“My body can only be present in the here and now.”
For the first time in my life I’ve been swimming in the sea all year. I know it’s not an unusual thing to do these days as its become a popular pastime but I’m so grateful for my little section of coast and all that it offers.
My friend asked me the other day if sea swimming for me is a spiritual practice and I answered with a confident yes, especially on a cold, wintry day when it’s down to 7.5 degrees celsius.
As I drive the short 5 miles to my local beach to meet my sea swimming friend I have the heat in the car cranked up to ward off the cold as much as I’m able. The day is nearly always grey and cold, the sea a muddy brown colour as it so easily gets churned up here. By the time we reach the edge of the sea I’m already shivering, nothing about it invites me in and my friend and I invariably question why we’re doing this as we tentatively remove layers of warm clothing. Somehow though we don’t back out and with just our swimming costumes and rash vest on we wade in. We’re quickly out of our depth so have no option to get in slowly. That bit where you take your first stroke is painful, your breath is immediately constricted and your faces contort with the shock. Although the shock wears off, the laboured breathing remains as does the tingling pain of the cold. We only manage to stay in for 10 minutes and change as quickly as possible once we get back on the pebbles of the beach. Looking back at the water I always marvel that I was actually in it just minutes ago.
So why is this deeply spiritual for me? Why do I consider this a spiritual practice?
I love any practice that gets me into my body and out of my head. My head gets busy, noisy and full, it is prone to scheming, demanding and obsessing. When I enter into my body or heart space I find peace. My body can only be present in the here and now, so when I am actively immersed in it my whole being – body, soul, mind and spirit – is present to all that’s in the present moment too. I leave the past behind and the future takes care of itself. These moments of being fully present are gifts and so often resonate with “all is well”. My head is the thing that tries to convince me that this is not the case. When I’m in the coldness of the water I have no option other than to be fully present; the shock demands my full attention, the volume of my head gets turned to zero and all I feel is the cold, the bounce of the water and my lungs working hard to take in air through a constricted chest.
There’s something I love about being within something so wild, dangerous and unpredictable too. The sea is all these things and I know its taken me courage to get into it over and over. I’ve been stung by jellyfish (it wasn’t that bad!), coughed and spluttered when I’ve taken in a mouthful and the waves have knocked me onto the pebbles. And yet a resilience has grown within, I can’t define or name it but it has changed me. I’ve survived what the sea has brought my way.
Changing back into dry clothes there’s a real sense of having achieved something, we did it again! Every time (especially at this time of year) I want to celebrate that fact. We always end our swim with a flask of hot, spicy chai. This comes as a gift, a nourishment, a hug and accompanies a catch up on the happenings of life before we head back into our days.
Maybe not all of us have the sea or a natural body of water on the doorstep but anything that gets us fully present in our bodies and therefore fully present to the here and now is the greatest of gifts. God here… now… always offering him/herself to us as we are. The here and now resounds with life and fullness even when it’s cold and takes your breath away! I’m learning to be in my body more and enjoying where it’s taking me, I’m learning that there is great treasure here. As I learn to turn the head-volume down I am discovering deeper places of joy, contentment, hope and peace. As the head-volume diminishes there is space within to remember and connect with the life and grace of the Holy Spirit that is present in this moment.
So whatever gets you in your body I encourage you to do it, walking, dancing wildly in the kitchen, breath practices, yoga, running, cycling, jumping, skipping, mediating. Have a go, see where it takes you and enjoy the discoveries waiting to be made.