During my Leadership Program at Synergy, I set a few very challenging personal goals. One was to swim a set distance in open water. My class met during colder months so I made three trips to Florida to accomplish this. What I garnered from this quest were metaphorical life lessons and a truly powerful experience.
I set out to swim 25 miles in open water. Sometimes we plan and Mother Nature Laughs. I swam 22.
I wore fins and a mask and snorkel to help make the distance go faster.
At first I felt encumbered and it took using very different muscles but I was so glad I did this. A major reason it made everything better was my ability to focus on seeing things around me instead of working to breathe between wave crests and constantly turning my head.
Weathering the tides, currents, other forms of life, potential dangers, looming fatigue, unforeseen obstacles (that “skulking garbage”), and our feelings of the moment is an art we must practice in order to fulfill our commitment.
In the process of being present to the surreality beneath the surface, my eyes were opened to so much. Swimming for miles means hours of spectacles to absorb: the beautiful ways the Sun’s rays flit across schools of tiny silver fish scales, the gentle, smooth ridges of sand layers sculpted by the whimsical bottom currents, the occasional obnoxious plastic and familiar household garbage skulking threateningly by, the sudden overhead shadow of an enthusiastic wave rushing by to fulfill its purpose.
It can be another world.
One time I was battling an increasing current. It was challenging and I was determined to beat it so I could progress forward. It suddenly hit me that I could just turn around and go the other way and work out where I ended up later. A metaphor for my life.
Four times out (for 12 miles total), a small angelfish followed alongside me. While the fish was just drafting along, I convinced myself that his side-eyed gaze was a friendly exchange. Telepathically, we reveled in the beauty of nature and I think we even went so far as to solve world peace. On my last 3 miles, he brought his whole family and they swam right at my nose, which made me feel I fit in. How nice not to be a burden to them in their home.
Battling the Ocean when I had to was humbling. Sometimes you have to let yourself be pulled and pushed, accepted and rejected, sometimes lifted and carried and at other times unfavored. This is vulnerability and acceptance.
Getting to the destination, no matter the plan of the day or the specific conditions of the quest, left me feeling fierce.
Sometimes we set our aspirations unrealistically high. My mind is always writing checks while my body is struggling trying to come to terms with the ensuing debt. Even knowing this about myself, I forged on – saying, “This time I will make it happen.” But it was often a real struggle: riptides, insistent lifeguards, sometimes physically feeling exhausted, having to psyche myself up for the last two excursions because I felt I was “over it.” The ocean and its surroundings are different from day to day no matter our personal plans. And the effect trickles down to us and our mindsets.
Weathering the tides, currents, other forms of life, potential dangers, looming fatigue, unforeseen obstacles (that “skulking garbage”), and our feelings of the moment is an art we must practice in order to fulfill our commitment. Staying mindful of that is the tallest order, but with support, taking notice of the beauty around us along the way, and staying in the conversation of commitment, all things become truly possible.