Those of you who read my blog regularly know that I am a devoted lap swimmer. My time in the pool (or lake) opens me to a kind of reflection and inspiration that can only come from repetitive activity that doesn’t take full concentration. Swimming is my yoga. It is my meditation. It is my most consistent mindfulness practice.
The other day as I swam I remembered something. When I was in elementary school, I would come home every day and throw a little red, white and blue plastic ball onto the garage roof over and over again. I recalled how much I loved doing this: tossing the ball onto the pitched roof, watching it roll down and catching it in my waiting hands. I can still feel the pleasure of it in my body. I remember how the repetitive motion set my mind free to dream and rest. I talked to myself. I became calm and happy. That ritual was a balm to my tender soul aching from the slings and arrows of bullies, anxiety, and ferocious self-consciousness.
Later on in high school I learned to juggle. There was one summer – or was it two? – when I spent hours juggling tennis balls in the back yard, counting how many times I could throw the balls before dropping one. I found the same kind of peacefulness, focus and joy as I did throwing my little ball onto the garage roof.
As a younger child, I worked things out on the park sized swing set in the backyard. I would swing as high as I could, then leap off into the air to land in the grass. I did this activity over and over, especially when I was frustrated with something. The rhythm and strength of pumping the swing higher and higher gave way to a sense of release and flight. Landing back on earth, unharmed, made me feel invincible.
There in the pool last week, I realized that I had figured out a way to meditate even before I knew anything about that word. I grew up going to church and my mother was (and still is) a praying person. Somehow I knew that wasn’t the practice for me. Instead a resourceful part of my young self cobbled together a kind of tai chi from the materials at hand – a ball, a roof, gravity, a swing set, repetition – to create the state of calm awareness that I now find in the water.
I honor the wisdom of my young self who found so many ways to nourish, heal and rest in the improvised temple of my back yard. That way of practicing mindfulness – through repetitive movement – is with me today. It awaits me inside that moment when I first slip into the water, settle my goggles over my eyes, and plunge below the surface of the things.