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Muddying the Waters

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

Is i lámha na ndaoine atá an chumhacht.

“Power rests in the hands of the people.”



I watched the swirls of the mud slowly exit, drifting lazily through the water. My toes were numb to the ankles as I crouched in the well. My fingers gently scraped the edges and bottom of the well, carefully feeling how the well was structured. It was slow work so as not to cut my fingers on potential sharp edges or disturb loose stonework. I removed any objects I encountered. Tears coursed down my chin and echoed tiny drops into the water. Here I was again facing the emotional impossibility of my life. That standstill of almost defeat, powerless to affect any change in the situation I was confronted with. This is how I came to be within the muddied waters that I stood in.


The cloudiness of the water echoed my personal inner turmoil. The numbness in my feet was a reflection of the numbness I was experiencing in my heart. I started to plait the grass at the edge of the exit channel. Rather than slicing at the growth, I've found that plaiting the grasses, integrates the overgrowth. The plait will dampen the growth around the well, creating a living matted mat. I felt the same with my emotional experience. Eventually, the plants will retreat. I aimed to integrate this inner turmoil into the weave of me, dampening down the potential to be overwhelmed. Reaching for a sieve, I began to scrap the silt that had accumulated in the outlet of the well. Water streamed through the tiny metal holes and I began to ladle gunk into a waiting bucket on the side. Many things would grow with that mineral rich sludge. The settlement of meditative awareness drifted over my soul as I went into the simplicity of just being. The only important thing was to continue to clean the well. I had nothing to be, nothing to do, nowhere to be. Thoughts about my situation were also being pulled from my depths as I filled the bucket. The kettle whistled merrily on the small fire I had built. Before engaging with the well I had taken steps to ensure all my needs were met and my soul could be nourished as I faced the emotional difficulty and the physical difficulty I was challenging myself to endure. I had taken the precaution of removing a container of water for tae before starting to clean the well. I had a sheepskin to sit upon, blankets to warm me and a hot water bottle to keep the cold from entering into my bones. Retreating from the well I slowly warmed my toes upon the flames and considered the well. My simple tools of 2 buckets, a metal sieve, a fishing net, a stiff scrubbing brush, a strong wallpaper scraper, some limewash with a pasting brush and a trowel surrounded me. The first phase was completed in the outlet channel that was now cleaned . I sipped on my ditch tea and attentively considered the water, There was now an audible gurgle emitting from the well as the water traversed on its outward journey. The mud I had stirred was clearing in swirls, showing me a deeper understanding of how the well was built to work with the water. As the mud settled so did the unease I felt inside. I closed my eyes to listen to the soundscape of the birds and the rustling leaves with the babble of the well.


My arms ached with a certain desperation as I bailed bucket after bucket of water from the well. There is always that moment when you feel like giving up when emptying the well, that is the moment of truth, that moment where that spark of resilience shows its head. You know that if you stop bailing the well will refill and you’ll have to start from the start. So you keep bailing. You find your teeth are clenched and you force yourself to relax, and breath in time to the buckets filling and emptying. Oh but how the arms and back aches. I checked the water measure line I had placed before I had started to bail. It gave me reassurance that the water level was indeed falling. That I wasn't fooling myself in thinking I was affecting change. I was indeed making a difference. I continued to bail. Finally I reached the bottom. A thick grey coating of slimy mud graced the base of the stonework. I shovelled this into the bucket, working quickly as water was beginning to rise towards my marker line. Occasionally I stopped to re-empty the water. I could see clearly where the springs were flowing into the well. I rearranged some of the misplaced stones to better protect the spring. The coins for wishes were put aside out of the water. I would deliver those intentions to the Mountain Search and Rescue in the area. What better placement for people's wishes but to give them to save lives. Reaching from the trowel and the scrapper, I scraped the lichen and moss from the wall, stopping occasionally to bail water from keeping the water from rising. I enthusiastically began to scrub the stonework with the brush, dipping the brush into the water to keep it flowing through the muck. Grabbing the bucket I sluiced the walls with water and then once again emptied the water. I coated the walls with a lime wash, to help keep the microbes from multiplying and also to help algae from developing. As I stepped out of the water, I myself felt clearer. Perhaps I could not affect change in the outer world but I could do something good and affect change in this small place. Wrapping myself in blankets I watched the water once again begin to fill the well. I silently expressed my gratitude for the understanding that I had come to within myself through the well.




