🏄‍♀️ Redrawing Lines With Water





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C. Wess Daniels
C. Wess Daniels
Dear Friends,
While my family and I are all soaking up the sun and salt out here at Ocracoke 🏝 Island, I thought this was a good time to start introducing you to people I think you should know.
This week, I asked my good friend, educator, coach, photographer, and everyday philosopher Maia Dery, to write a reflection. In this issue, Maia shares with you some of her thoughts on water, growth and change, and identity. What follows is reflection and story I think you’ll find compelling not only becuase of her voice and beautiful photography, but because she reflects on the power of water to dissolve the lines that separate us. Lines are often imposed by empire. These artificial boundaries imposed by empire can be washed away by two universal solvents: Love and Water.
The query for the week:
What if water, which no matter your beliefs, lends life to all of us, and without which we cease to be— what if water were the designer of our place? Our selves? - Maia Dery
Have a read and let us know what you think by simply replying to this email or jumping into the chat room to ask questions and discuss.
PS - Be sure to check out the “New Opportunities” section below as I have some exciting opportunities coming up I’d like for you to know about.

Guest Reflection from Maia Dery
Photo Credit: Maia Dery
Photo Credit: Maia Dery
Identity, Place, and the Universal Solvents
“What is a watershed? Easy, if you are standing on ground right now, just look down. You’re standing, and everyone is standing, in a watershed.” ~website of the USGS
Who am I?
What if the answer to that question is dissolved in the solution of the answer to another one: “Where am I?”
A river basin or watershed is an area of lands that drains into a single river (or bay, or other body of water). Roughly 60% of the human body is made up of water but the heart and brain are closer to 73% water.
I was raised in North Carolina. 
I’ve been here my entire conscious life. 
There was much I didn’t know about myself when I was growing up but there were two things I knew for sure. 
I was not a Virginian and I was not a Christian. 
Not that I was Jewish or Muslim, no, I was not-Christian. My mother was raised Catholic and she’s still pissed about it.
As a youngster, I was, like all of us, learning the boundaries, the lines, the separations. And, like all of us, I was building an identity defined by the lines. After all, we can’t have a 7-billion person tribe. We aren’t built for identification or affiliation on that scale. We need to define, to delineate our people, our place, and our selves. So I learned I was on this side of the line that separated North Carolina from Virginia, but also on “this side” of the lines that seemed to separate play from school, nontheist from Christian, liberal from conservative, white from black.
A terrain of identity seemed to emerge from the answers to the questions about who I was (and was not), where I was from and where I was most certainly not from. But what didn’t occur to me was that asking those questions as if they had distinct answers pushed me to try to separate the inextricably interdependent parts of being human, of being embodied, of being alive in a place defined, not by lines, and the cartography of separation, but by cycles and connection and interdependence.
Photo Credit: Maia Dery
Photo Credit: Maia Dery
Let’s take that state line. When I was in school, I didn’t learn that the 36th parallel, the line that separated Virginia from North Carolina, was drawn by King Charles II (Carolina means “Province of Charles”). After regaining the throne, Charles II partitioned off the southern section of the colony of Virginia to reward a group of loyalists called the Lords Proprietors. They were eight rich fellows who had, one way or another, helped him regain the throne after a period of exile. They were granted land that others (both human and more than human) had lived on for thousands of years. The Lords were not expected to live on the land (although if any one did he would automatically be governor). Instead, they were to avail themselves of the wealth that could be extracted and brought back to England. In other words, the state line along the 36th parallel, one of the foundational boundaries supporting my identity, was drawn by a man who was presiding as the devastatingly powerful designs of extractive capitalism, the African slave trade, not to mention “whiteness,” were taking hold. I learned that I was a North Carolinian, that I was from the city of Durham and a county by the same name. I learned these lines but not why they were drawn, where and who they had been drawn by and through, and from whom they were meant to separate me. I accepted these markers of myself without question, critique, or revision.
Despite a lot of study, I didn’t learn the foundations of the history of who/where I was until I learned to surf.
Yes, I said surf, as in waves, in the ocean, on a board.
