The Rebel Element: Lessons on Liberation From Water (Webinar Transcript)

Introducing advaya's upcoming course, Wisdoms of Water, we explore with curator Virginia Vigliar the symbolism of water in mythology, counterculture imagination, and political discourse, highlighting its symbolism for persistence, imagination, and connectedness.

Ruby Reed (advaya): So this webinar is in celebration of our upcoming course, Wisdoms of Water, which is an exploration of mythology, memory and freedom curated and hosted by Virginia, who is going to be in conversation with me today. The course brings together 12 incredible speakers, including Bayo Akomolafe, Astrida Neimanis, and Vandana Shiva. It's starting in a couple of weeks, and it's gonna run for six weeks, you can participate live or, or access the recordings and do the materials in your own time. The recording of this conversation will be shared online and be sent out to everybody afterwards. So the webinar today is called The Rebel Element. Based in the idea that there is no freedom without persistence, imagination, and connectedness, and water teachers ask this in the webinar, today, we're going to use water as a metaphor to explore what it can teach us about the pursuit of freedom, liberation and transformation in turbulent times. We're going to look at the rebellious spirit of water, and some examples of the role it has played as a symbol of resilience, healing, adaptability, personal and collective liberation within the counterculture imagination, from ancient mythology through to the present day, I'm going to structure the webinar with a guided visualisation on water. And then an opening conversation between Virginia and me around a few key readings and ideas from the course really touching on some of what the speakers are going to address much in a much deeper way, over the six weeks, and then we'll open up for q&a and sharing in the last part. So thank you so much for joining us. And I'm really looking forward to being with you for this next hour. Virginia, Ill pass it to you.

Virginia Vigliar: Hello, everyone. Thank you for having me. I'm really excited to have this conversation. We're going to start with a little guided meditation just to arrive here and get into the watery realm. So if you feel like shutting off your camera, you can do that. So let's begin. When you're ready, just close your eyes settled into a comfortable position. You can sit even lie down and take a big deep breath in. Feel the chest expand. Exhale, let it go. Again, right the breath in. Feel the corners of your lungs expand. Hold the breath and exhale, sighing out let it go are going to take a little journey. So just listen to my guidance and step into your body. Take a moment to just see yourself from the inside out. Let go of unnecessary tensions. Drop the corners of your mouth.

Your jaw, your shoulder. Keep breathing in and out. And as you settle into this moment imagine yourself surrounded by water. Feel its gentle embrace its fluidity echoing the movements of your own breath. With each inhale, envision the water rising around you. Lifting you gently and as you exhale feel yourself thinking deeper into its soothing that keep breathing in and out and surrender into that sweet space. That is your body. This body of water.

Now bring your awareness to your body. Feel the sensations of water against your skin. It's coolness soothing and intention or discomfort. Keep breathing in and out. As you immerse yourself deeper, feel the water washing away any barriers or limitations that you may have placed upon yourself with each breath, feel yourself becoming lighter, more buoyant. Relax the muscles around your eyes, your jaw your face. allow the water to carry you effortlessly as you surrender to its gentle rhythm as you continue to float on the surface of this vast ocean connect with the wisdom of your body listen to its whispers. Its cues guiding you towards greater freedom and authenticity. Keep relaxing your body and feel the expansiveness of your being. As you embrace the infinite potential that is within you in this moment of deep connection allow yourself to fully embrace the beauty of this moment of yourself. You are water fluid and ever changing. Capable of flowing through life with grace and take a few more moments to bask in this feeling of freedom allowing it to permeate every cell of your being. Do one last big breath in and a big sigh out and slowly slowly tune back into your surroundings. Feel the connection to your breath. Attune to the sounds of your surroundings. Gently bring movement back into your skin. We do your toes your fingers. Move your head gently from side to side and slowly come back into the room when you're ready, open your eyes again.

Ruby Reed (advaya): Thank you so much, Virginia. Before we move on to the main conversation, just wanted to caveat how we are using water in this webinar and really emphasise that we're using it metaphorically. But in no way do we need to compare with people who are suffering or going through very intense challenges with this idea of like thinking like water or being like water. So I really wanted to emphasise that before we do continue and that we're using it As an analogy to support us, when we are going through difficult times, as the topic today is liberation, freedom and transformation really want to bring in to our awareness, the people right now in Gaza. And if we could have one minute silence, for that.

