Friday, May 9, 2014

Zen and the art of lap swimming

For anything you willingly and gracefully give up, you just might get something better.
That’s a maxim I’ve been testing and refining all my life.
I tested it again this month, when the pool where I’ve been doing laps for two decades closed down “indefinitely” (an ominous word) for repairs.
After a couple weeks of increasing, pool-deprivation-induced crabbiness, I decided mankind (or this woman, anyway) cannot live by walking and circuit training alone. And I finally made my first visit to the Las Cruces Aquatic Center.
I miss the mermaid mural at my old pool, and the old gang, and a honed sense born of experience that always seemed to let me arrive at just the right time to sign up for a lap lane of my very own.
At the aquatic center, lap swimming seems to be a competitive sport at best, or lap roulette at worst. If you’re lucky, you might share a lane with just one other person, or a third who’s skilled at a kind of lap slalom strategy, avoiding the other two most of the time.
Uncharacteristically, I realized I’ve become a creature of habit. Usually, I have a tough time doing the same thing exactly the same way twice, even when I really want to, but I’ve committed a lap routine to muscle memory. Swimming has become a kind of meditation for me, a little break in my day when I can effortlessly multi-task, exercising my body, soothing my soul and sometimes doing some simultaneous mental gymnastics, too. I often organize my day, and occasionally write most of a column and outline a story or two, while I’m swimming laps. On a good day, I may even squeeze in a spirited political debate with others in the pool, or sing along with the left-over water aerobics soundtracks until instructors reclaim their CDs.
In a year of change on every front, here comes more. The water is colder. Sound echoes through the cavernous center. The lanes are longer and I keep bumping my head when I do the backstroke, no matter how carefully I think I’m keeping track of my bearings and the other swimmers in “my” lane.
During week two, I realized a new strategy was needed, a different way of looking a what could be seen as a hardship, or deprivation — or an opportunity.
It came to me when I was walking in the pool’s curving current channel, looking for alternatives to being a lap-swimming third wheel.
I couldn’t for the life of me perceive the benefits of walking with the current as everybody else seemed to be doing (as a productive workout strategy, or, if I’m being honest, as a philosophy of life). So I waited until there wasn’t much activity, and started walking against the current.
I was transported back to my wild youth, and remembered when I first fell in love with being in the water. It had nothing to do with laps or exercise routines. From toddlerhood, my waterbaby siblings and I would have happily turned blue and remained forever in the waves of Lake Michigan, floating in the spring-fed currents that fed Lake Margrethe or Higgins Lake, or walking for winding miles upriver on hot summer days in the cold waters of the Pere Marquette or Ausable.
There was something wild and freeing and timeless about those river walks, when walking against the strong current seemed somehow almost as effortless as the returning, lazy float back home, drifting, then, with the flow.
What a bonus to be able to experience a little of that transcendent rejuvenation again, at this stage in my life, here in my high-desert querencia, where our once-wild river has been thoroughly tamed and won’t even be turned back on for several weeks.
And the whole experience comes without dreaded log-jam spiders, mosquitos, snapping turtles, cuts and scrapes or the need to tote machetes to cut through overhanging brush.
I’m still hoping my favorite Las Cruces swimming pool will be back soon, but in the meantime, it can be fun to explore new territory and remain open to new adventures.
Sometimes, for something you willingly and gracefully give up, you could get something better, or a surprising, refreshing float down memory lanes.
S. Derrickson Moore may be reached at, @Derrickson Moore on Twitter or Tout or call 575-541-5450.

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