No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man. – Heraclitus
I am getting to understand that in the swimming pool, the volume of the water bears you up as much as it weighs you down.
One week I swore it was the deep end that was hard going for my free style, and the next, I slogged through the shallows while that deeper water bore me up, as I ploughed through, a stroke at a time.
While the water may go through minor adjustments, the experience of it is mine and that changes. I am different every time I climb down into it, duck under the buoyed lane lines, and begin my laps.
Even when learning a new skill, we get too used to doing things the same way. It’s how our brains work, building neural networks. Which is why I like learning to swim: each class changes me, and as I improve, I adjust my breath and arms, and hands, how I kick, and how I tilt my head. They are little things, but for every lesson, I notice.
Some lessons I am tired, or determined, talkative or quiet. Some lessons feel easier than others. Some evenings the wavelets slapping faintly at the tiles feel like they are cliffs, “fall/Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed.” With some classes my muscles anticipate the fatigue and ache, and for others afterwards, not at all.
Each week I notice more about the water: how there is warm current in the middle, how sounds and movement propagate across the water. I listen for how the pitch alters with the depth, and watch how the light and colour moves upon the surface. I keep going. Making new pathways. Experimenting with stroke patterns. Taking on advice, adjusting my body to see how fast I move.
And I do move, but backstroke feels easier. I can breathe more naturally, with less concern. There is more thinking time too, which is a blessing and a curse.
I like the contrast between how my mind rushes, but my stokes feel slow. Thoughts cascade, and fall over themselves in all tangents, while I resolutely head up and then down the middle of lane four. Facing an imagined sky, I watch. I glimpse my arms go back, fingers flicking drops away. I watch for splashes, watch the blue ceiling, keeping myself aligned with patterns above me. And I lean back to see the flags telling me I am nearly home, safe. All the while I am writing a blog post in my head, listing things, mulling over all I want to do, and have to check, in the next few weeks.
I keep going.
Stroke for arcing stroke, I push worry away, again and again, like the wall I launch myself from at the end of the pool.
Worry has me lapped these days, and I can barely keep up.
After so long doing the same thing, the same way, I have a couple of weeks at my job left. Occasionally, since the announcement, I find myself flailing. Like I’ve learned nothing, and I need my teacher to tell me to not to labour my breath. I work hard to recover. And I do.
It should feel easy, he says.
I keep going.
Each day is a flag that tells me the end of an era is closing in. The future is a vast and open, not a pool, with its refracted lines and limits, but open water. An ocean. Where there was once a regular and familiar pattern of movement and exchange is the unknown, free style in any direction, no guides lines.
The deep end is cooler and darker than usual but it’s just a matter of perception. I’ll adjust…because I can swim now. I am swimming.
There is so much to do, as I keep my head above the water.
I imagine heading out. Catching a larger tide.
Seems these lessons this year were never about learning back stroke or free style, as I take one breath after another, stretching out my hands, but never hitting the wall, pacing myself.