“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”
— Lao-Tzu (600 B.C.)
Ingredients: water, pebbles, flower petals (or pine needles, leaves, etc.)
Before beginning, each participant is to carefully choose several stones and several petals.
You are invited to sit alone or in community, near a body of water (lake, stream, ocean), or set a large, clear bowl of water near you.
Prepare your ritual by taking several deep breaths. Feel your chest and belly expanding as you inhale, and contracting as you exhale. Invite calm, love and healing into the space.
As you may know, Tooker passed from this world to the next through the medium of water.
Life is born from water. Ocean water was the womb of life on this planet, and every womb that shelters a developing embryo is a small, enclosed ocean.
Water respects its own cycle. Rain wafts from the surface of the ocean to sail with the clouds, condensing into raindrops that fall to earth, run into streams and flow into rivers until they return back to the sea. All the waters on earth are connected. Every drop is part of the larger flow.
So too our life is a process of return. We come into life like a clear spring high in the mountains. In childhood and youth, we are like a dancing stream, full of energy, playful, strong enough to carve mountains. In maturity, we are like a broad river, a bit slower perhaps, but able to carry tremendous loads and irrigate broad fields. Finally, in the end, we return our waters to the ocean, merging with the greater tides and currents.
As you breathe, reflect on the cycles of water, and the cycles of life.
The elements of water I invite us to reflect on include: powers of intuition and emotion; the ability to dream, love, grieve, cleanse, heal, refresh; the qualities of fluidity, purity, depth; the colors blue, purple, silver; and the moon.
Notice the water before us (a large bowl, a lake, stream, etc.) This will be our centre of beauty, our shrine, alter, and sacred space.
The stones we hold represent heavy burdens to us; burdens of loss, grief, anger, sadness, confusion etc. Consider what your own burdens are. Sit in silence for 2-3 minutes…
One by one everyone is welcome to release the burdens we carry by dropping their stones in the water. Notice how the water takes the weight and lightens your load.
Be mindful that even in your darkest moments and with your heaviest burdens there is always goodness and beauty to be gleaned, even though it may not be evident at the time.
Now gently rub the petals between your fingertips and feel them cradled in your palm. These petals represent beauty, our light-heartedness, joy, etc. Consider your own joy, what is beautiful in your world, what makes you smile, what lightens your burdens. Sit in silence for 2-3 minutes. Scatter the petals on the water in celebration of beauty, truth, faith, love.
Notice that the rocks sink, while the petals float, weightless, bobbing with the waves. So may the water take on our burdens and sorrows, while our joys and truths hover around us, offering colour and beauty to our lives.
As we sit in silence, consider what you’ve learned in the year since Tooker’s passing. What has his death prompted you to develop in yourself? How has his passing changed your perspective of community? Has his passing inspired you to take better care of yourself and your loved ones?
I invite you to commit, in the near term, to reach out to a friend or family member who is suffering or needing support. A phone call, an email, or an invitation to visit may be all it takes to lift someone from a vulnerable moment.
When you are ready, let the colour green – for growth – bathe you and renew you. Follow with an infusion of the colour rose, for your own love for yourself. And end by filling yourself with the shining golden light and warmth of the sun.
Slowly bend forward and touch your forehead to the earth, giving thanks for its support. Offer thanks for the sea and sky and all creatures therein. Give thanks to Tooker for his contributions to this earth. And give thanks to all the people in your life who have contributed their unique gifts to make a better world. Finally, give thanks for your own precious life. Blessed be.
Symbols and beauty – ritual, flowers, art, music, poetry – can wake us up to ourselves in a penetrating way, and allow for transformation, healing and awareness to dawn. They communicate beyond words.
Ritual and community gathering can give us the opportunity to genuinely touch our pain or grief, and allow the magic, the energy of the group, and our own intention to help us move, shift, or transform in some positive way.
Thank you for participating in this small way to acknowledge Tooker’s passing, to celebrate your community, and to honour your own beautiful self.
Special thanks to Starhawk and to Sally I. for help with the ritual text above.
I want to thank you all for honouring Tooker, yourself, and your community by participating in the water ritual on or around March 3, the anniversary of Tooker’s passing. About 170 people participated in the community rituals in Edmonton, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax, but hundreds of others did their own private water rituals in Vancouver, New York, LA, India, England, and elsewhere.
I believe that such rituals communicate beyond words, and can wake us up to ourselves in a penetrating way, and allow for transformation, healing, and awareness. Thank you for opening yourselves up to this exercise.
Here’s what some wrote me about their water ritual experience:
We went to the river on Mar. 3rd. Zach (3) enjoyed throwing the stones in – he said ‘more!’ Claire, who is 5, said to me that day how she is looking forward to seeing Tooker in heaven.
