I was at a wedding recently. It was loads of fun, with mealtime conversation ranging widely and lots of laughs, although we didn’t know each other. A beautiful moment of coming together with strangers as we shared a common love for the bride. One small part of the conversation came back to me recently. A woman talking about how she never learned to swim and has a lifelong fear of water. She recounted various memories of childhood pool parties and water slide ‘adventures’ which clearly still affected her deeply. We joked that we were her therapists listening to these memories, but it was painfully clear that she felt very ashamed of her inability to swim.
I had a lot of sympathy for her. Although I can swim, I do so only weakly and therefore slightly reluctantly. More than that, in my yoga practice I so regularly face fears and complex emotions of shame and regret that I would wish everyone had some tool to help them with their versions of these blockages.
Now I’m on holiday with daily beach visits as well as a pool! Australian Hubby grew up with these as regular features of everyday life; I was brought up by aquaphobic parents who couldn’t swim and didn’t give me much encouragement to learn or overcome an inherited fear of the water. I have my own narrative similar to the wedding guest’s stories, but most of the time I don’t think about it. Swimming is not an activity I enjoy and I thought that was all there was to it.
Then this year something changed for me. I haven’t miraculously discovered my inner fishy-qualities and become an amazing swimmer but I have bought a pair of goggles and I’ve suddenly found what fun it is to swim underwater! Out of the blue I felt that I wanted to do this, I was ready to conquer some fears. I realised I was carrying round shame from childhood experiences of being shouted at in swimming lessons, where I obeyed instructions simply from fear, not because in any way I wanted to gain the skill of picking up a brick from the bottom of a swimming pool or diving in to catch a coloured rubber ring! Now, inexplicably, these things suddenly sounded like fun, for the first time ever 🙂
Hubby knows me well. He helped me select some swimming goggles in the local shop and then left me to it. When I shyly took my goggles to the pool there was no pressure, no shouting from the poolside, no imperative to do anything I didn’t want to do. He didn’t crowd me with well-meaning helpful suggestions or advice, although I could tell there was a watchful eye from the deep end as he observed me experimenting in stages and taking my time. Putting my face in the water for a second or two, floating face down, gripping the edge of the pool as I dipped completely under the surface… And then I swam a length under water. I know this is a ridiculously modest accomplishment, but for me it means so much. I feel like an Olympian! I’m so proud that I was able to voice my fears to Hubby and come up with a way to address them. That is the real big deal here.
I wrote to my yoga teacher this week — not about my swimming exploits, ha ha! 🙂 I was trying to give a thank you to all he offers me. Time and again I come back to thanking him for his patience — though he has many other fine attributes as a teacher! For me it seems to be patience I have often missed through life so far. Always a feeling that others are demanding progress or participation from me before I am ready or beyond my ability. This little swimming moment felt like an application of how he helps me. I feel as though what I learn on the yoga mat is supposed to translate into some more lofty ideals of greater service in the world. But for today it was just applying my yoga learning in the swimming pool: how to face fears and blockages, how to break difficult things down into smaller stages, breathing calmly when I feel anything but, being honest with myself about my needs, feeling where I want to be and what I really want.
The sense of joy and accomplishment in putting to rest some childhood water demons feels wonderful! Hubby says I’ve gone from Dryad (wood nymph — I am at my happiest among trees and hedgerows) to Naiad (water nymph). It will never be a full metamorphosis, but I’m excited to start to discover — and enjoy — a new way of being in my surroundings.