Thank you everyone, thinking of water as example quintessential example of the relational world view. Water is shared, it's the same all over the world, whether it falling in the rain, or if it's in the depths of the ocean, or whether it's in our blood. And it makes us think of the quote by Audre Lorde, "I am not free until everyone is free". So thinking of the genocide that is happening right now. We can think of this idea and really carry that through with us. So moving on to water and the course Wisdom of Water, and its relationship with liberation and freedom. I wanted to start by Virginia asking you what really drew you to this topic? What made you want to bring together this cohort of teachers and this faculty and to explore water in this in this way, in this symbolic, in a symbolic way? And how do you understand liberation in this context?

Virginia Vigliar: Yeah, thank you for everything before this as well. So I it's both personal and political for me because personally, I'm someone who's always loved water, lived by the sea. Learn to Swim really young. So I have a really strong relationship with water, particularly the sea. When I am angry, I go underwater and scream. And this course was born because I thought that, you know, this whole course in general was born with liberation in mind. One, because I write about it a lot. I write about feminism and social justice issues from like an ecological and poetic perspective. But then I came across the topic of hydrofeminism, which was coined by Astrida Neimanis. She's one of the teachers actually, she's the first in the first week. And I was blown away by this concept where basically it examines the intersection of water, gender and power dynamics. And it challenges the traditional worldview that water is passive. It emphasises that it has agency and it can influence our own experiences. And the whole concept of hydrofeminism, advocates for centering marginalised voices, particularly women and indigenous community in discussions around water governance and sustainability. So it wants to kind of dismantle hierarchies and promote equality and equity in India approaches to water management. And when I was creating the course, I came with, like my very political way of thinking of like, "Yeah, let's do it like this and only, like only politics, only 100 feminism", but then I think as I dug deeper and I did more research, and also sharing it with you because in the end, we did this process also together. In many ways, I realised that some of the things that that helped me in my work as well are looking for joy and enchantment and kind of spirituality also, as guides within these more political liberation, let's say. And we want to, you know, we wanted to, like merge these, these topics as well. And then, as I say, like we opened a watery Pandora's box, and, you know, the ideas, I think, of guardianship of water are super important. And I wanted to bring that in understanding water from a deeply spiritual perspective, a connection or relationality, to water, and in and also understanding it in a context of religious and cultural customs, like, how has it been used? What has it represented for people for religions, and, and for me, all of these things, encompass the idea of liberation, because liberation is like, a process that has many processes, which is, you know, resistance, organisation. We're seeing it these days, like healing, collective demands, renewal, imagination, and all of this. I'm seeing it also in the student protests that are happening now in the US, but also all over the world. And I think that's what liberation actually is. It's a conglomerate of different things that has relationality, joy, enchantment within it as well, within the path through the process.

Ruby Reed (advaya): I find it interesting how shared water is for so many people as a symbol of hope, and change and transformation. Like if you see a river water is normally flowing, there is a sense of possibility and change. It changes state goes from water to gas, and solid, it can't be isolated. It's, like I said before, it's it's everywhere. It's everything. And it's also like the tiniest Speck, it defies our separatist worldview. And it defies the power-over paradigm, which I think is really interesting and at the core of a lot of advisors philosophy, is this idea that we need to return to an interconnected worldview or relational worldview, moving beyond the sense of a domination based paradigm Riane Eisler talks about this a lot. And also Pat McCabe who's done a lot of work with water too. Riane Eisler talks about how left and right for example is a spectrum. It's not about domination, and power-over versus power-with around a spectrum. And whether your left or right or masculine or feminine, is irrelevant is to do with how you're engaging with power, and how you're engaging with other-than beings, as about how you're relating with other-than human beings and with human beings. And in that way, this concept of water ties in so well with power. And with oppression, water is also being oppressed globally. Rivers are being dammed, very few rivers under the seabed is being mined, it's under constant attack. And now with privatisation of water, water will be the new gold. And so I wonder if you wanted to share a little bit of genetics, I know that this has been a huge piece of research for you as well. How you understand the relationship between water and power, oppression, and also the role that it's played in the countercultural imagination off the back of that.