Sally, James, Zach & Claire, Edmonton
We had a magical and powerful gathering at Dufferin Grove park last night! Thirty or forty of us, out in blustery -10 for 5 hours around a fire that gave our body wonderful heat, with Tooker’s spirit warming our hearts. Petals and Pebbles placed in a crystal vessel that was once used by hundreds of children in my Flowing Waters Ceremony, nourished by our souls’ wish to embrace our own beauty and reach out when in need of support. Others spoke of working through depression and the insight gained from being deep inside their wounds, and finding the ways to reemerge with fresh perspectives and new wisdom. Songs and chants, howling and cheers were running rampant and whisked off by the smoke to be blown with great force directly to the east. You must have inhaled our potent aromas in Halifax!
Tooker’s writings were read with passion, and we celebrated the truth in each word spoken. Last night, under crystalline stars, it was so very clear that Tooker lives on in all of us who actively carry on the work of reclaiming integrity by choosing vital, healthy lives for ourselves and others. His message was strong… whether it is on the front line of activism, in an embrace with a child, in a classroom of new immigrants, engaging with elders, supporting those marginalized or isolated – each moment we have a choice. And we can waste it or fly with it.
Water was everywhere! The deep snows, Garrison creek below us, the dribbles from wet eyes and noses, water from Lake Ontario, and the steam billowing to the east as the vessel and petals were poured over the flames to end our ceremony. Quite a night!
We sprinkled the petals for Tooker in the East River today, actually it was colorful local lettuce leaves rather than pesticidy roses… the sun was smiling.
Wendy, New York
And here was what some of the speakers had to say:
We who seek a better world owe each other support in our social, emotional, and political lives. Else we have no world at all. Let’s look into each other’s eyes and commit to “be there” when we see each other stumbling, falling, sad about the state of the world. Humans evolved with tribes and villages around them. We still need that. We will always need that. Separated from our friends and extended family and usual allies, we are vulnerable, and may take to drugs or bad ideas…
We shall never forget Tooker because all courage shall remind us of him. By surrounding ourselves with each other, we surround ourselves with courage, and he lives on.
Craig Hubley, La Have Islands, Nova Scotia
Compassion is an expression of unflinching, tender self-awareness.
When we are courageous enough to really be there for ourselves, and by that I mean really bearing witness to our suffering and pain, our losses, hurts, and sorrow, we are in effect, really and truly taking care of ourselves…
True compassion can arise whenever we refrain from beating ourselves up, rejecting or pushing an emotion away, or clutching and grasping at something or someone we don’t want to let go of. When we are faced with difficult, painful life situations, we actually create less suffering for ourselves when we are finally able to gently lean into and be with, bear witness to our hearts and see as clearly as we can, what actually is. This is self-care.
Self-care is where compassion and loving-kindness for ourselves arises, and from this original and sacred place and space of self-care, then we are able to use our own genuine experiences as bridges for reaching out to others. From our own direct and personal experiences of being with ourselves and being there for ourselves, from our own self-care, we are then really capable and able to be there for others, and with others.
We aren’t freaked out by others’ intense feelings or extreme emotions or states of minds as easily, because we have courageously and gently looked after ourselves in those very same kinds of places. We have been brave warriors in the face of our own pain and suffering with gentle but persistent self-care, and now we may have the privilege of bearing witness and being of benefit to others in their struggle.
Sally Issenman, Edmonton
As we know, Tooker was frequently on the frontlines fighting for a lot of just causes, especially for a green and ecologically-sensitive world, but also for decent and affordable housing, for freedom of expression, for freedom and the right to dissent and protest peacefully in public spaces. Tooker was a very peaceful, a very humane, caring and courageous human being. I deeply respected and liked him a lot. I miss his brilliant, consciousness-raising tactics… I miss his spontaneous and infectious laughter, and much more.
What some people may not know is that Tooker was a psychiatric survivor who unfortunately did not survive.
What’s particularly troubling is that this psychiatrist never informed or warned Tooker that Remeron (anti-depressant) can cause suicidal ideas and impulses. The psychiatrist never bothered to ask Tooker if he ever felt suicidal or wanted to harm himself while on Remeron. All this despite the medical fact that researchers, psychiatrists, the drug company CEOs, and government regulatory agencies like the Food & Drug Administration and Health Canada knew that antidepressants – like Remeron, Paxil, Prozac, Effexor, and Zoloft – can drive people crazy, drive people to suicide. They knew all this years ago in the mid-1990s but covered up this horrible risk and truth. They never told Tooker and the rest of us. For the greedy and amoral drug company executives and psychiatrists, profits were, and still are, more important than people’s health. Lying to and with holding critical information about drug risks from patients and the public is more important and profitable than telling patients and the public the horrible truth about these so-called “safe, effective and life-saving” drugs.
