I love swimming. Dad gave us opportunity to learn early in life, taking the family many Friday nights to Family Swim Night at the Springfield YMCA. We did far more splashing and play fighting as siblings than we did swimming, but in the process, I learned a little about swimming. I got to visit a couple swim lessons with a friend along the way, so I learned enough to be comfortable and proficient as a swimmer.
Being in the water is a full-body sensory experience. It is my favorite sport and most relaxing activity of all time, even when pushing myself to swim laps at my local YMCA pool.
My sister-in-law, Wanda, was a lifeguard and swim instructor. When my brother, Steve, introduced us, one of our activities together included some time at the outdoor pool. I was in my mid-teens, she a college student. We talked about swimming as we swam and floating as she floated and I tried but failed, my feet always sinking to the bottom.
“I can’t do this. How do you float like that?” I asked, impatiently.
“There’s a trick that helps,” she said. “Do you want me to show you?”
“Absolutely,” I replied.
“Stretch your body out straight, then tuck your chin against your chest and look toward your toes,” she coached. I listened with great care to her instruction as she supported my body to keep me on the surface.
“Don’t lean your head back. Keep your lungs full of air and that will help give natural buoyancy.”
She let go and stopped holding me up. I tried and she would coach. Eventually, I got the hang of it and have never had a problem floating since that day. I spend many relaxing moments floating when I’m in any body of water.
Joyce and Sam were snorkelers. Sam was also a scuba instructor. We shared a trip to Kauai, Hawaii, not long after my late husband had died.
As we planned, Joyce said, “We spend lots of mornings on the beach snorkeling. You might want to buy your own gear in Canada rather than rent when you get there. That way you know it’s a good fit before you go and it saves time.”
I’d only played around with snorkeling on my first trip to Hawaii in 2007, so upon Sam’s wise suggestion, I also booked snorkeling lessons in Calgary. I felt a little sheepish at first even signing up. At my age, mid-fifties, shouldn’t I have learned how to use a little snorkel? But, I was honest enough to know I didn’t really have a clue.
We practiced with the mask and snorkel, filling and clearing it safely. No problem. Then I tried on the monster flippers and launched myself across the pool.
I didn’t move.
Basically, no matter how hard I kicked, I stayed in the same spot and just churned up the water. Odd, I thought, since I swim fine without flippers. It took me half the lesson, with the instructor’s help, to get the hang of the proper use of flippers. To me, it seemed completely opposite of the kicking motion I use when swimming barefoot. I had to retrain my mind to use the kicking motion the instructor modeled, and once I did, I rocketed across the pool. Ah, relief.
Once in Kauai, there was no need to rocket. The first beach we visited was full of all sorts of underwater life and I simply had to float. I’d use my arms to propel me until Joyce coached otherwise.
“Let your arms relax by your side and keep your flippers below the surface to move through the water. The fish get spooked by too much thrashing.”
Finally, I found the zone. The salt-water ocean added its own buoyancy and I could simply lay, relax and surrender to the ebb and flow of the water as it held me.
The beauty was stunning. So many vivid colors of fish and coral. Such unique and bizarre sea life. I had discovered a new world. In one sense, I became part of this world, going with the flow, like the fish. Like a fish.
Dr. David Benner, in his best-selling book, Surrender to Love, writes that we need to learn to “go with the flow” of life, almost like a fish…
To be human is to be carried along by the river of life. The river is our source and the essential dynamic of our being and becoming. The river is God’s providential love.
Faith is trusting the river. It’s allowing ourselves to float in it rather than thrashing about as we try to swim against the flow.
Early Christian writers often imaged the Christian life in terms of living in water like a fish. Tertullian called Christ the “Heavenly Fish” and Christians “little fish” who take their name from Ichthus (fish). Christians, according to these writers, are born and live within the divine waters of the Spirit. The Christian life is learning to be supported by these waters.
We hear the same theme in the ancient Sufi allegory of fish that spend their days anxiously swimming around in search of water. Sadly, they fail to realize that they are in the midst of what they seek. Their distress is suddenly eliminated when they open their eyes and see where they really are.
So it is with us. We need to stop searching and see that we are surrounded by the sea of Love. But we also need to stop our panicky thrashing about in an effort to float.
Paradoxically, our efforts to stay afloat usually lead to sinking. Every time we start to panic and think we need to do something to stay afloat, we lift our head out of the water and no longer rest in it. As soon as we do we begin to sink. Our efforts to stay afloat may keep our head above the water for a while, but eventually we tire, and eventually our efforts to keep afloat will drown us. We float only when we stop trying to do so. And we never discover that we do not need to do anything to stay afloat until we let go. That is surrender.
Surrender is the discovery that we are in a river of love and that we float without having to do anything. Apart from such surrender, we always are in the grip of some degree of fear. Apart from such surrender, we will always thrash about, trying to stay afloat by our own efforts. And apart from such surrender, we remain self-preoccupied as our willful attempts to stay in control cut us off from life itself.
From Surrender to Love, (2003) ©Dr. David G. Benner ~ http://ow.ly/vdobx
As I read this excerpt, it was timely, as I have just been thinking of myself as a fish, based on Albert Einstein’s famous quote:
Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree, he will spend his life thinking he is stupid.All my working life, I have been a fish in a tree-climber’s world. I’ve been an administrator in some capacity in most of my jobs. Last week, I realized with startling clarity that it is simply not a strength. I am a writer, a poet, a singer, a photographer, most anything on the creative arts side. Those of you who know me have seen these areas in my life and how they energize me. In contrast, having to organize others, pay attention to detail, juggle multiple priorities while multi-tasking in a high paced, deadline-driven environment (all those catch phrases on administrative position descriptions) – these completely suck the air out of my sails. I can do it – or at least I used to do it – to varying degrees of success. But it’s not my strength. No wonder I felt like a fish out of water.
I was overly optimistic about my capacity to return to work full time after dealing with the death of my husband, adapting to life as a widow and finding myself 18 months later in a new relationship that led to marriage. This all compounded my ability to focus at work. The trauma affected how my brain worked, my ability to focus, to concentrate, to absorb what I was reading. When the majority of my job is done via email, you can imagine how much longer a normal task would take.
It was a perfect storm. I was in a high-paced environment, in a career that did not use many of my strengths and regularly challenged my weaknesses. I always felt like I was swimming against the current. I forgot the necessity of self-care, rest and boundaries.
Last week in a moment of clarity, I realized I couldn’t do the job. I couldn’t meet the expectations. There is no shame in this. It was a poor fit for me. My efforts to stay afloat led to further sinking. It was, literally, making me sick.
So, after conversations with my boss and her boss, I have resigned my position, relaxed into the river of God’s love and now am breathing a sigh of relief, planning to rest for a while. No fear. God is my provider, the source of the river. I am going with the flow, following the lead of the Spirit.
You will probably see more blog posts as I begin this journey back to the heart of who I am, to the person I have been called to be. I’m not sure what all this will include, but you can be sure there will be writing, dancing and singing. I’ll keep my lungs full of air, stop thrashing around, and perhaps I’ll even join the YMCA.
It will, most likely, be something along the line of what Frederick Buechner suggests, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Thanks for journeying with me.