• Laguz •
Old English Rune Poem
Lagu (Sea) is by folk thought wide indeed,
If they should dare to go in a ship unsteady,
And the waves terribly frighten them,
And the sea-stallion heed not its bridle.
Old Icelandic Rune Poem
Logr (Sea) is a welling water
And a wide kettle
And a fish?s field
Old Norse Rune Poem
Logr (Water) is, when falling out of a mountain, a cascade;
And costly ornaments are of gold.
~ Rune poem translations by Sweyn Plowright
Life should be easy. There, I’ve said it! Life should be easy. Oh I know, there are all those sweaty, straining Protestant Work Ethic types out there, dedicating themselves to struggle. It’s a venerable tradition that runs to the roots of the industrial revolution and beyond, all the way back to the very invention of dogma.
But really, truly, do not listen to the prophets of hard work. They don’t know what they’re talking about.
That doesn’t mean that I recommend sitting around, doing nothing. When I say life should be easy, I am not arguing in favor of some overweening sense of entitlement. No: the opposite of strain and effort is not inaction or laziness. This slander is the product of a social order which cannot help but try to turn human beings into safe, uniform, predictable, overwrought robots.
“Water is, when falling out of a mountain, a cascade.” Imagine you stand at the top of a giant waterfall. You have a bucket. You are busily filling your bucket with the water as it rushes past and then emptying the bucket over the falls. This is what you do, again and again, hurling buckets of water over falls it would have rushed over anyway.
It is hard work – even keeping your footing in the current is a tall order. And yet all that effort contributes nothing to the waters’ rushing motion. It was already taking care of itself most beautifully. It is completely indifferent to your Quixotic efforts.
The trick seems to be revisioning oneself as being part of the water, not some separate being tasked with the labor of making it do what it wants to do anyway. Much of life, when understood as being hard work, really boils down to this kind of duplication of effort. We try to push things that can take care of themselves quite adequately.
Of course, all that redundant effort is a) wasteful; and b) distracts us from what is right in front of us. Only someone totally absorbed in a mindless task like filling and emptying a bucket could fail to notice the roaring waterfall at their feet. As Heidegger put it so perfectly, we become lost in the world of our concern.
Laguz is a powerful reminder of the fact that not doing is not lazy inaction (which is, in its fretful pining, still hard work). It is the graceful acceptance of reality as it is, which in turn enables a kind of non-action that is more powerful than action.
That probably sounds horribly unconvincing. How can inaction be just as – perhaps more – productive than effortful action? The answer is efficiency. Actually, the answer is grace.
Gracefulness is not an optional add on – not an afterthought. Grace is the essence of flowing water. Fluid motion is the fabric from which the whole universe is woven – just ask any mathematician! It is perfection without effort.
The only “work” we need to do is to make ourselves available for grace to move through us. And much of that work is a process of removal and stopping and letting go and undoing.
If we are all just tiny ships on an infinite sea then we better learn to work with the wind and the tides. The Work Ethic Brigade say that we should ignore these forces, that we should do so bloody-mindedly, stupidly. They have beguiled themselves with atomistic self-righteousness.
In the short run, yes, “hard work” can sometimes seem to “win.” But only when the context is carefully narrowed. Only when our attention has been occluded. “Our wonderful bucketing technique is causing all this water to move over the falls!” cry the agents of effortful action. They’re only convincing so long as we allow them to distract us from the existence of basic forces like gravity.
I know that I find it tempting to do a lot of pointless hard work. It creates the feeling of being in control – as though my storm tossed ship could ever have control over the whimsy of the high seas! Laguz is a stern slap across the face – it wants us to wake up, to accept the limits of our power. It wants us to face the seeming constriction of our existential dread.
Face it, and discover that in doing so we become, not suffocated, but liberated.
Effortlessness cannot be described. It cannot be expressed in explicit terms. As soon as we try to grasp it, it flows away like water. It refuses our manipulative, structuring, ordering consciousness. It pools where we do not expect it, in non sequiturs and co-incidences and ironies. It captivates and evades; backstabs and catches out.
There is no mountain that can resist the power of water. No city it cannot sweep away. No crop it cannot nurture – or destroy. No sky it cannot darken. No life it cannot nourish.
The treasure of the Nibelungs was hidden on the bed of the Rhine; this might explain the Old Norse Rune Poem’s statement that “costly ornaments are of gold.” Well – you cannot reach through the water and grasp the gold if you do not first open your hand. An open hand holds nothing. It is at rest. It is effortless.
As I speculatively understand it, for the ancient Heathens all things resided in the waters of the Well of Memory. The whole fabric of the cosmos was flowing water up and down and through the World Tree. Water cannot be held, but it can wash over an open hand or an open mind. Let go of what you cannot hold. Let go of life if you would grasp it.