But first, let’s back up for a second. As a young adult, I became an artist, a photographer, and that meant, among other things, that I developed a deep appreciation for the power of design— of shape, of shade, and, especially, of line. I learned something about the world in the ways we encourage young people to do so, with human teachers, in classrooms, where the lines were clearly drawn. But I learned even more by escaping from that same process at every turn, in the shoe-sucking muck and cattails of the neighborhood swamp, or perched on a rock above the chaotic tumble of water in a nearby creek or, a couple of times a year, down at the coast, jumping waves with my family. I began to discover that there were patterns hidden everywhere. Over time, it became clear that lines, shapes, shades, colors, light, all of them guide and alter perception, often without our awareness. And line, especially, in our culture, can wield a profoundly determinative power. We have poverty lines, soup lines, race lines, red lines, and party lines. We even have life and timelines. Our linear view of time means “earlier” comes before “now,” which precedes “later” before receding in a riptide of “remember whens” and “never agains.” 
While there were (and doubtless still are) parts of myself that lay undiscovered, I was, as I said, firm in my identity as a North Carolinian. And I was most certainly not a Christian with all that faith in an invisible force rewarding and punishing, dictating and deciding.
But I never seriously attended to or questioned who benefited from the separation and drew the lines between, the ones that told me who I am and who I am most certainly not. This despite the fact that I appreciated, even revered lines in the photographs I made. And this despite the fact that I worked at a liberal arts college, that I was a politically engaged, progressive citizen of my country, my state, my county. 
But then I decided to learn to surf and I began to question every line and even began to question the tenacious power of “the linear” in my thinking.
Surfing, after all, is made of about 2% wave riding layered on 100% staring at and reacting to water. It became a discipline— learning to read water and the waves of energy I was increasingly able to ride. We call the approaching swell “lines” but they aren’t really like other lines. You are looking for a visible manifestation of an invisible force. The lines that force generates (and that you might get to ride) shift and disappear and, occasionally support an ecstatic, mystical moment of connection. You can’t hang your identity on those lines but they contain something transformational. I became profoundly confused. And I fell deeply in love with all of it. 
Now, all love is responsive and, as a surfer, I gradually began to understand what response my body needed to effectively match water’s call. And, somewhere in that devotion to an emergent, wordless, call-and-response practice among those shifting, propelling lines, I discovered that the lines that formed the very architecture of my identity were reinforcing the systems I claimed to be most earnestly working to revise. I came to understand something important, as an article of faith, as I floated in (and receiving the occasional pummeling from) that literal, oceanic higher power.
I had a conversion experience. And I began to believe this: 
There are two universal solvents. 
love and water
Photo Credit: Maia Dery
Photo Credit: Maia Dery
Driving back and forth weekly between work in Greensboro and surf in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, surfing tiny waves, I began to feel a glimmer of some embodied and radical understanding of lines, shapes, shades, and separations. And, in the way encountering radical transformation has of messing with the roots of identity, the water, which for years had just confused me, began to teach me something crucial about where and who I am. You see, I was torn in the way many acquisitive Americans would be. I wanted more of that flowing, coastal life down there and less of the fraught, fretful, often ludicrously acrimonious life at work, the academic life of teaching at a college. And I wanted more of that coastal undulation while still holding on to the abundant and beautiful and important work of guiding and learning from others. 
I wanted both places but they were separate. 
There was “there” and there was “here.” 
And then there was me, and where I would put myself?
Then something magical happened. The lines shifted, the rivulets running into the body of water joined into one indistinguishable body. Despite the fact that I grew up and have spent my entire adulthood living in one watershed, one river basin, I never thought about it. Driving from upstream to downstream and back again, it took me years and some road signs announcing that I was entering the Cape Fear River Basin to help me get it. These signs, evangelizing ecological awareness of place, gave me new foundational lines. It turned out I had been in one place for my whole damn life and never realized it. And that meant that all of those places I drove through along the way were also my place. Their history was also my history and their living beings, challenges, assaults and injustices were also my responsibility.
A river basin is an area of lands that drains into a single river, bay, or other body of water. What all of those hours of bobbing on a board, staring at undulations and horizons and spray set me up to perceive is that I am also the river basin because the water that flows through it and gives it life also flows through me and gives me mine.
And I have a new question to act as guiding spirit, an invisible force I can ride, and learn from, and even have faith in.
As I said earlier, we need lines. We can’t, physically, care about the whole world. We need some boundaries, a tribe with which we can identify, build connection, form (and reform) culture. So, what if our identity and those with whom we felt identified, weren’t based on the lines some colonial power drew? What if we removed the power to define us from property tax or school district or party-minded humans, all of whom are trained (by biology and culture) in the finer points of separation, of what something (or someone) is not and where the lines should be drawn? 
