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Pool Nirvana


Running I get. You want to go faster, run harder. If you can’t, get fitter. Biking’s the same. Faster? Pedal harder. They’re simple, linear sports. Mindless and intuitive; a reflection of our savage roots. In our earliest days,  if you wanted to avoid being eaten by a saber tooth tiger, you ran. If it gained on you, you ran faster. After that, it probably wasn’t up to you. I don’t think we had bikes back then, but we probably wished we had.

Swimming though, swimming’s different. It’s an evolved sport. Actually, it may be a devolved sport. We spent millions of years trying to get out of the ocean, and yet here we are, jumping right back in. Either way, it’s an unnatural state for humans.

I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt – there’s an intelligence in swimming that doesn’t exist in the other two. Granted I’m fairly new to the sport, but it seems that the equation is not quite as simple. Performance in swimming, it seems, is inversely proportional to effort. The harder I try, the faster I ain’t.

Like the mouse that can’t learn that a shock accompanies his treat, I continue to flail vigorously. The difference between the mouse and I, to my detriment, is that I know. I know that trying harder is not going to make me a better swimmer, and still I flap. Gasping for breath, pulling and kicking until my arms leaden and my legs droop; it’s my default setting, and it seems impossible to overcome.

It may surprise you that I’m actually the perfect swimmer’s build. 6’5″, long and lean. Feet like flippers, hands like paddles. Genetically blessed for the water.  Yet, when I look to the lane next to me, to the pudgy sixty year old woman schooling me so effortlessly and consistently, I feel awkwardly out of place,  like I’m hovering outside the change rooms at Victoria’s Secret.

My instinctive response, of course, is to flap harder. I sink like a stone.

Yes, to become a good swimmer, one must evolve. That evolution can’t be restricted to the pool, it must be a complete transformation of one’s being to the core. Because a band-aid will always peel off in the water.

So I’ve decided my next swim lesson will occur nowhere near a pool. I think that decision itself has already made me a better swimmer. I’m finally understanding that no matter how hard you work, if you’ve chosen the wrong path, you will see no fulfillment. The courage to scrap what isn’t working, to start again from scratch, goes a long way in the pool.

My next lesson my in fact occur at a monastery, in the presence of a monk. A monk could teach me to swim, I’m quite sure of it. To succeed at swimming I must learn patience, to let my body glide and flow with the rhythm of the water, as opposed to forcing it into the next turn. I must learn awareness, to objectively view the effects of my actions, and not let determination and pride cloud truth. Yes, in the face of the stress of my next dip, I must remain calm, avoid self-judgment, trust that the water will provide, and just let myself swim.

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