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I never learned to swim as a kid. I got a few haphazard lessons from a family friend when I was in elementary school, so I could get into water without fear of imminent death. I always joked, I won’t drown...immediately. *shrug*
So last fall, I signed up for free adult swimming lessons at the community center. Every Friday at 4pm I showed up to reluctantly change into my deeply unflattering one-piece in the clammy locker room, and made my way into the lukewarm pool.
We started with the basics: putting my face in the water, blowing bubbles, learning how to kick my legs on a kickboard. I made some progress, and then got to try putting all the (very basic) pieces together.
Swimming is a complex exercise. It was no easy feat coordinating the movement of the legs, the head and the breath simultaneously. (I wasn’t even using my arms yet, except to hold onto the kickboard for dear life!) It was super challenging, and every week I left exhausted.
After a few weeks of lessons, I had a revelation in the pool.
I was so uncomfortable going underwater that even when I put my face in the water, my neck was still gripping fiercely to try to keep my head from going fully under. I would put just my eyes, nose and mouth under, and grip hard to keep myself from having to put my ear or throat or hair under the surface.
I was exerting so much effort trying to keep myself from letting go, even as I was in the process of letting go.
It was incredibly exhausting.
I had to chuckle at myself. This tendency to let go a little, but still cling fiercely to some modicum of control, was laughably familiar. This is how most of us go about trying to let go of control.
We want to surrender, but not all the way.
We want to let go, but still hold on.
We’ve been so well practiced at gripping and grasping and clinging, that to let go feels unfamiliar, and for most of us, pretty scary. For a long time, holding onto the perception of control is what kept us safe. So to let it go can feel utterly terrifying.
Releasing my head fully into the pool felt like a death wish. It made my heart pound and my pits sweat. Honestly, it still does.
But here’s the thing--we have to let go in order to grow.
Surrender is the prerequisite for transformation.
And I want to keep growing. Even when it requires relinquishing. Even when it scares the shit out of me. I want you to keep growing too.
So look around--where are you half in the water? Where are your old habits and coping strategies keeping you from really letting go? How are you holding yourself back, even as you’re diving in?
This is how we truly let go of control.
I’m not there yet (wherever “there” is.) It's still hard for me to relax my neck in the pool, but at least now I notice that when I’m holding back. I'm on my way to being able to make a different choice.
I can imagine a day when swimming will feel relaxing, intuitive, pleasurable even. This is the future I’m practicing towards.
Can you exhale? Soften? Can you release yourself fully with faith that the water will hold you? Can you breathe out and trust that you won’t drown?
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