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The Simple Joy of Rainwater

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By Alyce Barry

When I see rainwater flowing down the side of a street or crossing a sidewalk before my feet, I feel a sudden, inexplicable joy, and there's a sensation in my chest as if my heart has literally been lifted up.

I've been aware of this reaction for some years and have so far been unable to determine the precise reason. I've wanted to write about it and have felt fear that I wouldn't have anything profound, or even interesting, to say about it. It's such a simple thing.

I know that, as a small child, I played happily for hours in rainwater that streamed down the gutter beside the street we lived on. I built infrastructure with sticks, rocks and mud, forming dams, reservoirs and waterfalls. Perhaps my reaction to rainwater is simply the remnant of a happy memory of play. Certainly such a small trickle of water was under my control, even when I was quite small. Perhaps that's significant: maybe it was a pivotal early experience of creativity or even mastery of my environment.

I remember reading that Carl Jung, the psychiatrist who first coined the expression "the human shadow," took great pleasure in damming a small stream on his Bollingen property in Switzerland; he spent hours constructing obstacles and waterfalls and called the area his "water works." A neighbor boy is said to have reported gleefully to his parents that Dr. Jung liked to play in the water just as the boy did.

This association of water with childhood seems fitting, since of the four primary parts of the self described in the Shadow Work® Model, the Lover part of us both contains our inner child and is associated with water. We spend our first nine months of life in water.

I get the greatest sensation of joy when the street or sidewalk beneath the stream of water is brown, and not gray, as streets and sidewalks sometimes are. Perhaps that means something.

Perhaps the simplicity of the experience is also significant: seeing a trickle of rainwater is such a simple pleasure, I wondered if maybe other people also feel this joy and never think to mention it?

That seems unlikely, though, because it was shockingly difficult to find a suitable photo. Grateful thanks to Dennis Hartwell for locating and purchasing this wonderful picture of rainwater in a street gutter, which is the best I've seen so far.


A friend said to me yesterday that she has a similar sensation when she feels a breeze against her face. She thinks it gives her joy because it reminds her that she's alive. That makes sense.

Probably there is an inherent joy in an awareness of flow: the flow of energy as it moves inside me; the flow of change when I'm able to shift from stuckness to movement.

I've often struggled with being stoic — suppressing the flow of emotions — and maybe the heart-lift I feel is simply the joy of freely expressing what I'm feeling.


The flow I'm referring to seems quite different to me from other, more dramatic ways that water can move.

Deep rivers winding to the sea.

The crashing of ocean waves against rocks.

The plunge of water over a waterfall.

Waves rushing up the sand before slipping back into the sea.

Tides shaping the continent.

A brook sliding quietly over smooth pebbles.

Still lakes with hidden depths.

Snow melt rushing from high peaks to the plains.

Streams chock-full of boulders.

Cascading rapids.

Rivers carving canyons ever deeper.

Roiling whirlpools.

Fountains and springs.

A wish for you, reader: that one of these photos stirs in you the memory of a simple pleasure that gives your heart a sense of lift inside your chest. It's a pleasure I never tire of.

Alyce Barry is a Certified Shadow Work® Group Facilitator and Coach in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She is the author of Practically Shameless, available in paperback and on audio CD and as an e-book. Read more about Alyce.

This article originally appeared in our free email newsletter in June 2012. To subscribe, visit our subscription page.

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