The Quest For The Magical Healing Pool

by Nancy Soares on April 30, 2012

“Thou Shalt Go On Quests”

(10 Commandments of Sea Kayaking #9 – Eric Soares)


The first thing you’ll say is, “Why a post about the desert in a blog about sea kayaking?” Here’s why: the ocean and the desert are not so different. Try getting lost on or in either one without food or water for a few days and you’ll be in the same fix. Moreover, deserts are often ancient sea beds. And many writers have compared the sea to the desert and vice versa. In fact, both the sea and the desert have been used in literature as allegories for the inward journey. Consider Herman Melville’s Moby Dick or the Biblical story of Moses wandering in the wilderness.

Speaking of wandering in the wilderness, it’s been 12 weeks since Eric died. On March 30th I scattered some of his ashes at the top of our hill in a little private ceremony of my own. Later I took off my wedding ring. And suddenly I just had to get out of town. I needed to go on a quest, and the desert was calling. I wanted to find a hot spring out in the middle of nowhere, a place lonely and wild where I could take my grief, hold it in both hands and fully face it. Without people or communication devices, without responsibilities or distractions, I hoped to find clarity and healing.

The Long and Winding Road

The Long and Winding Road

On Easter weekend I packed up and went. At first, I was so caught up in my own affairs I didn’t know it was Easter, but when I did find out it seemed auspicious. Rebirth, immortality, all that. Jesus rising from the dead. Would I see Eric walking at dusk over the desert floor to meet me? After six hours of hard driving, the last part for about forty miles on a washboard gravel road, I wound up at an extremely remote hot spring in the Alvord Desert. I had never been there before. Actually, I had never been on a solo camping trip before. What would it be like?

The Alvord Desert

The Alvord Desert

There was a beautiful, ringing silence all around. Beneath the silence was the sound of wind and water and birds calling. A pack of coyotes singing as I returned from a hike. Nothing else. It was so silent I could hear my heart beat and the blood pulse in my veins. There were pairs of everything: marsh hawks, sharp-shinned hawks, killdeer, ducks, Canada geese, quail, red-winged black birds. I even saw a pair of pronghorn antelope. Everything was pairing up, mating at this time of year. Do they mate for life? What happens to the other when one dies? Sitting in meditation I had an insight.

The water in the creek as it passes is never the same from moment to moment though there is always water in the stream. The little willows that grow by the stream are not the same that grew here two hundred, two thousand, or twenty thousand years ago and yet there have always been willows growing here for at least that long. The birds are not the same that were here years ago and are not the same that will be here years from now and yet there always have been and always will be birds here as long as the creek flows and the willows grow. Our lives are like this, flowing like the creek, growing like the willows and mating like the birds, manifesting over and over. There is a perfect Reality from which we all come and to which we all return and in which we all are. A world of multitudes passes away and comes again, but what is behind our changing world is everlastingly perfect.

The Willows by the Stream

The Willows by the Stream

I had another insight at night, bedded down in the truck. All night it was very light because the moon was just past full. But whenever I woke, I couldn’t see the moon, because it was always high above the truck. And I realized that just as the moon lit up my world even though I couldn’t see the moon itself, Eric’s love still surrounds me even though I can no longer touch his hand or look into his eyes. I felt blessed and surrounded by love. During the day, floating in the magical healing pool I felt the bubbles rise from their source at the center of the earth as if they had been rising for millennia just so I could find healing here and now. I saw the sky bending over me like a loving parent and I felt held as though in the strong palm of a great and beneficent hand.

The Guardians

The Guardians

I spent five days alone in the desert. I wasn’t bored, lonely, or afraid. I felt peaceful, calm and happy. As I soaked in the clear water (at 101 degrees a perfect temperature!) I asked myself how I could be lonely when the whole universe was there with me. The sky, the earth, the song of water and wind, the incredible beauty of the desert, everything called me to rejoice, to see my beloved everywhere. Sitting there with my grief I watched it vanish in my hands.  As the tears poured down my face I felt incredibly moved and privileged to experience this amazing grace, watching my grief transform into joy through the alchemy of love.