Virginia Vigliar: I mean, I think when when you were speaking, it just made me think that what water does is it helps us redefine power. So we're now we now see power as like, economic military. And it's very much about having power power is something you have, but I think water like just by the existence of like insisting as we said before, it insists on flowing free, it changes shape it, you know, adapts to every surface and situation. And then I want to kind of bring the idea of power of something you are rather than something you have. There's a really beautiful quote by Mina Salami, who's someone who's actually one of she's not one of the teachers in the course, but she's one of advise teachers. And she writes about power and rivers. And she says, "power is to human beings, what gravity is to rivers, it is the vital source that helps us flow through the meandering streams of our lives". So it's like, you humans, or anything is born in power with power already. And it's not something you have. But unfortunately, yes, societal conditioning show us otherwise. But I think it's really interesting because then when you talk about counterculture and imagination, and then it makes me think, like, "Okay, what if we look at water, how it exists, and then think of ourselves also being able to do that to imagine other forms of being to imagine? Yeah, to imagine to insist on on imagining and slowing free?" And I don't know for me, that's Yeah. That sounds good. But yeah.

Ruby Reed (advaya): And you were looking at people like Martin Luther King, and how they were using water. Would you want to share a little bit around that?

Virginia Vigliar: Yeah. So basically, in political movements, water has been metaphorically employed or used to convey themes of unity, resilience and resistance. And the civil rights movement in the in the United States, was led by, you know, figures like Martin Luther King, they often used water imagery to evoke the idea of justice flowing like a mighty stream, as I think he says, in his "I Have a Dream" speech, and during the protests of the 1960s, I was researching and basically watermark, metaphors were really prevalent. They illustrated like the fluidity of ideas, the unstoppable force of collective action. More recently, environmental and social justice movements have adopted water symbolism to highlight like the interconnectedness of struggles, the urgency of protecting natural resources. So honestly, it's really everywhere, even in music, there's so much freedom, so many freedom songs that also talk about water and rivers. If you if you really start to notice, it becomes quite insane how much it's used in our daily lives. And I mean, we also have our bodies of water. Yeah, that's why we recognise it so much.

Ruby Reed (advaya): When I think about counterculture and freedom, and then power control and oppression in the context of water. I think about how, throughout history, things that have enabled real like decentralised autonomy have often been brought under the ages have a greater power-over. For example, the radical-based roots of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus, for example, which were an anarchic and rebellious, got co opted by an institution and put to the service of domination and colonisation, and deracinated and turned into the absolute opposite of its original narrative. And it's the same with I was recently in Amsterdam, I was at this museum called the Embassy of the free mind, which is dedicated to hermetic and esoteric texts, like a lot of them which were banned in the Renaissance. There was a discovery of a book by Hermes is a legendary figure called Hermes. And he wrote a book called the Corpus Hermeticum, which is around like alchemy, and this idea of the microcosm, macrocosm, around direct connection with a sense of the divine and the more-than-outside of dogma. The idea that if you know oneself, you know that all. This a shared worldview with a lot of the Eastern religions and indigenous shamanic practices, it's like a mystical way of being. And that was banned by the Pope and by the Catholic church at the time. But there was always a counterculture movement that was exploring, like how they could have a direct connection with the Divine outside of the institution outside of the dogma, like the whole, like Christian mystics. There was a questions frozen across the Brotherhood it was across, there's like always schools that were rebelling against the institution of the church and that power, the power of like that the roots of a lot of the Reformation, were the people who were also interested in this. How could they have this direct, autonomous connection? And that was making me think so much of this; why water is such a powerful symbol is because it defies ownership. And now corporate forces are doing all they can to own water. And they will in some way, corporate forces will try to own water, and they will put a price to it just like that people have been with with food. But it ultimately defies that, because of that sense of interconnectedness because it goes beyond borders. And we have to really recognise this, I feel that one of the greatest challenges that we can do to this paradigm that isn't serving is to stand up and protect water, and sources of water and the springs and like Charlotte Pulver in the course is going to talk about her work around world guardianship, and working with the ancient sacred spring sites of springs, and how important that is to like reconnect, and we appropriate these like ancestral practices that have been forgotten, as well as recognising the importance of water is this base, human right and this base requirement for for life to exist.

