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Life Lessons from a Swim Coach

I was a competitive swimmer for many years, including through college… but I don’t reflect on the act of swimming very often in my life today.  Sure, I grew through it, primarily physically, but also in discipline and team dynamics.  But nowadays, I find myself reflecting on two lessons taught many times by my swim coach at Tufts, Don Megerle – two lessons that I was unable to internalize at 20 years old, let alone improve my swim times, but critical life lessons.  In fact, I spent my college years giggling at the “silly” nature of these lessons:

1: Swim with the water.  2: Float.

1: Don’t fight the water.  Don’t swim against the water.  Swim WITH the water.

Sure, this made sense philosophically, in a high minded way, about where one’s energy goes, but at best I found it a mental trick, to focus on movement rather than fighting.

And now, I realize yes, it is a mental trick, but a saving one.  Swimming can be an analogy for everything in life where we need to push past/through something, because if the pushing drains us, or stops us, or even pushes us the wrong way, then it was all for naught.  And the mental state with which we approach such obstacles can largely determine our success making our way through.  When we fight with what’s in our way, we lose to ourselves.

2: Things messed up?  Don’t know what to do?  Or you want growth without effort?  Float.  Just grab a floatie, get in the water, and float goddammit.

This is not dissimilar to the first, though at the time the topics were completely different – floating was a tactic when not actively racing.  Something to do when things got tough or weird or disconnected, as opposed to the first, which has a clear goal, an obvious desired result.

For growth without effort: just get in the water and float.  The more time spent passive in the medium in which you battle, the less you’ll notice it, and the more invisible obstructions become.  In other words, its a meditation for land animals, where instead of breath or chimes, the meditation focus is the sensation of water on the outside on every part of one’s body.

When things get tough or weird or disconnected: just get in the water and float.  Nowadays, I liken this to settling into an uncomfortable situation, or letting myself just ‘be’ in a very uncomfortable situation.

When the shit hits the fan, it’s best to become transcendent.

Thanks, Coach.

[and since I’m writing about desensitizing to water, and considering the pieces that have connected the swimmer-me, oblivious to wisdom in the lessons, to the current me, I can’t help but add a favorite parable (thanks DFW): 

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”]