There is a swimming pool, and at that swimming pool is everything you need to learn how to swim. It has clear parameters, measurable depth and distance; you have access to gear and tools for floating, diving, swimming, and playing in the water; and the temperature is quite nice to boot. There is a sense of control and safety at this pool, with lifeguards nearby to jump in should you find yourself unable to stay afloat.
It’s also fun at the pool. There are pool parties where you can hang out with others who enjoy pool life. New and experienced swimmers gather together for a good time, taking part in games and the occasional competition.
If you want to advance as a swimmer, there are mentors available to you, those who have been successful and want to share their knowledge. They can teach you if you are willing to work hard and invest your time in following their program.
Many that you meet in this supportive network of swimmers have their own pools. They host swim lessons and throw private parties, and you get to invite outside guests to join and for some of these, open the door to teach them how to swim also, sharing with them all the things they need to do it, including and most importantly, dedicated coaching.
Not everybody is a Michael Phelps, but everybody has access to the resources to potentially become a bronze, silver, or even gold medalist. If they follow their coach’s methods and really commit to the training, they can get there.
The Ocean, by contrast to the pool, is vast, complex, and unpredictable to those not versed in its mysteries. Navigating it requires you to be resourceful, creative and flexible in adapting to weather patterns, to tides and currents, figuring out which areas are better for swimming in than others. You must learn to trust your own natural instincts as much as develop and hone practical skills and knowledge.
In the ocean you can go any number of ways. You can dive really deep, or travel long distances. You’re free to explore different shores and the wild ways of the sea. The possibilities are open and seemingly endless.
Out here the range of experience is great. There are incredible swimmers and divers, as well as sailors and surfers who prefer to glide above the waves.
Some are just floundering, struggling to keep their head above water.
And yet, for everyone who chooses the ocean there is an essential quality to it that satisfies their adventurous spirits, and they wouldn’t trade their daring life in the sea for any number of pools.
There are also, it may be noted, bathtubs as an alternative to the ocean or to the pool, which many opt for as the best safeguard against drowning. Now and then a tub can provide a reprieve, a chance to take the thinking out of things. However, an entire lifetime in such a tub means staying stuck in a confined space until your fingers prune up and the water goes down the drain and then you die. (But of course, it is an option.)
I myself have stayed at length in several such bathtubs, but I finally got out and headed to the beach.
The first time I came close enough to dip my toes into the waves, I was beckoned away by people who were smart, caring, values-oriented and driven to grow, who knew a great deal, including how to swim, and at this pivotal crossroads I was asked if I was open and willing to jump in the pool in order to be mentored by them.
The question I had to ask myself was, if I believed in my capacity to learn to swim in either context, but one inspired joy and passion in me and the other, in spite of its apparent virtues, did not: was I willing to go for the one that did not?
My answer to that question was that I am not. The pool, albeit grounds for an education in swimming by qualified instructors, was a detour that I did not wish to take. To me it was a purgatory. A path without a heart.
I appreciated the confidence shown in me to be considered a maybe candidate for that close-knit community and mentorship. Exposure to it led me to greater clarity and renewed conviction of what matters most to me on my journey. It confirmed for me a growing resolve at the time, that I was not going to stay in the damn bathtub the rest of my life. But also, it reinforced the sense that I had to go it my own way. Finding this confidence in myself meant everything. And with it I knew, somehow, someday, I would find a way to leave the shallows and venture into deeper water.
And in that moment of decision I opened up to what I truly wanted, even though I felt utterly unqualified to leave the shore and uncertain even how to start. But I surrendered. I said to Life: Give me the mystery. Give me the Unknown. Give me the path with a heart.
Sink or swim, I chose the ocean.
And I choose it still.
Listen to: Deep Water by Andrew Ripp