I am the worst swimmer.
Seriously, I sink like a stone, despite my fairly compact size. Maybe because of my compact size, I suffer an excess of density. Worse still, I tend to panic in deep water. When I was a child, my mother who grew up in a fishing village and was a very elegant swimmer, sent me for private lessons. Shy and self-conscious, I hated the one-on-one attention from the instructor. One class he told me he had a cold and wouldn’t be going into the pool with me. The end result of his self-care was that I found myself in the deep end in a terror. He stuck his leg into the pool for me to grab onto. I can still see it, glowing white, a disembodied calf floating towards me.
I returned for the next several lessons, but I was never able to breath correctly in the water again. The only time I can, the only stroke I can do for any length of time, is when I’m on my back looking up, floating. And even then, the tendency to strive is strong, so I start moving my limbs and the next thing I’m turned round, face in the water, thrashing away in a mad woman’s attempt to swim.
Needless to say I avoid the ocean. Any shark within a ten mile radius would think there’s some plump baby seal in distress out there ripe for the eating.
We talk about people floating through life, and I’ve always been one to scorn that sort of thing. If it ain’t hard, it ain’t worth doing. There’s a point there, many good and desirable things to take effort. Strong long-term relationships, new skills, mountaintops, depths. There is however also something to be said for floating. For surrender.
I don’t do surrender any better than I do swimming. You won’t find me on the beach very often. For me, it’s the mountains, cool clear air, the scent of pine, mossy rocks, cairns above the treeline. I love the scramble, knees scraping against the rock, squeezing through splits in the granite. I arrive at summits glasses foggy, drenched in sweat, triumphant.
It’s exhausting. A good kind of exhausting, exhilarating even, but nevertheless, not something you can do day in, day out, literally or metaphorically speaking.
Several times over the years, I’ve worked at surrender. I’ve sat visualizing myself unloading boxes of stresses and faces to lay at the feet of some version of god. I’ve ritualized letting go of what no longer serves. I’ve run great distances to get away. None of that really works. Oddly enough, I’ve found all you need do is ask. Ask and it shall be given to you. You just need to notice that it happened – pay attention- which is something again I don’t always do.
I suffer from revelation envy. You read these stories of people whose lives turned on the dime. Those grand epiphanies where everything became clear, scales falling from their eyes, paradigms shifting like curtains on a new act in a play. Maybe we’re not all meant for that. LIke body types that need different exercises and nutrients, we each have different routes. I’m not a floater and I may never get the hang of that. It doesn’t make me wrong or less spiritual or farther from Truth or God or anything. I have my own path. It’s more switchback going from deep cool sometimes very dark and frightening woods to opening vistas and aback again into the bush. Surrender also means accepting that, loving it, and being excited to see where it goes. It might be nice to float for a while, like when you hit a plateau in climbing. Necessary even – when you hit those vistas, you’re crazy not to stop and drink them in, refresh yourself. Otherwise you’re not going much farther, not on those shaky legs. We need to rest, to soak, to take it all in before moving forward again. Otherwise how will you incorporate the insight that climb has granted you?