Gently I moved the net to remove the floating debris from the surface. The waters had many sounds now as it sang gently to me. The water flowed clear and the new coat of lime glistened prettily. The freshly planted plants eagerly absorbed the layers of silt I had placed into the freshly dug flowerbeds. It would nourish the growth of the healing herbs now placed. The world outside this space, I sure was still the same, but for the moment, time had lost all meaning and the importance of things had shifted to the simple active participation in the greater pattern that is the flow of the universe. Internally, I was still raw from poking at my internal wounds. I was sure there would be debris still to remove from my soul but I would endeavour to treat it with the gentleness and love I was taking with the net on the water. A sense of achievement danced around the smile on my lips as I surveyed the work. The job was well done and both the water and I were the happier for it.

A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it. (George Moore)

Over the years several people who have embarked on cleaning wells have contacted me. Sometimes they are experiencing emotional distress after cleaning a well. This is perfectly natural when interacting with the water. According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are a watery 31%. When we are in deep interaction, muddying the waters, so do our internal waters become muddied. Often suppressed or hidden thoughts and emotions arise. These can sometimes be intense. I have developed honest and open communication with my nearest and dearest to enable me to clean so many wells. This support network has become vital in this work with the water.

Often difficult inner stuff arises during or after the process of cleaning a well. Ironically and usefully, temporary anxiety can lead to cleaning more meticulously, according to a 2015 study from University of Connecticut. I have come to view all that is wrong with the well is a representation of my inner state. Our emotions serve as signals that provide important information about our experiences. As I clean I visualise that each task that I undertake is also working with my inner. This opens me up to resolve or acceptance of whatever arises from the depths of me. You will work through your processes for your highest potential as you clean the well. Weaving the grasses and overgrowth, to me, is an intention of integration in whatever arises. In our minds, we can view disorder as unfinished business, and this lack of completeness is unsettling and stressful to most people. By tidying and cleaning the well, it can become a powerful tool to release stressful feelings. You’re taking control of something that you can, but you’re also making your environment more soothing. Since there are other concerns occupying your mental state, you cannot tolerate disorder because you need tolerance for what is going on with the bigger issues in your life. Let all flow through you like water and observe thoughts as if they were leaves drifting on the water. Sometimes the thoughts will swirl but encourage them to continue to pass through. I have found that honest expression of my experience the healthiest way of keeping things flowing. If you feel like sobbing, laughing or howling do so, in complete honesty! These feelings to will pass. They are moments in the time of no time which makes them absolute truth, you do not need to hold onto. All feelings need a form of vocal expression. There is nothing as soothing as a good honest groan.

What lies behind us, and what lies ahead of us, are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

The different issues at the wells often reflect a simple truth. For instance algae growth happens when there is too much light upon the water in the well. The water experiences bright green plantlife in the form of algae which cloggs the well and stagnates water. In reflection to the world, often when one feels when you have that deep connection with the world around, there is a empanise on love and light. However too much emphasis on light can leave you feeling clogged and stagnant. Afraid to muddy the waters and see what is lurking on the bottom. Ironically algae growth, created by too much light, darkens the well. It removes its ability to reflect the world around. Often I have seen people when visiting the well ignore the condition of the water. Bearing in mind, one never knows another's story, I often wonder, are they in turn ignoring their own stagnation? Forgetting to stir their own waters? The muddy depths of one is precious, similar to the silt at the bottom of the well it is minerally rich with your inner challenges. This silt makes fantastic plant food/soul food for your growth.

Sometimes the best thing you can do when you feel like you are in a hole with your personal life is actually go get into a hole in the ground. I have found that how I feel about something can change dramatically if I give physical embodiment to how I feel.

I always focus on making sure I am as comfortable and able to bring warmth into my body during and after these processes. Set the scene to provide for all your needs before embarking on cleaning a well. Ensure to sit with the water and absorb your environment before touching the water, listen to it, It will speak its own unique language that feels like ease. If at any stage you feel overwhelmed by the process, listen to the sounds the water makes. The gentleness will provide you with the nourishment and support as you engage with the deep transformational process. As the well is cleaned, the song of the well deepens in complexity. This is the same as your inner voice, as you engage with the water’s song it will help you draw out the sound of your own story. You get to be at one with nature, and nature never judges you.

