Night Swimming

October 24, 2009

It seems I have abandoned the pool in favor of the ocean.  I have found myself a merry group of swimmers who meet at 6.30am every week day for a few thousand meters of ocean bliss.  While I know that 6.30am does not constitute night swimming, I think it probably has all of the same mystique and adrenaline-induced thinking patterns.

It is pitch black at 6.30 in the morning.  When we jump into the ocean we can barely see an outstretched arm in front of our faces.  The sky is dark and starry, and the water even darker.  On a calm morning the only thing you can see clearly is the sparkly green phosphorescence caused by our movements in the water.

And thus, invigorated and often fearful, we begin swimming into the darkness.  There are really fast swimmers and slower swimmers and on any given day I’m willing to be either if it means I have a swimming buddy to make me feel safer.

I usually spend the first several hundred meters sifting through my various emotions.  I am terrified of what might lurk beneath us in the dark.  I am elated to be swimming under the stars, literally immersed in nature and absorbing its beauty with my every breath.  Some days I feel so happy to be in that water at that time with those people, that I can barely contain myself and the only thing stopping me from grinning while I swim is the thought of accidentally swallowing a larval jellyfish through my smile (easy to do, I assure you).

Once we get to the turning-around point we tread water (or stand if it’s shallow) and wait for everyone to congregate in a sacred swimmer’s circle of laughter and chatter.  We talk about what we encountered (driftwood?  a fish?  some seaweed?) and count heads before swimming back.  On the way back, the sky turns a dark navy, and the oranges and reds start to make their appearance as the sun peeks over the horizon.  My phosphorescent superpower disappears and is replaced with shadows of coral and fish as the water turns a deep turquoise.  I try to savor every moment and every ounce of magic.  I remember to myself how fortunate I am to be alive and I give thanks to the Universe for another day.


October 5, 2009

Shoshin“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” – Shunryo Suzuki-Roshi

In college I had occasion to work with an amazing mentor who helped me a great deal in refining my approach to sport.  One of the things he talked about was the Zen Buddhist concept of Shoshin or Beginner’s Mind.  He was always reminding me to approach things with the curiosity and clean slate of a toddler, not bringing my preconceptions with me to the athletic table.  From time to time I remember to experiment with this concept and I usually learn something from the experience.  For a while now I have been wanting to learn something completely new so I can have a genuine beginner’s mind and can reconnect with that feeling.

With that in mind, I joined the local women’s lacrosse team last week.

GB started playing hockey for the first time this summer and it was so much fun to witness the falling-in-love-with-a-new-sport process.  Every hockey day GB’s eyes would light up at the thought of playing and it got me thinking about starting something new of my own.  Although I have played my fair share of team sports including soccer, field hockey, and rugby, I have never so much as touched a lacrosse stick or watched a lacrosse game.  Which means that lacrosse it the perfect avenue for me to practice having a beginner’s mind.  I do not know the rules of play, the positions, the equipment, or really ANYTHING about this sport.   I did not eve know how hard the ball would be or whether it would be bouncy.  It’s all new, new, new.  And very exciting.

I could barely contain myself all day on Saturday and was elated when 3.30pm finally rolled around.  I didn’t know anyone on the team and even that was an exciting prospect for me.  The coaches handed me a stick and off we went to do drills.  Since part of my mission in taking on a new sport was to practice having a beginner’s mind I decided to learn how to play lacrosse left-handed.  I’m right-hand dominant so I figure my right hand can always catch up later.  It’s much easier to learn a new skill with your non-dominant hand first and I figure I should use that window of forgiveness granted to new players to putz around with my weakest side.  That way my mistakes will be attributed to my newness and not to my pfaffing with my non-dominant hand.

Being a beginner was so refreshing.  I let go of a lot of my usual expectations of myself and allowed myself to soak things up and ask questions.  I forgave myself my mistakes and I watched others to learn from their skills as much as possible.  I even tried not to apologize when I made a bad pass (is that what they call it?) or dropped the ball.  Consequently, I had an absolute blast.  I worked pretty hard out there and really enjoyed myself during the end-of-practice scrimmage.

I still have a few weeks of keeping my head in the triathlon game, but it sure is fun to know that a new and exciting sport is waiting in the wings.