Inside: I have found that living a life in progress means an ebb and flow of stepping out into the unknown – of progress and adventure, of becoming and stretching – and then finding my way home again. What getting back into the swimming pool is teaching me about slow-living and self-compassion.
I have recently started swimming again after years of longing. Getting back into the pool feels a little like coming home.
Yesterday as I drove, alone, to the city with ample time and space to think, I reflected on what this simple choice to move through resistance and come back to the pool is teaching me about slow living and self-compassion.
I have found that living a life in progress means an ebb and flow of stepping out into the unknown – of progress and adventure, of becoming and stretching – and then finding my way home again.
a life in progress: how swimming teaches me to come home to myself
I am worthy of love and compassion
When I first started swimming as a young adult in university, I was over 200 lbs, a binge eater, and didn’t have a good relationship with my body. Putting on a swimsuit and ignoring stares and unkind remarks was a baby step toward learning to love myself well and making peace with the body I was in. It had nothing to do with trying to change my body and everything to do with learning, for the first time, that I was worthy of love and compassion exactly as I was.
Over two decades later my body looks quite different but getting back into the pool is again, a call to embrace the body I am in. I see my scars and the slow changes that come as I inch closer to 50 and I wear them proudly; reminders of my strength and resilience. I am inordinately proud of myself.
I need to keep my eyes on my own path
Getting back into the pool challenges my ego: I am called to let go of who I used to be, of comparison and how clumsy I might look to other people, and I am invited to become a beginner once again.
I need space to listen in and just be
Swimming was always a form of moving meditation for me. In the pool, I let go of all my responsibilities and inner chatter and focus on my breath and the way my body tilts gently with each stroke. One, two, three and breathe. One, two, three and breathe. I have missed this and recently have felt the pull to quiet all the external noise and make more space to listen in. To simply be.
The exhale matters just as much as the breathing in
If you can’t breathe out, you can’t breathe in. The exhale is just as important as the breathing or gathering in. When my mom was dying I started having panic attacks. And though I did loads of work to acknowledge and heal my anxiety, pain, and fear, what used to be a refuge for me – the swimming pool – became a scary place. As I crossed from shallow into deep, over an imaginary line, my chest would seize and I could no longer exhale.
Facing this anxiety and getting back into the pool reminds me of the importance of the exhale – the releasing what no longer serves. The truth that when we gather and collect and accumulate (knowledge, gurus, activity, opportunity, stuff) without letting go, we grow stagnant and stuck. I am called to examine what in my life needs to be released in this season.
When I limit my scope of attention I slip into ease and joy
I have decided to focus on one part of my body at once: if I work on my kick I use a flutter board; when I focus on my stroke and breath, I use a flotation device tucked between my thighs. When I limit my scope or the number of details I must consider at any given time, everything becomes easier and I slip from worry into ease and joy. I have missed this.
I am less panicked and notice when I’m tightening up and remind myself to relax. I am able to slow down and lengthen my reach, finish each stroke, tilt my body instead of lifting up and out of the water, anxious to catch my breath. I notice the exhale. I am wired, I think, for slow and steady.
I just show up
My desire to swim again has nothing to do with quality or quantity of laps or time spent in the pool. It is one more invitation, on this life journey, to step into small, imperfect action. I am reminded that I am the type of person who moves through fear and anxiety and does hard things, who seeks freedom and does not quit. I acknowledge the truth of my fear, the pain of the muscle that tore in my hip replacement, I notice comparison and ego, and I show up anyway.