The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh tells us, “When you look at the surface of the ocean, you can see the waves coming up and going down…Looking deeply, we can also see that the waves are at the same time water…Water is free from the birth and death of a wave.”  (From No Death, No Fear.) I realized that like a wave on the sand, Eric has expended his manifestation in this life, but even though my wave is still traveling toward the beach we are and always will be joined as water.  In the magical healing pool, in the great desert silence, I could look deeply…

The Magical Healing Pool

The Magical Healing Pool

I know I’ll be grieving for a long time, but soaking in the Magical Healing Pool really helped me to move the process forward. This was one of the most wonderful adventures I have ever had. Have you ever gone on a quest? What was it like? Please share your story by clicking below.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Fat Paddler April 30, 2012 at 6:44 am

Nancy, that was beautiful, humbling and thought-provoking. Thanks you for sharing such a personal experience, particularly in the face of grief and loss.

I once went on a quest to return, 12 months later, to the scene of a terrorist attack in which I’d been caught up in (Bali, 2002). I had struggled with fear, anxiety, depression, shame and a whole range of other post-traumatic maladies for 12 months and needed to face my fears head on. Without going into detail, I was able to immerse myself in the local culture, living in an 800 year old Balinese village with locals whilst I embraced my pain and reconnected with the place and people of my fears. I was able to forgive, heal and move on after a most spiritual journey there. A healing that allowed me to reconnect when I returned home and get my life back on track.

Quests aren’t always about healing of course, but I think the human soul has a thirst for “journey”, and a good quest is a good way to quench that thirst.

Again Nancy, thanks for sharing such a personal piece with us all.


Nancy Soares April 30, 2012 at 8:03 am

Sean, I remember reading about your experience in Bali in your book. You and Jon Turk (The Raven’s Gift) are my inspiration.

It’s true quests aren’t always about healing. Transformation is probably a better word. Extreme sea kayaking is in itself a form of quest and I believe Eric found healing and transformation with his Tsunami brothers on the water. But there are many ways we push our physical and mental boundaries. I agree that “quest” is deeply imbedded in the human psyche. The challenge is to recognize and answer the call as it is often disruptive and inconvenient.

Thanks for your comment. As always, it’s a pleasure:)


micaila April 30, 2012 at 10:36 am

Dear Fat Paddler,
I just watched the beautiful, moving video tribute to Eric Soares, Wave Warrior (and also my dad). Thank you so very much for stitching the footage together, you are an artist. I can’t begin to tell what great comfort and pride I felt in watching it and gratitude from knowing the effort you put into it.
Thank you,


Fat Paddler April 30, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Hi Micaila. Firstly, my sincere condolences on your loss. Your father had been so generous to me in his guidance and advice, that the video was my way of saying a final thanks to him with the footage I had at my disposal. I’m really happy that you enjoyed it. Warm regards, Sean


Kasey Hilker April 30, 2012 at 9:10 am

Great blog Aunt Nancy. Very inspirational and calming. Sending lots of love and positive thoughts your way. 🙂


micaila April 30, 2012 at 9:23 am

Once, when I was in some kind of desperate and maddening mood, I decided I would drive till I could drive no more.
With nothing but the money in my wallet, I took off in my Nissan. I got as far as the Bixby Creek Bridge in Big Sur. I was weary and worn out from taking the curves and turns of Highway 1. Pulling the car over to the shoulder, I stepped out to stretch and peer into the horizon of rolling sea and infinite starry night.
This was the time of Hale-Bop, which had been visible for weeks by then. But without competing light I was AMAZED at the closeness and clarity of the comet. And I thought, okay. That’s why I’ve come on this quest. Wow!”
I slept for a few hours in the car. And headed home for Sacramento with the light of day break. Satisfied.
It’s an adventure I’ll never forget. There is always a reason to GO when you get that inner green light to proceed. Yes, thou shalt go on quests!


