I have tried many times to learn swimming in my life. As my instructor told me, loosening up in water, didn’t come quite natural to me. I get stiff, whole body, I mean, like a log. I start fighting with water as the ‘pool waves’ engulf me like a tsunami. And when my head comes out and I could feel the pool bottom, the world seem to be insultingly calm & normal
I didn’t want drowning to be a mode of death for my life, so I tried.
Childhood was the best time to learn swimming. You are kind of fearless, unknown of consequences, pool is playful, then. We used to have access to natural pools, with no mechanical filtration systems and they used to be green, reflecting the nature around. They used to have laterite steps, often slippery with the growth of moss and the like. I used to think that might be the way I would fall in water, slipping. This was a friends place and he used to have a ‘big’ dog which often escapes the leash and comes to the pool running, hearing us have fun. He just wanted to play with us, friends said, but for me he was a monster attacking me. I still remember how I used to run carrying my beating heart in my hand. So, I was always distracted and couldn’t complete my lessons. Swimming more or less ended up like dipping legs in the pool and waiting for the monster.
College days too, somehow my insecurity and too much love for my life prevented me from visiting the pool nearby with the scary fellow pranksters. As we all know, five years of college lasted only a few seconds, making memories (which I can hardly recollect), playing, loving & studying!
As the play days were over and work caught up, life staring at me, swimming was never a priority. I will have to go again back to my glasses here, as I wanted to see the depths of the pool. I loved the blue, I loved being in water, of course with my feet feeling the floor. But I could only wear my goggles and the pool was dreamy and hazy, which I didn’t mind. Struggled to see my fellow swimmers, especially that of the opposite sex, not that I made any accidents in the pool- I was too well behaved for that. I left my glasses at the pool edge and wore them in between to experience ‘world’ clearer.
I still couldn’t swim, I mean well enough! Breathing was erratic, legs fussy! I was inching my 30s, I suppose then.
Life slowed down. I changed. Goals shifted. Now, my priority was to feel water, ten years down the line. Did I start seeing the silver lining in the horizon where enlightenment was opening its door? The things I see when I look at things went deeper. I was observing the unsaid words more than the said ones. Existential questions haunted me, I got suspicious of this circus. People around me changed, new ones appeared, friends changed, lost touch. Pool changed.
I think, I am not a quitter. I couldn’t believe that I am incapable of learning this trick which was mastered by thousands of generations. I wanna move like a dolphin, a whale, a tortoise, the least! Am I genes this weak? Am I going to die a scared cat, a pussy?
Again, I enrolled for lessons. This is where I think the story changed a bit. This was a regimental affair. Six of us taking six lanes of a school’s 25 m pool. My instructor was a friendly Filipino, who struggled to make me relax. Explaining the theory behind it, we are water, don’t fight with it, flow with it. We are like a balloon when your lungs are filled with air which floats- but I had holes in my balloon! Feel like a fish, kick with your thighs involved, keep your body posture which give least resistance for the forward thrust! I wished I had learned ballet to have the calmness and fluid movements!
I made progress. We mastered kicking, strokes, breathing. Half pool became a piece of cake. We ventured to the new depths of the pool. My hazy vision of the deep end wall, made it unpredictable. It was a moment of truth staring at you. Have you got it, to take the plunge. Once you leap towards the deep end from half of the pool, I knew my feet wouldn’t be able to feel the ground. It was a mind game. If you convince yourself it’s just the other half of the pool which you just covered, you will reach the shores, like a boss. BUT!
Fear comes in waves. Either you rule the fear or you succumb. Whenever you succumb, it’s ugly. You end up feeling like a piece of shit. You gather your shit, breathe and try again. Life becomes really slow here and your one hour session never ends. Fear sends a shiver through your spine like a lightning, from your stretched toes to your brain. It’s like life awakening, saying hello. It’s like a reminder, hello, I need air. I had to go deeper to understand my psyche. I am sure it’s different for each one of us. What is that you are worried? Are you going to die today? Is this your limit? Is this what you made of? Is that it?
I still fell short, many times.