What if our sense of responsibility, of identity, of our deepest most intimate embodiment, came from lines drawn not by us and the forces that divide us but instead came from something that connects us all so deeply, it makes our interdependence plain? What if the designer that drew our boundaries, our borders were water?
What if water, which no matter your beliefs, lends life to all of us, and without which we cease to be— what if water were the designer of our place? Our selves?
Photo Credit: Maia Dery
Photo Credit: Maia Dery
This isn’t a question that can be answered. It’s too radical. It must be humbly asked and repeatedly lived in, not a straight line, but a cycle of attempt and revision and, maybe someday, redemption.
I have, I think, because of my supplication before the literal higher power of water, a much better idea of the character of all I don’t know.
I now live at the coast where I used to drive to surf. I live downstream of 11 municipal treatment plants. The water that makes up me, my heart, my brains, has been so many other places and so many other beings. There is no way I can think of myself as an independent entity. I am made up of so many others. As Walt Whitman wrote, “I contain multitudes” and then they contain me. The boundaries that separate me from the world, from the next state and the next community of belief, it seems, are, at most, membranes. We need each other because we are each other, and the places we live.
❓Query for Personal Reflection
  • What lines are you aware of in your life, whether physical, spiritual, geopolitical, or otherwise?
  • What if our sense of responsibility, of identity, of our deepest most intimate embodiment, came from lines drawn not by us and the forces that divide us but instead came from something that connects us all so deeply, it makes our interdependence plain? What if the designer that drew our boundaries, our borders were water?
  • What if water, which no matter your beliefs, lends life to all of us, and without which we cease to be— what if water were the designer of our place? Our selves?
About Maia Dery
Maia Dery is a life and executive coach, creative consultant, former college instructor, artist, avid surfer, and dedicated student of the more than human world. She works with her clients (and, endlessly, herself) to discover, foster, and facilitate deepening, renewable sources of creativity, empathy, joy and purpose in leadership, in love, and in play. 
Her approach, whether behind a camera, as a speaker, or with individual clients, is grounded in guiding others to see their world with enhanced pattern-recognition, increased inspiration, deeper engagement, and an appreciative sense of what is present and possible. Maia’s current work serves leaders, change-makers, and creators who want to leave the world better than they found it w/hile building health, integrity, and wisdom.
You can learn more about her work or listen to her podcast at wavestowisdom.com or send her an email: maia@wavestowisdom.com
🗺 New Opportunities: Spiritual Direction and Courses
I am very excited to announce a few different opportunities to work with you and your communities in the coming year.
  1. Spiritual Direction: Starting September 1, I am offering spiritual direction for a handful of directees. If this is of interest to you or you know someone who has been wanting or needing to start direction please email me (wess@hey.com).
  2. Speaking and Preaching: I am now scheduling my preaching, speaking, and teaching calendar for the fall and spring and would love to have an opportunity to work with your community on a variety of subjects related to Bible, Quaker tradition, renewal work, and more.
  3. Online Courses Offerings: I am currently offering two online courses for your faith community or organization: A) Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance: this course will go in-depth on reading strategies for understanding the Bible in liberatory ways, and how the Book of Revelation can be understood and used as a tool for resisting empire. (4 week course - cost is $500) B) Remixing Faith, Renewing Community: this course will walk participants through using appreciative inquiry as a change model in their community, how cultural context and tradition can work together, and the four practices of convergent renewal. (5 week course - $625)
I would love to work with you in one or more of these ways. If cost is an issue, I will work with you. Please reach out and we can discuss how I might be of service to you. Email me for more information: wess@hey.com
🗣 Join the Discussion
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📆 Upcoming Events
💚🧠 Final Thought
We are not going to struggle to save places we don’t love, we can’t love places we don’t know, and we’ll never know places we haven’t learned. - Babbo Duen (ht. This interview about Watershed Discipleship with Ched Myers)
Thank you for Reading!
Wess Daniels
Ocracoke Island 🏝☀️ (Temporarily)
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If you’d like to support it you can do so by sharing this issue with friends who you think would find Maia’s story inspiring or sending them to newsletter.remixingfaith.com.
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C. Wess Daniels
C. Wess Daniels @cwdaniels

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