Zen and Now

If anyone told me a year ago that I would be cycling ten to fifteen kilometres a day, and enjoying it, I’d have laughed heartily. Yet here I am, admittedly assisted by technology, doing just that. I have set the bike to minimum assist, with no accelerator boost. So it only helps when I’m actually pedalling. I have to give it some effort all the time, especially on the hills, where I must use the gears.

I know I’m putting in the exercise, because I can feel it in my muscles at day’s end. Also, despite faithfully following my dietary guidelines I have actually gained a little weight in the last few days. The evidence of my shrinking waistline and the need to periodically tighten the drawstring in my elastic waistband suggests this extra weight might be accounted for by increased muscle mass. I think it’s likely. Even so the general graph of my weight is trending nicely downwards, despite fluctuations.

Today I took a different approach to my swimming session. Instead of setting a time to achieve, or a number of laps to complete, I decided to count nothing, measure nothing, and just swim until I was tired, or until I decided I’d had enough. So I turned my watch around on my wrist so I could not see its face. I Resolved not to look at it until I got out of the water. I put my mask and snorkel on, put my head down, and swam, resolving also not to look up at the big clock on a post near the corner of the pool.

At the end of the lane I turned around and kicked off again without touching bottom, and without raising my head. I breathed in time to my strokes and as I swam, admired the patterns of light on the pool floor. They dappled and rippled in a dancing display of symmetrical chaos created by the interactions of wind, water, light and me. From time to time I was aware of someone swimming in the adjacent lanes. Most of them swam faster than me. Some did three laps to my one. I just kept swimming, after a while they were gone and I was once again swimming alone.

It was hard at first not to count. It is an ingrained and annoying habit I’ve had for decades. To obliterate the counting I started a mantra in time to the rhythm of my strokes. “Just keep swimming”. To maintain the cadence I shortened it to “keep swimming”. This led, by word and memory association, to me imagining I was a turtle, slowly, steadily swimming across the Pacific. I remembered the times I had swum out past the reef drop off, in clear tropical waters, where the bottomless blue seems to go on forever, it was like swimming in space, and staring into infinity. I held that image in my mind and swam into the blue.

Out of the blue, like a stealthy phantom, came the memory of my first and only close encounter with a Tiger shark. Somewhere between four and five metres in length it had come straight towards me until we were eye to eye. Then it turned and swam away.

Other treasured, yet rarely remembered memories washed in. The school of Mako sharks and Bronze Whalers at the Poor Knights, my first, and only hammerhead at Mayor Island, schools of huge kingfish at Cape Brett, the time we played tag with dolphins, the huge packhorse crayfish I caught at Cape Wiwiki. The school of small squid that spoke to me in a language I did not understand off Caqalai island in Fiji, the clear waters and corals of the Rock Islands in Palau. The wreck of the Toa Maru. Other shipwrecks I logged dives on long ago, and whose names I’ve forgotten. Caves we dived into. Moray and Conger eels and octopuses that startled us. The time I fought and lost to an octopus that wanted the crayfish I had just caught. Holding on to a ray’s tail with gloved hands, and being taken for a ride.

Surrounded by memories and rippling light, I realised I was in a Zen moment. This swim was a metaphor for my life. There was no future, for I had set no goals, there was no past except for these memories, because I was not counting anything. I was no longer counting costs, or losses, or slights, or pain. There was only the Now and what I brought to it. What I chose to carry with me.

I just kept swimming.

I truly lost track of time in my reverie. I did not get tired. I just swam. Finally I noticed the shadow of the floating lane divider. When I got into the water the shadow had been right under the lane divider. Now it ran along the line of blue tiles along the centre of the lane. The tiles I had been staring into, and past, for – how long? I guessed maybe two hours or so.

I wanted to know. I had jumped in at exactly seven minutes past twelve. What time was it now? I turned my watch around, read the time. Just past three thirty. The spell was broken.

Time to get out, shower, cycle to Aldi for eggs and bread, then head home.

Outside the pool I saw that someone had added an extra flag to the flagpole of my bike trailer.

One of the ladies working at the pool had commented when I arrived how she liked my pirate flag, and from now on she would call me Pirate Al.

While I was swimming, she had been busy. She printed and laminated me a personal flag. How cool is that? I think that has earned her and her colleagues a cake.

Author: Uisce úr

Though I am old with wandering Through hollow lands and hilly lands, I will find out where she has gone, And kiss her lips and take her hands; And walk among long dappled grass, And pluck till time and times are done, The silver apples of the moon, The golden apples of the sun.

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