Swimming is my meditation. Strokes forward, head underwater, gazing at the aqua world that surrounds me. Rhythm in my moves, remotely connected to the world around me, aware that people are nearby yet not engaged with them. It’s an activity in which no one expects me to do anything except move forward and back, one end of the pool to the other. All sense of time falls by the wayside as my body settles into a pattern of movement designed to stretch and release all tension and anxiety. It’s life at its best. A blue gem shimmering in the morning light, sunlight streaming through the blue azure sky and white cotton ball clouds.
I emerge from the water after leisurely stroking back and forth and am greeted by two young boys.
“How are you able to swim back and forth?” They have life jackets on and they are clearly enjoying the water, although not without benefit of a floatation device.
“Put your arms straight out in front,” I tell them. “Keep your legs straight behind you and stroke and kick through the water. Put your faces in the water and lift every few strokes to breathe out of the water.”
They look at me incredulously as if this is not possible. “How do you do it?” Again, they ask me.
“Take lessons,” I say.
“We already did,” is their reply.
“Practice,” I say. “How?” they ask me, “if we don’t know what to do?”
I realize that conveying one’s talents and joy to someone else is not a simple matter. How will these young boys learn the joy of swimming without the basics of form and style?
I recall my early days of swimming. I took lessons in a river in NJ that was replete with jelly fish that stung. Somehow I must have accepted the joy of water along with pain, because I didn’t really question the fact that I was covered with angry red welts whenever I emerged from the water. It’s just what I’d come to expect as part of the ritual of learning how to swim.
Growing up on the Jersey shore, swimming was a way of life. The ocean was a friend who welcomed me with her pounding surf and often crabs beneath the waves that bit my toes. Threats of sharks in the summertime were common, and sometimes there was a red tide that threatened our very existence as beach goers. Yet, I never doubted that the water was my savior from a world that could batter and bruise, even as the water herself could batter and bruise, if I didn’t know how to manage her.
I loved the underwater murkiness that pulled me into her alternate reality. No goggles, my eyes adjusted to the dimness and I embraced what she had to offer.
My life wisdom came from these early experiences. Although at times there is pain, there is usually pleasure. Stretch your arms and legs as far as possible. Breathe rhythmically. Always love it, even when you don’t in the moment. Embrace the knowledge that it all improves with practice. Wear a life vest when necessary, but don’t rely on it. And above all, never give up.