Go raibh mo bheannacht ort, mar uisce

Óir s tú í íocshlainte an Domhain

The well thus holds your memories forever more in its care. Each time you visit or tend that well, you will strengthen the well's memory of your journey. You will begin to find physical markers of the years of the transformation moments that you cared for the health of the well. It will become part of your growth. The more time you spend caring for that well you will deepen your understanding of not only the water but of yourself. To find oneself is to see and recognize one's own qualities, faults and vulnerabilities. To find oneself is to be aware of oneself and to define one's own personality traits in such a way that you can now explore other ways of being. Finding yourself as you are now will help you to be yourself in the future. Finding yourself is a marker in your life that you can look back on and learn from.

As the well flourishes so will your life. You will begin to feel and hear the insights from the past, for the waters also holds the memories of all who tended the well before you.

The practicality in embarking on the inner cleaning of the wells is the same as cleaning a physical well. Firstly clean the outlet of the well. This encourages flow, the water has somewhere to flow to. When that is clear, you can then identify the inlet of where the water flows into. Consider how this applies to your personal situation. Where are your outlets/releases and what is feeding your soul?

Know your timings. A visitor is said to be like fish, they tend to go off after three days. Each well will have its own timelines. Listen to your gut feeling. When it is time to go, go, hopefully leaving the place better than when you found it.

Awareness is a great feat to achieve in one's life. Have you noticed how awareness can be our first step to empathy and compassion for ourselves and others? Please be aware that when the well has a caretaker in the area, that they will feel if you are cleaning the well. Within a short time they often will appear. Sometimes they are angry and flustered, other times open and welcoming. The keeper will have their own emotions affected when the well becomes muddied. The response that you meet will generally reflect that stirring. Carl Jung put it eloquently “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” I always take this into consideration and endeavour to be friendly and kind in my interactions at the well. Everyone's on their own journey, we can be triggered as much as being the trigger. These are community spaces where many people are connected to and in turn they often feel protective over these sacred spaces. This encourages me to work tidily and with respect. Often stepping back if someone has come to pray. I tend to keep conversations light and asking for insights about the well. Engage with the people you meet. Often I will ask a curious local for a lend of a bucket or a shovel to include them in the process. Many hands make light work! I endeavour to stick by the principal of returning whatever was lent better than when received. At the very least, return a clean tool.

“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it”

. -Lao Tzu

Working with the water is multilayered transformational spiritual practice. It is a journey through your own phyc and soul. Misneach is an irish word that expresses faith, hope, bravery, endurance, valor. and power, with a caring, and sympathetic twist. It is a word that I feel aptly describes embarking on working with the water. Recently in conversation with Eithne Ni Ghallchobhair, she told the tale of the mermaid losing her coat. Often, we too have lost our own skins and it is up to us to rediscover the true skin that fits. We are people of sensation and feeling, moving through the heart space. Recovering your true self involves honesty and activation in the wonderment of one's life. E(e)-motion is the very flow of life, that spiral of life that creates motion. Water embodiment is ease, movement and flow. Though to create it, one sometimes must muddy the waters. If you can take towards viewing the careship of the well as your own cleansing practice to connect with a larger picture, you’ll find a connection and understanding of the world we live in greater than any other. You will begin to grasp the true understanding of universal flow and always finding a path to follow. You’ll learn about your vulnerabilities and how, if you fight, you are most likely to be overwhelmed. Working with water encourages a relaxing/releasing to navigate the waters of your experience through this unpredictable world. It entices you to own your emotional existence and enables you to find more compassion for others. This understanding creates the unity inside that we all crave. “Ní neart go cur le chéile.” (There is no strength without unity).

I will end with words from Machan Magan:

Amergin’s first stanza “Am gaeth i m-muir, Am tond trethan, Am fuaim mara”, (I am wind on sea, I am ocean-wave, I am roar of sea) clarified the interrelation between this world and all other planes of existence – physical and spiritual. It was a declaration of the unity of all things and it’s what, more or less, everything in our lives has been based upon ever since.

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