Nancy Soares April 30, 2012 at 9:43 am

@Kasey, thanks for reading! And I feel the love:) @Micaila, it’s interesting how our quests seem to draw us out into the natural world. I wonder if anyone has had an urban quest experience? I’m not sure I have. I’ll have to think about that. Thank you for sharing your story.


micaila April 30, 2012 at 10:31 am

I’ve heard of urban treasure hunts…


Jim Kakuk April 30, 2012 at 11:01 am

The sea and the desert share many things indeed, they are vast areas that are exclusive in their environment and not invaded by the masses. Both sea and desert have a stillness when calm and are fierce in a storm, they share the sky as a counterpart and birds as a symbol of nature. Peaceful, pure in spirit and healing, wandering on the sea or desert calms the inner self and blends emotions with the surroundings.
It has been a questful experience the last three months and for some time to come we will be adapting to life without Eric, but death is balanced with rebirth. The sea and desert seem to be consistent and harmonious but always have an undercurrent of change which is intrinsic to life. We are privileged to have such experiences and to share this time on earth. – Jim


Nancy Soares April 30, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Thanks, Jim for your beautiful and thoughtful comment. One of the things I loved about Eric was his spirit of “Let’s go!” Boy, did we share that! I agree that we are privileged and I look forward to future quests…both in the desert and on the sea.


Paul McHugh April 30, 2012 at 12:36 pm

A wise and touching pilgrimage, Nancy. I have always thought that I was only the shape of a wave. And I would add, enlightenment is never a possession. If we are skilled, and lucky, we can simply turn ourselves into a place where it is likely to occur…


Nancy Soares April 30, 2012 at 9:25 pm

Paul, I like the way you put that about enlightenment. And I agree completely. I’m trying hard to be that place because anything else doesn’t work very well for me right now.

I am glad you liked the post:) Thanks,


Doug Lloyd April 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Thanks for sharing your experience Nancy with healing and the quote by Thich Nhat Hanh, a notion in itself healing and providing application for moving forward for you. I find myself in a position to think more about the grieving process as my dear wife of 22 years fights valiantly against unresectable metastatic melanoma. Her latest treatment will add 2 to 18 months of life, which is pretty good considering she was only given six months about three years ago and this third treatment has been a progression of two other treatment regimes all yielding positive results, if limited in scope The point is, she has an extremely optimistic attitude in all of life that has worked synergistically with the medical treatments, I believe.

Eric had counseled me to get help with the pressures but so far I’m just enjoying the days I have left with her. Clergy just resort to platitudes and counselors just annoy me. No one knows when their time is up so just better to enjoy the moments we do have and stop thinking in terms of time frames and the finiteness of the situation and life itself. I know loss will be hard to take for me and watching someone suffer and then to loose them can’t be easy despite any marvelous platitudes folks or philosophy and friends can or will offer. I know a quest will be in order sometime in my future. The ocean has always been such a healing place for me personally but I can see the vastness of the desert offering solace too – a place where one can do the hard work of further grieving, letting go, and opening the door to time to do further healing while also remembering the joy that was the living. Certainly, knowing we are not alone through all our troubles while at the same time experiencing quiet solitude in wilderness allows one’s soul to go forward here and now as part of the vast collective unconsciousness that is humanity itself.

Peace, hope and strength to our sister who shares her lessons and life from sea and land…


Nancy Soares April 30, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Wow, Doug, I had no idea you and your wife were going through so much. I know what you mean about clergy and counselors (although I will say I have gained a lot from psychologists in my time). But I have to say for me at this time the sense of not being alone in the universe is really huge. Allowing the universe to be helpful is, well, helpful…

Also, I’ve been preparing for this moment since 2003. Eric and I were very honest about the reality of our situation. We knew he could go at any time. So I started a spiritual practice and really ramped it up when Eric and I moved to Ashland 4 years ago. A dedicated martial arts practice and a dedicated yoga practice in addition to a healthy dose of Buddhist philosophy are the things that combine to get me through these days.

