (think yoga & self care culture …some of it is great…and some of it is selling you on a product or an experience being your healing, instead of the inside job that it is).
None of this is natural.
But swimming in brackish water—i.e. meeting your pain, your inner constrictions—is natural.
And there is so much potential (and even pleasure) in meeting that pain, that salty stuff.
Salmon live in the ocean! This is a huge amount of expansion. And truly, meeting your own inner pain is the key to your expansion…and your expansion is infinite.
Some of the deepest, most satisfying moments of my life were in turning toward my pain, toward that which was brackish, realizing after I had metabolized it, that a new ocean view was mine.
Today—a biting cold Sunday in Chicago—I’m taking the morning slow with my dog and my oat milk cappuccino. It’s been two days of inner healing work, as some old beliefs were triggered on a date. Though I have been active, I’ve created little estuaries all weekend—meditation/silence, dancing, baking ‘cookies of joy’ from St Hildegaard, and receiving virtual cuddles from many friends.
Any time I needed to meet pain in my system—to ‘smoltify’ (Try Kiran Trace’s ‘Alchemy’ meditation. Link below)—I gave it to myself, including a sweet little cry at the hardware store yesterday, as some old heart pain was metabolized. My heart expanded as I met the pain—and I fell in love with all the dudes at the store (they were so helpful & kind I couldn’t bear it!).
The feeling of expanded love was my ocean view… with the salt running down my cheeks.
But I’ve had challenges with this, as have my clients. We have a whole culture of rushing & avoiding. We rush everything. And we distract with everything.
And there is very little trust in the natural expansion built into our bodies, our being.
But salmon want to go to the ocean. And so do we.
And we can actually savor our healing, our transformation. We can have some nice long swims in our own, self-made estuaries. It doesn’t need to be a monastery. Nor does it mean crying at a hardware store.
Rather, we welcome/accept a little salt/pain/tension/fear at a time. We sit with it, get curious about it. We see if it’s really as scary as our mind tells us.
Taste it for yourself. Dive into the pockets of pain in your body you are avoiding.
And then come back out and have some tea. Find something comfy. Have a dance. Cuddle yourself in your favorite sweatshirt and slippers.
Saltwater. Freshwater. Saltwater. Freshwater.
An ancient, natural mixing practice you were built for.
If you’d like to learn these tools directly, come join my new Awake Body, Quiet Mind group, starting February 5th. Four Tuesdays from 10:30-12:00 in a healing estuary.
Learn more & sign up here: https://meghanroekle.com/take-action/
I’ve mentioned Kiran Trace many times. She is my core teacher and her meditations and tools are powerful. Try her Awareness, Acceptance & Alchemy meditations for your own ‘smoltification’ here: https://kirantrace.com/shop/
Jeff Foster is a master of welcoming pain, heartbreak, depression…you name it. Check out some of his writings here: http://www.lifewithoutacentre.com/the-wordless-library