The art of not drowning

not drowning

The art of not drowning

If I didn’t stay present, I would drown. At least that’s how it felt at age forty-nine as I crawled my way across a four-foot-deep Olympic pool. Determined to learn to swim before my fiftieth birthday, I’d signed up for lessons at a local health club. The friendly, eager instructor encouraged me to use fins, goggles, a swim cap—whatever it took to achieve my goal.

But she had to start the first lesson by convincing me to get in the pool. I don’t like being cold, and I’m terrified of water. When I had to put my face  in, my mind registered the shock of cold as deadly. Before I took a single stroke, she taught me how to turn my head to breathe while I was standing,  holding onto the edge of the pool.

Eventually, with much practice, the kick, stroke, and breathing combined to form an activity much less elegant than what the people gliding past in other lanes were doing. But I propelled myself through the water just the same.

Meditation teaches us to be with thoughts and body sensations regardless of their quality. Years of practice kept me from screaming or drowning or simply getting out of the pool. Each stroke provided an opportunity to feel the water against my skin. Each breath was a chance to notice how inhaling feels from an unfamiliar position. And each kick offered the lesson of how relaxing was the key to power, especially in the pool.

That sounds miserable! Why put yourself through that?

Part of it was miserable. Sometimes the present moment sucks.

I could have quit. Nothing required me to stay. But we all know that a day will come when the moment sucks and we won’t have the choice to get out of the pool. Grief. Physical pain. Sadness. Confusion. Anxiety. At some point, most of us will experience those intensely with no way out. Meditation trains us what to do when we can’t escape. It reduces the suffering.

Did you learn to swim?
Yes, and no.

I can swim across an Olympic-size pool if it is only four feet deep. If I had continued swimming meditation, I could have honed my awareness and equanimity and learned to swim in water over my head. But time is limited, and I didn’t enjoy it. For now, I’ll stick to dry land.

I have included more than twenty “Your Turn” exercises in the book Make Every Move a Meditation.

This excerpt is from Make Every Move a Meditation by Nita Sweeney which is available now through Amazon and Mango Media.