Today I swam my thirteenth mile-swim. It was the second session I’d managed consecutive and consistent bilateral breathing (that is, breathing every third stroke). I am pleased with this accomplishment as I’d been struggling with the technique for a couple weeks.
Funnily enough, since mid-February when I started swimming, I avoided developing a lopsided stroke and a one-sided preference by breathing on my left side down the length of the pool (stroke, breathe, stroke, breathe and so on), then breathing on my right side when I returned. I thought this was a rather clever plan of mine so that bilateral breathing (that is: stroke, stroke, breathe, then repeat) wouldn’t be as difficult as I’d be used to rolling to each side. And I think I was right. Now that I’m doing a little research on the topic, I’m pretty impressed with my progress!
Swimming isn’t solely about physical fitness for me, but about stretching myself mentally and spiritually as well. Learning to swim has not only been beneficial to my cardiovascular health and to the practice of meditative breathing, but it has also shown me so many things about myself. Mostly humorous, silly things!
Swimming has been illustrative, most of all, in my fears. You know, I still have a fear of the deep end of the pool! And some days – even after all these miles, and about nine hundred lengths – this fear grips at me as I first head to the sharp downslope of that end of the pool. It is very interesting to have a fear live on in my body, long after my cognitive capabilities understand there is “nothing” to fear.
In fact, nearly every session has been an opportunity to experience, and perhaps alleviate, a fear. The most often-experienced difficulties are boredom and fretfulness. It goes something like this: I can’t believe I’m going to swim for forty-five minutes. I should be doing something else. What is the point? I just swim back and forth, back and forth.
As you can imagine, this can be a near-daily struggle.
Other fears are more gripping and acute: when I first attempted flip-turns, I experienced a surprisingly large amount of anxiety. My daughter taught me the basic premise. And the first few sessions I missed about half of them, which made me feel (and probably look) foolish. I also only attempted flips at the deep end, because I was afraid of hitting the pool bottom in the shallow end.
Now, however, flip turns are one of my favorite parts of my swims. I enjoy the freedom I feel in somersaulting in the water. I am learning to somersault to my “blind” side, or to somersault sideways, or to put my hand briefly on the pool floor when I flip at the shallow end. Flipping feels rather joyous! When I think back to a few weeks ago and how fearful I was to flip, the memory of gripping and releasing the pool edge seems rather sodden.
Because living in fear doesn’t feel great.
I don’t think I will ever be a truly fearless person. And I don’t know where or how I grew all the fears I have. Living in conscious contact with fears, however, is very different than attempting to live as if they have no effect on me.
Swimming has helped me develop a lighter touch about “who I am”. Only a few weeks ago I could barely swim a length; that skill level is also where my swim classmates left off when lessons ceased – because, I think, they were trying to “push themselves” to swim, instead of learning to love it. I outstripped my classmates and now I easily swim a mile and have started to stretch myself further. Gently stretch myself. Who knows where I might go?
So while it is hard for me to imagine, for instance, ever being comfortable in open water (more of that fear!), I also know – that future is possible.
Yeah – barely!