Mar 22, 2013

Just Keep Swimming

I understand why people get stoned.  Not, like, wow-look-at-the-colors-in-that-lava-lamp stoned, but wow-I-can’t-believe-I-just-ran-14-miles stoned.  Endorphins are powerful.  They give you crazy, brilliant ideas.  (See the previous blog on running for details:http://emmelinemusic.virb.com/blog/13553864/success.)

The other day, I was stoned from a run and headed towards the stairs at the gym.  (I was maybe the last person to leave.  They had maybe tried to kick me out twice.)  As I was rounding the corner, I caught sight of the pool, and the endorphins spoke to me.

You know what you should do?  they whispered excitedly.  Go swimming.  Tomorrow morning. 

For those of you who are new to this blog, allow me to explain the misfortune of this exclamation: I’m a musician.  We don’t do anything in the morning.  Ever.  In fact, we kind of look at mornings like Sarah Palin looks at dinosaurs.  There’s irrefutable proof of their existence, but…have you ever seen one?  I haven’t.  They could just be a myth…like, you know, the patriarchy, or hockey moms without lipstick.

Endorphins are powerfully persuasive, though.  The next morning, I was awake and—to my dismay—dressed in gym clothes and a swimsuit.  I arrived at the gym at approximately 9:30 AM.  The guy behind the desk with whom I’m on a first-name basis glanced at his watch twice before shooing me forward.

“In here early today, huh?”

(Yeah.  I get it.  Spotting a musician in the morning is kind of like spotting a dinosaur.  People flock.  Museums build exhibits.  Somebody blogs.)

At approximately 10:15 AM, I had finished my run and was staring at the crystal clear, chlorinated waters of the five-lane swimming pool apprehensively.  I took a deep breath and dove in…and had to hand it to the endorphins.

Best.  Idea.  Ever.

I’ve been swimming for as long as I can remember.  I love the water.  I firmly believe that all good vacations include a beach and an ocean…or at least a hot tub.  Somehow, though, in the insanity of my daily life, I’d forgotten how much I loved to swim. 

With one dive, it all came rushing back.  I splashed around.  I flipped underwater.  I did a breast-stroke victory lap of glee.  Then, as I got down to business with my kickboard, I started to wonder what it was about the water that I love so much.  Within seconds, the endorphins had an answer.

Weightlessness.

Do you have any idea how much crap we carry around each day?  I’m not just talking about internal and external organs, either.  I went on a retreat recently, and one of the discussion topics was “forgiveness.”  The first question posed by our moderator was, “How many of you have trouble forgiving other people?”  A few hands went up.  There was a long discussion of grudges.

I’ll be real with you.  I don’t hold many grudges.  My attention span isn’t that long.  I do have trouble forgetting things, though.  I store a lot of information about people, and I weigh each and every bit of it when I’m making social decisions.  Sometimes, trying to do what is ineveryone else’s best interest is quite a weight.

Of course, I probably don’t have to tell you that.  Think about the people who’ve done you wrong.  Now, think about how many of those people you’ve actually forgiven.  If you haven’t taken steps to let those grudges go, you’re still carrying them around—and that’s weight.

The second question posed by the moderator was, “How many of you have trouble forgiving yourselves?”

Silence.

You know when you’re little, and it’s dinnertime, and you REALLY want dessert, but it’s not time for dessert yet, so you decide that you’re going to crawl into the pantry and sneak a Rice Krispie Treat?  You know that feeling when your mom peels back the door to the pantry and catches you?

Sitting in that retreat house, I was a marshmallow-craving, Krispie-eating four-year-old all over again.  Guilt erupted from my pores.  And I’m Catholic, so I’m really good at guilt.

For the most part, with time, I can forgive others. 

I am horrible at forgiving myself.

I don’t think I’m the only one, either.  I think there are a lot of us out there who keep a mental tally of all of the things we haven’t crossed off our to-do lists.  All of the people we haven’t helped.  All of the ways in which we haven’t improved.  All of the times we failed to be as good as we’d hoped we’d be. 

Some nights, it feels like a really long list.  Most nights, it’s a really heavy burden.    

Once you hit the water, you’re weightless.  Insulated entirely by gentle, cleansing waves.  Suspended on all sides.  As long as you’re in the water, you don’t have to carry your own mass.  In fact, you can use the water to help you carry someone twice your size.  (Trust me.  I carried my brother around the public pool every summer when we were growing up.  He was at least twice my size.)

In the water, burdens lose their lead.  Aches lose their pain.  Things that were once really, really difficult—like propelling yourself forward with only your limbs to guide you—suddenly seem really, really easy.

It’s almost like confession.  By the power of chlorine may my sins be washed away.

The water relieves the physical burden we put on ourselves.  So how do we relieve the emotional burden?  Perfectionism is a lot of things, but it’s definitely not weightless.

Letting ourselves off the hook is hard.  I’ve amassed quite a set of expectations for myself.  Swimming is a good reminder to ease up the reins, though.  When I’m floating in the water, I kind of feel like God is all around me, lifting me up.  Forgiving us for all of the things we can’t forgive in ourselves.

(There’s a Catholic hymn that goes, “And let all who thirst; let them come to the water.  And let all who have nothing; let them come to the Lord.”  I think I get it now.)

If we can forgive those faults in others; if God can forgive those faults in us…then shouldn’t we be able to take a hint and do the same?

Today, pick one thing you’re carrying around that feels heavy.   Hold it to the light.  In the translucent nuances of your fault, try to find the lesson beneath the mistake.  And, instead of wielding it at yourself like a bludger in a good game of Quidditch, let the rest go.

Forgive yourself.

It might not happen exactly like it does in the water.  Our clenched fists might have trouble relinquishing all of those burdens in one go.  We can, however, try to do it slowly—one finger at a time, one thing at a time, one day at a time.  We can come to the water and try to be lighter.  And maybe, if we do as Dory says and just keep swimming, we can be really, truly weightless.

So what are you waiting for?  Take a deep breath and dive.  And always, always listen to the endorphins.

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