Tooker’s death is obviously tragic. I agree with Angela when she asserts his death could have been prevented if the psychiatrist had acted ethically and responsibly, if he had fully and honestly informed Tooker of Remeron’s serious risks including suicide. Tooker’s death should be a warning for all of us. The psychiatrists and government officials in Health Canada are still not leveling with us; they think they’re protecting us by issuing “advisories”, weak warnings when they should be issuing bans on these killer-drugs.
There have always been safe and humane alternatives to psychiatric drugs and other psychiatric procedures: self-help groups, supportive health teams instead of mental health ACTT teams, good nutritious diet and exercise, meditation, holistic methods, decent and affordable housing, a living wage, friends who really care about and love us…
In the wonderfully wild and alive spirit of Tooker, let us start speaking out and acting out against psychiatric deception, lies and fraud. In the spirit of Tooker, let us start educating ourselves, our friends and others, about the serious health effects and risks of psychiatric drugs. In the spirit of Tooker, let us rededicate ourselves to building more non-medical alternatives to psychiatric treatment and institutions. In the spirit of Tooker, let us continue our empowering struggles for social justice, building a humane, caring and safe world. Tooker has shown us it can be done, it must be done. Tooker, your spirit lives. SHALOM wherever you are.
Don Weitz, Toronto
Supporting Each other in our Activism – and Nurturing and Supporting Ourselves
How to stay activists for a lifetime? In the face of many defeats and discouragement, and despite our despair about the pain and suffering in the world and the ecological challenges that we know must be urgently addressed, we work as hard as we can on the many campaigns that come our way. There is always more to do – yet we know that burning out will not help in the long run, because this is going to be a lifelong engagement, this work of social change!
So how to stay in it in a sane way?
Start by noticing – how am I feeling today? If you are feeling dragged down, ask yourself, what do I need?
Remember: we are whole beings. And we need to nurture ourselves – physically, emotionally, and spiritually – as well as our minds.
What do I need to energize my spirit?
Singing, dancing, meditating, communing with others?
Taking time to journal?
Getting to a beautiful place, a retreat, training (that’s not just task oriented, but will nurture your spirit and inspire you) or just a movie, a night with friends?
What do I need to nurture my body?
Exercise, massage, yoga, long walks, more rest?
Do I need more veggies, fruit, vitamin B, iron, zinc, essential fatty acids?
Take time to enjoy meals, our bodies, time spent with others, away from work.
Do I notice my feelings and find ways to express them?
Do I need more emotional support from others, a place to vent?
Would I benefit from a support group, or individual therapy?
Do I need to evaluate how I am spending my time, how a certain project is going, or how a group I am part of is functioning?
Make use of resources: Find the resources you need – nurturing yourself is worth it! Massage, chiropractic, acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy, books on nutrition, yoga. Vitamins, especially B6 and B12, and essential fatty acids. Therapy, counseling, or learning about how groups can work well together. And music, friends, and nature.
Find time to savour life on earth – as well as to save it.
Lyn Adamson, Toronto
Depression is the internalization of the ills in our society. That is to say, we get beaten down by our sense of desperation about the world around us, and our role in it. We look at our inadequacies and our inability to feel comfortable in such a hostile world or situation and we then think there is something wrong with us. That we are, as individuals, the sick ones.
The psychiatric approach to understanding depression plays a role in de-politicizing our pain, anger, and desperation. It locates the problem at the level of the individual and conveniently ignores the context that gives rise to an individual becoming depressed.
Conveniently, the psychiatric and pharmaceutical complex prey on the vulnerability of those who are depressed. They label us with a sickness and further reinforce the idea that intervention strategies must rehabilitate the individual…
I don’t mean to minimize the very real difficulties that one may face when dealing with depression, and surely, we need to mobilize as community to support each other. I mean, who doesn’t get depressed. And it is common in this day and age for people to contemplate suicide. We should be asking: why are so many people taking their own lives. Sometimes, the pharmaceutical drugs themselves induce people to suicide.
I suggest that, as good radicals, we are behoven to look at the roots of societal problems. When it comes to suicide and depression, we are doing our fallen comrades a disservice if we fail to see past the psychiatric model, and ignore the conditions that give rise these manifestations and behaviours. We need to break through that individualistic isolating model of understanding ourselves, and be wary of false solutions that ignore, or help us become complacent to the actual problems that we collectively face as a people.
Pierre Loiselle, Halifax
I hope those wise words give you food for thought.
Thank you to all the speakers, and organizers, and participants!
With so much love, respect and gratitude,