It was almost a year ago that I went for my first “off-season” swim in the Salish Sea. My assistant Robin helped me pick out the gear, luck gave us a beautiful sunny Saturday, and I’ve swam outside every month since then in 20 different bodies of water. Washington, California, and British Columbia. Rivers, bays, and lakes.
It’s hard to overstate how much happiness and perspective all those dunks have brought. Most of the time, I don’t have much need to make meaning out of it—I just enjoy. But you know me. There are some takeaways percolating:
- The set-up is everything. Like I learned years ago from reading David Lynch’s book Catching the Big Fish, we won’t create (or swim) unless we have the set-up. I have an old canvas big holding an inflatable swimming buoy, goggles, gloves, two wetsuits, a quick-drying towel, flip flops, and swim cap. After I get home, I wash and dry everything and put it all back in the bag. Otherwise, it’s far too easy to say, “I’m not going swimming today. I don’t feel like gathering all my stuff.” This, by the way, is the same reason my amazing husband is remodeling my home office. Things like painting and writing don’t happen as often without the set-up.
- Get over the initial menace of less-than-perfect weather. I haven’t set out in gale-force winds or snowstorms, but I’ve headed to the beach in very less-than-ideal weather. Once I’m there, the conditions become almost forgotten. I begin cooperating with whatever is going on, and never once have I thought, “I wish I wasn’t out here.”
- A quick dunk is better than nothing. I have struggled with an all-or-nothing propensity my whole life. I’m not a great swimmer, and a full wetsuit is far too constricting for me to swim laps. I haven’t been in any races or done anything hard-core. Who cares! Get in anyways!
- It’s possible to feel buoyant. Maybe life is feeling the opposite—full of anxiety, obligations, or just without sparkle. Time in the water reminds me that I am supported, literally and metaphorically.
- My body can do things! Like swim in cold water, kick, float. It is amazing.
- Meeting up for a swim is the perfect way to socialize. It’s relatively short, it’s safer to do with a buddy, it encourages wonder and brings elements into the conversation that wouldn’t be there otherwise.
- Deliberation is a soul killer. There are times in our lives when deliberation and discernment are needed. But it’s been so freeing to not go back and forth with myself—Should I jump in? Should I not? —and just DO IT.
- It’s a slow-release medication. There’s the 30 minutes I’m in, then there is the whole week afterward where I re-live what it felt like to be under the sky, with the seals, in the body of the world.
- I can handle being cold. And I make it worse by tensing up beforehand or going on and on about how cold it will be. I’m learning to say, “This is cold, this is what I do, and it’s worth it.”
What about you? What are you learning you can handle? What are you jumping into?