Nearly every Friday morning you can find me at the holy altar of Laurie Wagner’s Wild Writing table. Myself and a handful of other women spend a few hours writing messy, brutally honest words as fast as we can so as to circumvent our inner critic and the part of us that wants to write well and sound smart.
We just go, we write, we share — no feedback is given— and we repeat. Leaving that table we are scrubbed clean, pried open, and held. It’s all just enough to prepare us to go back out into the world, into our real lives and live them with just a bit more grace.
Today’s post is something I wrote recently at that table about a sacred ritual I keep when swimming.
A bit of back story: when I was twenty over exercise had made me bed ridden with a bum hip. I couldn’t walk or even sit without being in pain. My salvation was discovering lap swimming. By some miracle of miracles I never felt compulsive about lap swimming. Or rather I insisted that the same rigid and critical energy I’d had on the treadmill would not follow me into the water.
Over the years swimming has remained an oasis for me. I may go away for periods of time but when I return it’s always a homecoming and that’s in large part because I pray…
It’s a big, wide open stairwell—maybe 12 feet across—leading from the warmth and safety of the locker room up to the rooftop pool. I’d tried to avoid it on this night, not wanting the cool air on my already goose-pimpled skin. I’d first gone to the indoor pool which is divided into two lap lanes and an expanse of open water. This night the lap lanes were filled with what appeared to be adults learning to swim, but the remainder (and majority) of the pool was empty.
To be polite I checked in with the instructor to see if she minded if did laps in the open area of the pool. She replied, while glancing at the abundance of unoccupied water “Um, no, sorry, I’m not sure if we’ll need it.” (Side note: If you’ve ever asked someone who was clearly done eating if you could finish their food only to have them say no because they don’t want you to have their food either then you get the vibe this woman was putting out. Moving on…)
“No problem” I muttered “I’ll go up to the roof.”
So to the stairwell I went. Steeling myself for that moment when I cross the threshold, midway up, from warm air to chilly San Francisco fog.
Truthfully though, the outside temperature was gentle that night.
But this isn’t about climate.
This is about the prayer I say on that stairwell on my way up. The prayer I have said every time I enter the water since I was twenty years old. The prayer that soothes the still raw wounds of compulsive exercise and the havoc it wreaked on my life long ago.
So I say to myself kindly “Just get in. Getting in the water is enough. Just get in.”
So I say “Remember, the water takes you just as you are.”
So I say “Swim at your body’s pace.”
So I say “Just get in. The water takes you just as you are.”
And little miracles happen all around me.
Like the temperate air. Like having half a lap lane all to myself. Like the fact that in this crazy, overpriced, crowded, over-hip city for $42 a month I get to swim under the stars and be watched over by the moon in a half undisturbed lane letting my muscle memory take over.
Like savoring the fact that I already won the gold medal by simply getting into the water and letting it take me as I was on that night. I won the gold medal and kicked not enoughness to the curb when I got in, not when I pushed off the wall, or swam the first lap. Not when I raised my heart rate or traversed a certain distance. I won just when I lowered myself into that pool on that night.
So the prayer or the pep talking in the double-wide stairwell, in what felt like just one square foot of space and time, “Just get in. The water takes you just as you are.” That prayer has saved me so many times.
The invitation here for you is to think about how you might stay right by your own side in situations that beckon you far away from yourself.
The invitation here for you is to allow the sacred into what might feel mundane.
The invitation here is for you to listen to that little kind voice inside you that’s trying to be heard over the often louder critic.
The invitation is for you to look around and discover all the places in your life where, if you show up, you already are accepted just as you are.