It was always easier doing this from the deeper end to the shallow end, knowing you are going to the safer end, to home, to mama! Such a baby! And I remember the first time I hit the 25 meters from the deep end to shallow end in a single stretch, the kids and mommy’s waiting for the next session literally cheered me, clapped for me. I did wave at the crowd, as I won the gold, just like Phelps. I pulled myself out of the pool with a smile that day, at 40!
I still struggled with the other direction. I rigged deeper, I told him my problem. His answer was, I am here, don’t worry, you are not going to die today! That wasn’t helpful. He needed to understand me, this stale answer won’t help me. Dig deeper with me, come to the cosmic levels. We are talking about my life here. LIFE, MY LIFE! I knew, it wasn’t about my swimming. It was the mind, playing tricks with me. I was left to find my answer on my own and I did find the answer, after many sessions! AIR! You need to stay calm to understand when you need the air, to stay alive! And when you need, you seek. Twist your body and rest your head on the stretched hand, look up at the sky, the birds, the stars, and just breath with intent, like you mean it, as you complete your stroke with the other hand. Get as much as you can. Air will not only fill your lungs but your heart and brain. Cosmic doors open. Stars dance, boxes ticked, everything works in unison, you swim like a dolphin- not exactly, but a half dolphin.
I noticed that my mental peace affected the way I swim too. If you are stressed, you don’t hustle. You duck and just complete your session just because you have paid in advance. Your soul don’t feel the water then, your body just gets wet. I didn’t like such days.
It was one such day where we were trying the deeper end swimming lessons. I was done with the day which was tiring. We did almost 30 minutes of swimming. I wanted to get out of the pool and excuse the group. But I was too modest to do that. I continued. Life wasn’t happy, job wasn’t satisfying. But now I had to take the plunge. I haven’t reached where I should be. Water was dull. It reflected the color of my soul then, I guess. Haven’t done well for my family, for myself. The pool lights were at the edge and the lanes had a dark patch on the floor. I missed the big picture, ran behind the in between things. The group took the plunge, I heard them hitting the water. Time ticked, and I just existed as life was given. Time for my plunge passed. I looked at the instructor, who was waving at me to take the plunge. Did I take enough risks to the best of my abilities? Have you ducked in life just like you are now at the pool edge?
I, heavy with my thoughts, took the leap.
It was a messy leap, I was sure my legs were not feeling the ground. Do I have enough air to last this swim, this life? Are my hands in coordination with my breathing. Too much technique came into my head. The rhythm was lost. I covered some distance with the first push, you are in the deep end with no wall to hold on, no hand to hold on. You got to deal with your own mess. I forgot the lesson! Forgot the answer, AIR! Lightning struck, shiver passed, from the toes to the tip. I saw fear’s face. It was blue, deep blue. I looked up, wasn’t sure how to reach up. My hand was heavy, unable to lift. Legs exhausted, failing to kick. I hung in there. Is this the truth? Is this how it’s going to end? Should I try, one more time? Where is my survival instincts?
I gave up. I quit! I remember my exact thoughts, I am tired, if he saves me, I will live. I was stiff, not a dolphin anymore. I couldn’t think of any reason at that time to give it a shot, kick at least. Try something, lazy asshole! I wished I had the whistle which Rose blew to the rescue team! I didn’t breathe. Tried not to take any water till ‘help’ came. Was I always waiting for someone to come and rescue me? We did this swim many times before and no one was expecting an emergency. It felt like hours in there but in fact it was few seconds. The tsunami around me just continued. I went to the first session of our training, all those lessons forgotten- swimming and life alike!
Help did come, at the end. My instructors hands slowly pulling me up. Sense prevailed and I took as much air as I wanted. I thanked him and excused myself, modesty was excused, then. I couldn’t even pull myself out of the pool at the edge. I walked along the edge till I can feel my leg again, to walk like the man I was.
Swimming was easier and better after that even if the deep ends challenge me at times. I had to have this suicidal thought and event to really understand what it takes to be alive. Now I love to swim without my cap, feeling the water on my face, cleansing my soul and mind. Hope I never get struck by the lightning again.