Everything I need to be well, I find in the sea. The sea stretches me and gives me somewhere to come home to. It gives me a sense of community and belonging. It fills me up and is a container, receiving what I need to let go of. I end my week in the sea. I start my day in the sea. It both enlivens and soothes me, much like my own breath.
I have always loved to swim in the sea, inspired by my dad who, on every family holiday used to plough through the water with his huge strong arms. I can still hear the sound of his arms slicing into the surface of the sea and his body rolling side to side as he disappeared off for what seemed like forever. I remember him as he emerged from the sea, like an adventurer, full of pride and delight and ready to take his earned rest as he settled into the warm sunshine to dry and doze.
I swim because my dad taught me how to. It was not only the technique of swimming that he passed on but the love of it. I like to think that it is in my bones. I like to think that just like me, my dad felt free and at ease when he swam; that he felt a sense of homecoming and belonging when he surrendered his body to the water. I like to think that he let go of all his responsibilities and worries when he dived beneath the surface of the waves. My dad still swims but not in the sea, so I take him with me on my daily swims. He is in my arms as they pull through the water, in my kick and in my breath.
When I first started swimming through the winter, a few years ago I realised that cold isn’t bad. It is so much more interesting than that. As I swam through January and February, probably the coldest months I began to get intrigued by the coldness in my body and how it shifts and changes and penetrates different parts to different degrees. I know when it’s time to get out, not by my watch or device but when my fingers become claw-like and my toes disappear. I love the feeling of icy teeth, numbed mouth and the intoxication of the cold.
My awareness of my body in the water is immediate and intense as the whole body stretches into an aliveness that I only every experience in the sea. I feel as if I can play with movement. I am the movement and I can allow myself to be all kick or all pull or a full glide. I experience my body on the surface of the water and become the seam between sky and sea, touching both and in both. I get to be the sea and the sky and find my place in the world of fish, birds, seaweed, waves, wind, rain and sunshine.
All the mundane and the preoccupying thoughts fade into the background when I submerge my body. Moving in the water becomes like a dance. The sea is my partner, supporting every movement, every stretch, every stroke and kick. Boundaries between my body, the sea and sky become blurred and I feel part of something much greater. Releasing into the waves, diving beneath its surface brings immediate physical and emotional release. It is both a medicine and a tonic for whatever I arrive with. It wakens me, soothes me, strengthens and reconnects me.
The sea is my est teacher, helping me to rewild and find my true nature, and be myself again. When I look out towards the horizon or lie on my back and gaze at the clouds or swim towards the sunrise, I get clarity and perspective. I rediscover wonder and awe and experience deep gratitude.
I find this in the dark winter mornings when the stars stud the sky and the moon is still up; in the bright summer mornings when the gannets, terns and seagulls dive and swoop and show off their own lack of responsibility and what it means to be free; in the spring mornings when the sun rises, in its splendid golden glory announcing the day like a silent fanfare; and in the autumn sea, warmed and softened by the summer months.
The ever changingness of the surface of the moods of the sea mirror the ever changingness of the surface of my own experiences, just like the ebb and flow of life. Dropping beneath the surface of the sea where there is a stillness, a slowness is like dropping my awareness into the core of my own body and breathing there ‘in the sea of my belly’. There is the constant flow of thought, rumination, agitation, but there is always stillness, just beneath the surface of thought and of sea.
I am very fortunate to mostly share these experiences with others. My ‘seapals’ are so special. Some sing in the sea, some splash and roll, some swim widths of the bay and some swim far out and wide. Some like to chat and swim and some, like me like to merge their own quietness with their movement. But we all share the same sea. We all emerge, uplifted, reset and full of delight, to drink tea, eat cake and marvel over and over again at how amazing it is, and that there is never not a lovely swim and never not a lovely sea.