Yesterday I went to the beach. It was a glorious day. I have always had a strong pull toward the water, the ocean, the waves. When I was three I began swim lessons. I loved being in the water. We used to go to Lake Sycamore as a family, that being the closest body of water near the suburban, Chicago-land town I grew up in. I remember going to the public pool almost every day throughout each summer. Even when I was in high school I spent a lot of summer days swimming. The physical education program at my school included swimming. I was even a certified life-guard my senior year.
The first time I stepped my feet into the ocean I was 14, the summer before my freshman year of high school. We were on vacation in Florida. My siblings and I had never even seen the ocean until this point in our lives. When we first got out of the car in the hotel’s parking lot, we all ran to the water. My mother followed and watched the three of us step into the ocean together. I remember it being refreshingly, cool. I also remember spending the next 6 days in the water, enjoying the saltiness that I never experienced before.
A strange sensation at first: being wet all over and soaked from head to toe, while at the same time feeling the dryness on my lips and in my hair, the saltiness in my mouth. And every time I step into the ocean and the water touches my skin I am still so surprised of how it makes me feel. It is a feeling of being cleansed. The salty water exfoliating my skin and taking off a layer, gently yet noticeably. Refreshing the outer layer of my physical being. Pulling me closer to a deeper truth.
The ocean water and the sun rejuvenated me yesterday. Today my skin is soft, brown like a berry (as my mother would say), and smooth.
I felt confident in the water yesterday. When jumping into the waves I had no doubts. When we know something for so long we forget how easily things can change and challenge you. I was met abruptly with a new form of fear at the beach.
While swimming by myself, my friends and husband taking in the sun on our blankets, I was taken by the power of the ocean. She gave me a a gift, a reminder of how much I actually control and that risks have their consequences.
I swam past where the waves were breaking. And I was enjoying some smaller and calmer rhythms of movement. The water was up to my ribs, I wasn’t too far out. I felt a pulling near my feet and the water was suddenly only at my knees. There was a man swimming in front of me and I could see excitement in his eyes. A huge wave was forming about 30 feet in front of him, maybe 35 feet in front of me. He began to swim toward it. I thought it would be best to follow his lead. I knew I would not be able to out swim the wave toward shore. It was coming fast, gaining momentum and height. The man in front of me caught the wave perfectly and was on top of it as it came crashing forward. I kicked and moved my arms as I have done so many times before, attempting to also catch the rhythm of this wave and join it.
A wave hit me from the side and then the other side, taking me under, pulling me down. I kept kicking. My mind whispered,”shit”. Fear took over for a few seconds. I didn’t know which way was up. I was tumbling in more than one direction. I kept kicking. A thought in the back of my mind came up, “What is going to happen to me?” I kept kicking and I broke the surface. Gasping for air, I realized that my bathing suit was not completely covering my breasts. My hair was in my face. I could barely see the shore in front of me. I was about waist deep.
I fixed my suit and looked behind me. An even bigger wave was already barreling down on me. I started swimming. I felt so disoriented. “Here we go again,” I thought. Trying to catch my breath as I swam the wave hit me. Pushing me forward and then pulling me down and back. Tumbling and spinning. I found the sand underneath and stood up. Both of my breasts were out and my bottom was hanging out for the world to see. I may have swallowed a bit of salt water. The taste of the waves were strong in my mouth. The water was calm again. I fixed my suit so that I was covered. Spitting salty water out of my mouth, I slowly walked to shore. I could see Jeffrey watching me. I waved at him. He could tell I was alright. I walked back to my blanket and he told me my knee was bleeding. I did not remember scraping it, but it all happened so fast.
I began to talk about what happened; how surprised I was at the strength of the undertow and the wave’s pull on me, taking me under and disorienting me. Never before had I felt fear in water. I have always felt capable of handling what was coming at me. Even swimming in Hawaii where the waves were much bigger, I never felt out of control of what was going to happen.
I sat and breathed for awhile. A part of me could not get over the fact that I had lost control. I laid down and closed my eyes. I replayed what happened in my mind a few times. Even now, sitting and writing this, I can close my eyes and feel the pulling of those waves, strong and mighty compared to the kicking of my legs. How powerful the ocean is. It is a strength that is so beautiful and mystifying. Watching the waves is something that I have always loved. Something so beautiful also has a darkness. Just like I have light and shadows within. The sun is glorious, shining and giving us energy through its rays, nourishing the earth and plants which we consume. Rays of the sun can also burn.
So many things in life can pull me under, without warning, into a darkness. A darkness in which I may feel lost, in which I do not know which path to take next. I must keep kicking. I must keep swimming and jumping back in the water. I will swim mindfully. I will use my yoga practice to cultivate the skills I need to adapt to the darkness, and also skills I will need to find the light. When the waves come crashing in, I will join them.
I got back in the water an hour later. I swam with more caution. I swam with more awareness and consciousness. I swam with an open heart.