Swimming Over My Head - Lessons In Self Trust

by Pool Builders on 11-11-2007 in Articles

My earliest memory of Jones Beach is the pool at Field One. Images of sea creatures styled in sidewalk mosaics and pungent purple petunias are as fresh to me now as they were at the age of three.

Into the pool I went wrapped in the trusted arms of my beloved grandmother. Still, I was afraid and clutched her tightly. Within my minutes I suddenly found myself sinking to the bottom. As if in slow motion, my wide open eyes watched as aqua swoosh and bubble around me until, gasping and terrified, I was finally pulled out.

Years later I returned as an adult just to see how deep the water had been. Three feet. Three feet that felt like six. And although I eventually learned to float, swim on my back and do the sidestroke, I never conquered a fear of the deep. I spent my years paddling around in the shallow end or, in natural waters, following a compulsion to pin down the drop off point before starting my swim.

I loved the water and longed for the freedom I'd witnessed in children who had none of the panic I experienced if my foot failed to touch bottom. One summer, long after my children were proficient swimmers, I stood at the edge of our town's man-made lake and felt again that old fear. I was struck by the expansiveness of the deep side with no markers to indicate whether four feet or eleven. Would I never be out there?

It was then it hit me. What a perfect paradigm the pool was for other limitations in my life. The pool was the world. My fear of swimming "out there" was but a symbol for the fears I had putting myself onto the bigger "stage." This was about a lack of trust, not in others but in myself. What if I could conquer my terror here? Would the change radiate into other areas, taking my work as artist, teacher and musician into the larger community?

Three days later, at the age of 47, I walked into the Red Cross and signed up for lessons. My teacher, Nicole, was eighteen but with a wisdom that was ageless. She respected my fear and always gave me options. We pooled our resources, my determination together with her skills as a coach.

She started by teaching me to tread water followed by the breaststroke. As my confidence in her and myself grew, something became evident. Less fear and deeper water made it easier to swim. Being afraid used up so much energy. The more I let go of control the more buoyant I became. What a life lesson that was! Obvious to some but not to me. I'd learned early (and not just poolside) that safety lay in being very, very careful or so I thought.

At the end of my fourth lesson as I swam away from Nicole, I realized how peaceful I felt. I could feel new strength in my arms and a connectedness of arms to chest and legs to trunk that hadn't been there before. My whole body felt fluid and rhythmic. I had been in the shallow end too long.

Within a month, I was able to swim without touching bottom for 20 minutes. It was no secret why my lessons had progressed so well. I was ready and I had the right professional to guide me. No longer were expanse and depth perceived as limitations. By putting myself in the right space I had gained basic technique, learned how to let go and take risks. I had opened the door to a fuller creative life. The pool was mine.

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