Virginia Vigliar: Yeah, I mean, there's also Vandana Shiva, who through her work, has talked a lot about this. And she's, she's also one of the teachers in the course. And one of the, I would say, one of the pioneers of ecofeminism from India. She always talks about the fact that water is like, it has to be a human right, and that protecting water is like protecting, yeah, what you're saying. This is why also within the course, at one point, we started talking about how important it was to talk about guardianship, to talk about like, defending bodies of water. Vandana Shiva explained in one of her talks that - it's really beautiful - she talks about protecting water as an act of remembering. She talked about the village women who showed her all the bodies of water, where they got water from and how limestone had been one of the sources to help them get toward her. And then I don't really remember the details, but she goes on to explain the fact that limestone mining was a direct cause towards her scarcity. And so the women had to walk longer, and it got more dangerous, and so you really realise how certain things are deeply connected also with your rights being, with abuse and your rights being abused. And I think that's like the power of an ecofeminist worldview, it shows how the protection of the abuse of the land and the abuse of non normative, of women's bodies and non binary bodies are intricately connected. So I think then it goes also on to that and like what what you were saying about water defying made me think of Alexis Pauline Gumbs, it says water teaches us about freedom and flow that shape that carves new paths that refuses to be contained. And so many other people like Margaret Atwood also talks about this. I find that quite fascinating and I think it's something that was really important for me to also put in the course. And of course, I'm not a water expert, the teachers of the course are. I think there's so much value in this.

Ruby Reed (advaya): Margaret Atwood quotes, "Water does not resist". It read that, "Water does not resist water flows. When you plant your hand into it or you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall. It will not stop you but water always It goes where it wants to go. And nothing in the end can stand against it." I think about that as like the indomitable human spirit that cannot be contained, despite whatever forces will come, that human spirit stays alive. And like when that humans spirit dies, I think it'll be the end of all freedom and justice, because that's ultimately what keeps things surviving, what keeps things going.

Virginia Vigliar: I saw it just to like, bring it in, because today I was watching a video of this PhD student who's protesting and he was being asked questions of like, why are you here? What do you study? And at one point, he was just like, it doesn't matter what I studied. It doesn't matter what I do. The way he was speaking about why he was there protesting was so, really it reminded me of this like indomitable spirit of like, nothing else matters, but justice. They're so intricately connected, it really fascinates me.

Ruby Reed (advaya): When you were talking just now what was coming to my mind was like, right brain thinking. And I was like, "wow, water is really right brain". If we think about analytical logical, versus big picture, intuitive. This is how like the left and the right tend to be differentiated. Iain McGilchrist is a writer who talks a lot about about the problems in our indominant culture, being down to an over-predominance of the left brain at the expense of the right brain. And the left brain is the book where he talks about this as the Master and His Emissary. And he talks about how the left brain will continue to isolate and continue to ask why, and to continue to take this pigeonholed view and suppress the right hemisphere thinking, the counterbalance of that. And he talks about the need to reestablish the balance. And therefore that would help to reestablish how we are then seeing our lives in the and society and culture as a whole. So it's like, water is very right brain.

Virginia Vigliar: I think it's both. Water is both.

Ruby Reed (advaya): Perhaps we could talk a little bit more about water as a symbol of healing and transformation. Did you would you like to?

Virginia Vigliar: Yeah, when I think of water is healing... I mean, I grew up in Rome. So I, I can think of the Catholic religion and how water, you know, purifies and heals, and you get baptised and like, dip yourself into water. So it makes me think about that. I am not Catholic, but I'm curious about spirituality as well. And I think a lot of the time, there's the use of water is as a purifier, as a cleanser. And it's also super rational if you think about it, because, you know, we take a shower to cleanse and come back. So I don't know that much about religious or this kind of work. In the course there's Veda Austin, for example. And WHAIA who will both speak about like water and spirituality and water as a healer. I would say, if you're curious about this, come to the course because I'm not usually an expert on this. But transformation, obviously, we were talking about it the other day, and our water is - it's the same water everywhere. It's just different shapes and different forms. And so in the adaptability and the shape-shifting of water is extremely interesting. And when I think of shape-shifting, it reminds me of the work of Gloria Anzaldúa, and she speaks about it from a perspective of like a Latin immigrant Chicana woman, so growing up in the US. And she talks about... That she shaped-shift essentially, that when something happens to you or trauma or big change, you are kind of broken into pieces. You're of a different shape, and then you have to slowly shape-shift into a new form to adapt to this kind of like post situation. And I mean, water services as an amazing metaphor of this. Gloria Anzaldúa. She talks about it in the context of her own experience, but she also talks about it in the context of personal trauma, for example, or like, if something happens to you, and she talks about it in the context of sexual abuse. Yeah, moving things. But yeah, this is my two cents about that.

