Courage

In the depths of the ocean there are no mirrors, no weights, no upbeat tunes from the latest Spotify playlist and no one checking out your swim wear. The ocean is real and raw and exhilarating. It meets you at your most essential self. It’s a place beyond the things we hold onto. We are all just a speck inside its infinity.

It never ceases to amaze me that, although I share the city of Sydney with approximately 5 million humans, it is equally in my grasp to share it with the dolphins, fish and stingrays that live in the vast, oceanic waters of our coast line. Anyone can mingle with sea creatures at 8am and still make it to the office by 9am (or to their home office in pandemic times). This is what I call a stunning existence. Having this reality at my fingertips got me interested in swimming the length of the bay at Bondi Beach. And so, for the past few years, I’ve been slowly building my stamina and skill with this fixed goal in mind: taking on the daunting 1-kilometre stretch of ocean from north to south Bondi.

My experience with physical movement and yoga has taught me that sloppy technique applied to mostly anything physical is not a good idea. Repeat that sloppy technique over a period of time and it can literally be to your body like a car accident in slow-motion. Since my swimming goals were going to require a small marathon, I decided swimming lessons would be a very good idea.


Learning anything new requires a tremendous amount of effort and a good, healthy dollop of momentum. Many excuses can often get in the way of completion, but calling on another person to keep you accountable can be a huge support. I was pleased to find myself an excellent swim coach for the job of streamlining my technique. I did not forget to remind myself to not let the idea of perfection get in the way of the completion of my goal.


As my lessons took off, it didn’t take long to come face to face with my stamina. Lap after lap at my crowded local pool at Bondi Icebergs, following the countless heels of strangers, or sometimes them mine was not always a pleasurable experience. I began to pick my times carefully so as not to be overwhelmed and I persevered.


Little by little, as I got stronger and more skilled, the bay swim started looking more do-able. This was great. My swimming teacher had done a fantastic job. But even so, the fear and trepidation of what lay beneath those unassuming currents did not leave my mind. All those shadows lurking just below the surface were at the forefront of my imagination. The unknown was looming. I quickly realised my objective was going to require more than just my skill and effort. It was going to require a big dose of courage. And perhaps even a fearless swimming buddy to get me through. I’m a firm believer that when you act from true courage, the elements will always align and the right people often show up. Courage likes to reward you, meet you, take care of you. In keeping with this, before I knew it, my next-door neighbour became the swim buddy I was hoping for.


My buddy and I began taking it in small steps, not unlike learning the components of a complex yoga posture – by breaking it down, limb by limb. In this case, we took it stroke by stroke. It was so helpful to have each other. Consistency, over a long period of time, will often show results. But I found that even more essential was the unattached attitude to the goal. For me that meant being in the moment every chance I got, enjoying the process, observing my arms as they sliced through the water, feeling the watery pull while simultaneously allowing myself to be propelled by the momentum of my limbs. I savoured the thrill of being fully immersed in the Pacific Ocean. All of this reminded me of the exquisite process of yoga, the support the body offers itself, the extension of each limb as I look for that weightless feeling that unfolds like an expression from within.


My swim buddy and I have been swimming that bay for a few years now. It’s a real testament to effort, will and support. Together we found the confidence. I long stopped thinking about those hidden shadows that live beneath sea, because swimming with my buddy meant I never swam alone. That was true up until last week. All of a sudden, the opportunity presented itself to go out on my own, and once again I had to remember that courage muscle I’d stopped thinking about. I’d come so far - I’d achieved my goal of swimming that daunting stretch. But here I was again - me and the unknown - face to face. This meant I had to truly assess the situation in front of me in a way I hadn’t done in a while. I had to look at the conditions of the boundless water and ask myself honestly – am I ready?


In the depths of the ocean there are no mirrors, no weights, no upbeat tunes from the latest Spotify playlist and no one checking out your swim wear. The ocean is real and raw and exhilarating. It meets you at your most essential self. It’s a place beyond the things we hold onto. We are all just a speck inside its infinity. But I did it. I completed the swim. My willingness conjured the courage. With this came a huge sense of freedom.

Every single day of our lives we are asked to muster up courage, not just to put the effort into doing something, not just to complete something, but also to let go of the things we are unable to change, and forge ahead anyway. The very act of living requires courage. It often requires swimming in unmarked waters – sometimes completely on your own – and not just for the thrill of the adventure, but to see what’s possible in the face of fear. Facing uncertainty is the path to trusting. It is a dance between feeling secure whilst at the same time getting comfortable with discomfort. Yoga teaches us all of these things and more.


May we all find courage to expand into the abyss of the unknown, particularly in these unknown times. Start today, on your mat, and see what happens. I’ll be doing the same.


Go well,

Eileen

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