When I consider where I am most content, it strikes me that I am extremely fortunate. Other people find happiness and meaning in any number of settings, from the peace of their place of worship to a childhood playground. They then possess only one such place, however, no matter how important it is to them. My own scene of contentment covers the world; it is the water, and it is in water that I experience a level of satisfaction so profound, no other experience or scene rivals it. I can in fact imagine nothing else that could possibly bring me the sense of connection with myself I feel when swimming, because being in the water both liberates and isolates me. I am cocooned and flying, removed from the world and inside its essence. In that essence I am completely alone with myself, and a kind of communion takes place between the self I am to the world and the one I am always discovering.
The water is, first and foremost, elemental in the purest sense of the word. We are mostly composed of water ourselves and I honestly believe our attraction to the sea is virtually molecular; like calls to like, and the water within us calls to us. I can enjoy contentment in a swimming pool, but the experience is not as rich and dimensional as when I am moving in the ocean, drifting or doing laps against the tides, and feeling as one with a natural and immensely powerful force. To describe the sea is in fact to describe a form of life, and one towering most others. It can surge and level cities, and it can provide an endless vista of tranquility. It is not alive, but without it there is no life. . It is then as awe-inspiring as the air itself, but there is a crucial difference; on land and in the air, we are lumbering animals. In the sea, we are motion and grace. It is ironic that this element, so powerful and weighty, frees our physical beings so that we may fly.
Then, the sheer physicality involved in swimming changes the mind and the spirit. I work with the water and the currents, achieving a harmony of motion wholly organic. It also challenges me on many physical levels, offering primal resistance and tempering even this to how I adapt with every stroke. No other physical activity can compare to this because no other physical activity engulfs the body, and becomes an extension of it. When I succeed in the ocean and go for miles, my victory is over myself alone. This is true as well when I compete with others, or am simply enjoying the water with them. The sea has the uncanny ability to promote human warmth and interaction while providing absolute independence, and I value this immensely. Private by nature, I nonetheless enjoy company, and this all-encompassing environment brings us together and still celebrates our individuality.
The water teaches as well, all the time and in gentle whispers of surf. It tells me to value the real and be brave enough to confront who I am without cell phones, without companions right there, without any of the markers of identity we all so rely upon. I am confident, but I do not believe I would be so without my experience of the water; it has taught me that we must be good with ourselves in such isolation before we can be right for others. It has taught me that I will grow in unexpected ways as long as I surrender to the aloneness, and appreciate how silence can offer endless opportunities for reflection and new ideas. It is ironic, but the sense of being insignificant I feel in the sea translates to empowerment. I am aware of my place in the world, but I know that place has value and that, as with the water itself, other directions are always available. As long as I trust to my strength and the integrity of the environment, I may be nothing and I may be anything at all.
The water is a gift, and one never failing to encourage me to appreciate, thrive, reflect, give into exhausting exercise, and know what life is all about at its best. To see me swim is to know who I truly am, and I owe this, and much else, to this elemental place of contentment.