Thursday, May 29, 2014

Swim like the Buddha

There's a group of early morning regulars at the Y. They get in the pool and they swim, slow and steady, for 30 minutes, 60 minutes, 75 minutes, heads down, arms turning, a gentle flutter at the feet. "It's my meditation," one said. "It's relaxing. It calms me to just go back and forth."

I'm the opposite of these people. I'm agitated and irritable at the mere thought of that monotony. I need a structured workout, a program with variety and new challenges. Novelty always wins, and the familiar is tedious, and tedium is anathema. So when I saw that my training plan said to swim 3500 meters today without stopping (every 10th length fast), I was dismayed. "Oh God," I wrote to my training pal Mara, "Have you seen Thursday?"

"Don't forget, that's meters!" She chirped. "It's actually 3648 yards, and that's still not the full 2.4 mile race distance!"

Oh God. I knew better than to complain to her--she's quick to tell me to put on my "big girl panties" when I complain about things that don't matter--and I wanted to suffer with the anticipation a little while longer.

My plan was to swim 77 "fifties", or 50-yard laps. I got in the pool at 6:05, waited for the timer to hit the top at 6:06, and off I went. The demon in one ear, who clearly doesn't even know how to swim, nearly convinced me to stop several times, which is remarkable considering that his (yes, it's a he) arguments are no more skillful than "this is boring," "this sucks," "you suck," "I'm thirsty," "you forgot to eat," "this is going to take FOREVER," "you're slower than you used to be," "you might as well quit now," and "I think you're going to poop." 

Oh, great. I get to swim with my own 9-year-old bully.

But I kept going, up through laps 10, 20, 30. Once I hit 35 I knew I'd keep going, but the 40s were brutal. Once I hit 50, I started to feel like it was worth it. Mara showed up just before 70, and her cheers boosted me to the end. It took me 73 minutes and 30 seconds. It was slow. I don't care. I didn't listen to the bully demon, and my next swim will be faster.

This training program truly is 90 percent mental. Through this medium of exercise I'm learning new ways to keep my focus, to turn ugly thoughts into positive ones, to transform fear, anxiety, discomfort, and frustration into power and strength. I can't do a four-hour bike ride or a 2-hour run or a 3500-meter swim without being totally in my body. Counting laps for 73 minutes sharpens my focus and trains my awareness on my body, on each stroke, on every breath. This physical training is expanding my mind and my spirit, teaching me in the most fundamental, experiential way to be fully present in the moment and to accept what is. For now, with each stroke and footfall and pedal turn, with every yard and mile, this is my spiritual practice.

 I guess I'm not so different from those early morning meditation swimmers.


Swim: 3650 yards, every 10th length fast.
Bike: 1:11
Eat: blueberry spinach smoothie, leftover bowl of wow with broccoli, protein bar, Lucy granola toffee bar, hummus and crackers, Zafiro picadillo, black beans, rice

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