Noticing As a Practice

Because it doesn’t matter how strong or skilled a swimmer you are if you can’t see where you are going.

We sat on the beach and watched the foamy, discolored water suck the swimmer into the stronghold of a rip tide – and straight for a set of jagged rocks on the other end of the beach.

Somehow he managed to grab onto one of those rocks and climb his way out of the water. And yet even then, as waves crashed dangerously around where he sat perched, you could see him still trying to figure out how to swim back to shore. As if that were the only way …

That’s when Meghan’s boyfriend, Mark, trained in Surf Life Saving, grabbed a surfboard and ran into the water within shouting distance to the man. He told him to go the other way, to keep climbing over the rock where he was and then a few more behind. And fifteen minutes later, the guy was back on the beach. 

At the time, Cyclone Oma was heading for the coast of Australia, and very near Byron Bay. The waves were huge and the pull was unbelievably strong. But even on clearer days, rip currents pose a threat – especially if you’re not aware and looking for them. 

And why every swimmer, surfer, and lifeguard learns one simple rule before all else: 

Always spend time checking the water before you go in. — Surf Life Saving Australia

Why Swimming Isn’t Enough

I think our Ashtanga yoga practice helps to make us pretty good swimmers. We are precise and disciplined with a distinct sense of direction, so it’s easy for us to believe this is all we need. To get in that water and swim. Practice, practice, practice, right? 

Except what happens when swimming becomes just about swimming – simply something else to master and achieve? You see, we are already quite accomplished at the ‘doing’ part. In fact, some of us have been swimming all our lives. 

Seriously, it’s crazy how many brilliant, talented, and accomplished people I meet through this practice. Of course, they don’t see themselves this way. We rarely do.

Which makes me think … our Ashtanga yoga practice may teach us to swim, but how well does it teach us to see? 

For example, just the other day, I received a message from someone asking for help in fitting in their ‘whole practice’ (whatever that means) – 6 days a week, with a teacher, in the morning, in a studio, when they work outside the home, 10 hours a day, have school-aged children, and presumably still need to eat and sleep.  

If only they could be a more efficient swimmer … 

Or my friend – who opened a new farm-to-table restaurant, for which she also runs the farm, and raises two kids – gets down on herself because after so many years, catching in kapotasana is still not happening.

If only she could be a more able swimmer … 

Or another friend, who endured pain in her body for years – as long as I’ve known her, actually. For her, it would take more than one medical doctor and finally an MRI to convince her: the problem was in her bones – not in her swimming.  

It’s as strong and dangerous as any riptide, this belief that we can do it all. Like the guy on the beach that day, we seem to believe we just need to swim our way through. And it’s this habit of always doing, fixing, and forcing that sucks us all in.

And it will drown you if you’re not careful.

Because in today’s world, the demands on our energy are relentless, pulling us in to a constant flux of choppy waves. I know I feel it often. 

And why it doesn’t really matter how skilled, how strong, or how capable a swimmer you are – swimming alone isn’t enough. How can you see the bigger ocean if you’re always in the water?

Another Kind of Practice.

We need another form of practice. One that doesn’t involve swimming. A habit of stepping back to observe and to listen. We need a practice of noticing.

You see, when we are too caught up in the midst of it all, our view is limited. Always too close and our vision is skewed, making it easy to mistake the whole for just the fragments we see. 

I did a lot of this sitting and noticing last month. Because Cyclone Oma wasn’t the only storm brewing …

It was an intense month. At the end, I knew I would be leaving – alone. Meghan would stay on for the year (or more). Australia is far, and we are close. Emotions swelled. My mind churned. Which is quite natural.

Though there was something else the month stirred, something perhaps only natural to me – a strong undercurrent, pulling me away. The urge to swim was strong. I wanted to escape. This is my pattern. This is my rip.

Because that is also what our ‘doing’ does, it allows us to disassociate to some degree. Like scrolling on our phones, diving into our work, planning every second of our day. You see, sometimes we ‘do’ because we are unwilling to feel.

Luckily, I noticed. And so instead of diving into February’s email (which didn’t happen) or the latest controversy on FB (now replaced by another) – all of me stayed there with her. I wouldn’t leave until it was actually time to leave.

I can also be in the water without having to swim.

I am home now and a long way from Byron. And while I miss my girl, I’m also grateful for the time we spent together. Nothing else feels important. Not the email I didn’t send. Not the activities we skipped. Nor the plans we never made.

All those things that felt urgent at the time, never really mattered.

Because life is always in this constant flux of movement and changes – even when we don’t see it happening. This is nature. This is natural. Seasons come and seasons go.

And then all of a sudden, you wake up and realize – it’s now summer, the children are grown, and you’ll be turning 52 in just a few days.

I wonder sometimes how many moments I miss, too caught up in things that seemed urgent at the time. And yet, things that weren’t urgent at all. Lots of stuff I can’t even remember to tell you about now – including my practice.

See that your life is more than this moment – and yet, this moment is all that there is.

And always remember, there’s more to practice than just swimming.

Besides, you are already a damn good swimmer. I’m just not sure you really ever noticed before.

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