Ruby Reed (advaya): Yeah, I wanted to bring in how we feel via water. As like another shared -- I mean, obviously, not for everybody. Some people have a traumatic relationship with water and with open water especially. But generally, there is a sense of ease. When people come to water, the sense of lightness and peace. When you get inside water, it's one of the only places where you are supported in buoyancy. You can float, if you hold your breath, you floating on the on the on the surface without having to even tread water at all. It's a prime example, also of how when you relax, you're supported more like as soon as you start floating and flailing around, you'll start sinking. Like if you've had hysterics and haven't been able to control yourself, they can drop like a stone versus when you're able to be balanced and then feel yourself in harmony with your environment with your surroundings. It's one of the places where you really have to also when you are in deeper in waterway, you have to maintain respect. It's not unforgiving. Water is something that you have to always be engaged with awareness. And when we can think about then an mammalian dive reflex, I think is a really interesting, like biological example of this. Just to say that it's not just psychological. It's not just the psychosomatic feeling, but because we listen to lots of stories about how water is so calming that then it feels calm when we're near it. But like, we have all of these sensors in our face, like as soon as you put your face in the water, and mammalian dive reflex starts to kick in. So I think is very interesting. And then what that means is that our heart rate slows down. So we switched into the parasympathetic nervous system. There's the sympathetic and the parasympathetic. We slip into the parasympathetic nervous system, our heart rate slows down, which means that it doesn't have to work so hard for the blood to pump around the body. So then the pulse slows down too, which is often a measuring stick for our relaxed sense of relaxation in our state of calm. If you do free diving, if you explore going down to depth, with holding your breath on one breath of air, the mammalian dive reflex really has some crazy ways of expressing itself. And maybe I'll just mention some of them. It's when you when you start to swim down, because the heart doesn't have the pump so hard and the heart rate slows more, the blood also starts to congregate away from your periphery, into the centre around your lungs, which then again means that isn't the pumps as hard. It means you can hold your breath longer. This also means that when the water pressure increases, as you go down deeper, the lungs are more protected by the surrounding blood because the air spaces in your body, in your ears and your lungs, they will be able to decrease the size. The interesting thing as well, is that when you're very low on oxygen, I can't remember if it's your spleen, I think it might be your spleen, or your pancreas. I'll check. Then excretes oxygenated blood into the bloodstream. It's this like wild human-water adaptation of when we used to be marine mammals that somehow is still part of us. So I feel I just wanted to bring that up. And I mean, Sara Campbell is a free diver and she'll be talking about her water-base practices and she does that in such a powerful and a moving way. But it's like this. We are also historically like aqua marine, which I find hard to believe them when you understand the these bodily responses it's starts to make more sense. Yeah, I think one of the most beautiful things that we can -- one of the beautiful ways that we can calm down, it's like just taking a bath, is just getting in water and allowing us to feel the calmness and meditate in that way.

Virginia Vigliar:
So healing.

Ruby Reed (advaya):
Yeah. But such a pleasure to be joined by you all, and so much gratitude and hope that you will join us for the six weeks as well.


Virginia Vigliar

Virginia is a writer and curator exploring social justice, ecology, feminism, and art through a poetic lens. Her work is aimed at softly deconditioning from the systems we inhabit, she does this through sensorial essays, workshops, and talks. Writing and ritual are at the center of her research, which wants to highlight the revolutionary character and power of creativity, inner knowledge, and art, focusing on deconditioning through storytelling. Her work in community infuses poetry, ritual, movement, dialogue, and critical analysis.

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Ruby Reed

Ruby co-founded Advaya in 2015 and Earthed in 2023. She is a community builder, curator, creator and lover of water fascinated by how we relate to the world around us.

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