Posted by: Take Flight | November 13, 2009

To Overcome Fear, Dive Right In

A few months ago I learned how to swim. I’d been able to swim before with a mask and snorkel which is fine when in Hawaii or the Caribbean observing colorful fish. It isn’t desirable in a lap swimming pool with chlorine and other swimmers right behind you.

I’d never been interested in learning before. I thought, ‘Who wants to swim back and forth in endless repetition. I’d be bored out of my mind.”

Yet a ‘deeper’ reason had to do with being in the water or rather, having my head underneath it. As a young girl I remember roughhousing in a pool with my cousin, Rick, who was much like a brother to me. He got carried away with holding my head under the water while he talked to a friend. By the time he released me, I’d turned a slight tinge of blue and gasped for air as I choked for quite awhile. I think I almost drowned. All I know is I never wanted to put my face back into the water again – that is, without a breathing device like the snorkel and mask.

When I turned 50 this year I decided to celebrate by conquering my fear of the water. I enrolled in beginner swim lessons at the YMCA and joined many other adults who had their own versions of my story. The classes were one hour, twice a week, for four weeks. During the first couple of lessons my heart pounded so much I thought it would come through my chest. It seemed as if great white sharks aimed right for me each time I’d put my face in the water. I poked my head out of the water constantly desperate for breathe. Yet I kept on swimming. I never quit.

With the gentle guidance and encouragement of my swim instructors and my huge tenacity – I became a swimmer. Half-way through the first four weeks I advanced to the intermediate level. I then took another four week course to perfect my strokes. By the end of eight weeks, the fear no longer had its grip on me. In fact, I feel as if I’ve been swimming all my life.

I learned all I needed to do to get over this enormous fear I’ve had for most of my life was to swim right through it. By continually showing up and facing it, literally with my head IN the water, it gradually lost its hold on me. And now it has sunk to the very bottom – washed itself away from my core.

I even decided to give up running which I’ve done for 30 years and replaced it with activities like swimming which are so much kinder to the joints, and I burn even more calories during the process.

I can barely believe I’m one of the lap swimmers now. Back and forth and back and forth I glide. I never could have imagined myself doing this much less enjoying it. I’ve discovered swimming to be so meditative. My only thoughts are on my breath – it is the place I go to rest my mind and rejuvenate my body. It almost feels as if I’m in a womb swimming – it is like rebirth, and I’m so very grateful for my decision to release this fear – which turns out had all been an illusion anyway.

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