One of the things that is constantly being brought home to me is that we all go to this place eventually, one way or the other. Finding solace is a quest in itself. I wish you all good fortune on your journey. Thanks for your lovely comment.


June May 1, 2012 at 9:56 am

we all go to this place eventually–This reminded me of a page I saved from the 365 day Zen calendar. “When there is no place you have decided to call your own then you are always headed home. ”

I think I have always been on a quest for home since I carry a sense of dissatisfaction with me wherever I go. I don’t know if this is an affliction or a gift since the more I look the more I find.


Nancy Soares May 1, 2012 at 10:17 am

That is so interesting, June. Almost all my life I have said to myself, “I want to go home.” When Eric and I got together, I stopped saying it. Now I find myself saying it again. I think for me it’s an affliction and a gift. As you say, the more you look, the more you find. However, I like this quote from Thich Nhat Hanh:

I have arrived, I am home
In the here, in the now
I am solid, I am free
In the Ultimate I dwell.

I say that over and over in meditation, and sometimes I actually feel that it is true:)


Rainer Lang May 1, 2012 at 11:44 pm

Thank you for sharing your experience; for me grieving is a process, it manifests in different ways, at different times.

This quote resonates the nature of the Quest:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

T.S. Eliot


Nancy Soares May 2, 2012 at 8:31 am

Beautiful, Rainer. Thank you so much for sharing this quote with us. T.S. Eliot is an amazing poet, and so relevant.


Moulton Avery May 3, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Nancy, that’s one of the most moving and beautifully written essays I’ve ever read.  I’ve often gone into the wild, both on land and on water, in search of peace, understanding, solace, and strength, and have never found it wanting.  Thank you for sharing your very personal experience with us.  

Of all the passages that one can make in life, I find that coming to a measure of inner peace with the death of a loved one to be the most difficult.  It’s a quest in itself; a journey that grows easier with time, but never truly ends.  


Nancy Soares May 4, 2012 at 8:18 am

Thank you, Moulton, for your very kind words.

My experience is personal, and yet not so. Everyone who knew Eric, whether they met him in person or not, is still vibrating from the aftermath of his death. His contribution to the world of kayaking was huge, and he influenced so many. We will all be affected for some time.

For me, this blog is an opportunity to share Eric’s love of kayaking and adventure with those who cared for him and admired him. And it has already prompted new adventures. Connecting with like-minded people is a huge comfort. Thank you to everyone for contributing, whether with articles or comments. Friends are the life raft.


Marc Soares May 7, 2012 at 1:18 pm

Well-written, reflective and philosophical essay, Nancy. When you’re alone in nature, the ideas flow. I’m glad you went, then shared it with us.


Nancy Soares May 7, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Thanks, Marc. My life is all about quests right now. I feel like I’ve been launched out of a cannon into a strange new world. I am a seeker for I know not what. And so happy there are those who are willing to share the journey:)


eman83 July 22, 2012 at 2:31 am

its true that sea kayaking is a beautiful, ringing silence all around. Beneath the silence was the sound of wind and water and birds calling. A pack of coyotes singing as I returned from a hike.


Jonathan Furman August 1, 2012 at 7:32 pm

Hi Nancy. I was deeply sorry to read about Eric’s passing. I knew him from my days as a Communications student at U.C. Santa Barbara, in the Summer of 1983. I had known that he became a professor at Cal State East Bay, but my busy life never afforded me the time to visit him there. I did stop by there one Summer and saw his office, but school was out. Turning to today, August 1st, 2012, I decided that I would like to look him up and visit. Alas… and inasmuch as he influenced my life in such a positive and inspiring way as my Non Verbal Communications Professor, in the Summer term of 1983, it surely pales in comparison to the magnificant man he was, throughout the years. My deepest condolences to you and I know that he will always live on, in my memory. Namaste


Nancy Soares August 9, 2012 at 10:50 am

Hi Jonathan. Thanks for your condolences. Eric was a great teacher and I’m glad he and a positive influence on you. He inspires me too.



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