Sunday, January 10, 2010

Why swim

In the Subtle City, a teacher of the Way sees five of his students returning from swimming in the Great Pool. With a twitch of his lips, he makes them stop in midstride and sit with him under a flowering tree. He tells his students, "I wish each of you to tell me why you swim."
The first student leaps up wihout shyness, muscles rippling. "I swim to beat all the others. I swim so I will be made captain of the swim team, and sent to swim meets in the City of Milk and the Archipelago of Delight. I swim so all will respect me and my name will be inscribed on our city's rolls of honor."

The teacher nods. "It is no bad thing for a young man to want to win. The spirit of competition in your spirit makes you excel. No harm. You may keep doing what you are doing."
The second student says, with quicksilver in his smile, "I swim because I love the water, I swim so I can feel like mer-man, at home in this element." He blushes just a little because he is in love with a water sprite.
"It is good to know your element. You may continue to play with the water spirits."
The third student is round-faced and solid and a little slow in his body and his speech. "I cannot deceive you, master," he says at last. "I swim so I can eat and drink whatever I like and laze around the house when I am not in your classes."
"It is good to recognize the dynamic harmonies of life. You are seeking balance as best you can. You may carry on."
The fourth student is very serious. His high forehead and little round glasses suggest he is already devoted to a life of study and austerities. "I swim as a mental discipline and a mode of meditation. Sometimes, as I swim laps, I go through the sixty-four hexagrams of the Book of Changes and then through the changing lines, observing the laws by which one pattern turns into another."
"You are enlightened. Please continue."

The teacher of the Way inspects his fifth student.
A drop of pool water is slipping down this student's inner thigh from his wet bathing costume. When it reaches the ground, the fifth student says, "I swim in order to swim."

The teacher of the Way rises from his seat among the roots of the ancient flowering tree. Using his staff to help him bend his aged knees, he squats before the fifth student.
The teacher says, "I sit at your feet. You are my teacher."
Note: I heard a similar tale, long ago, about a Zen master who asked his students why they rode bicycles. Swimming in a pool today, it came to me that a wonderful teaching story has been woefully distorted in its retelling by pedalheads. The authentic version can only be about swimming.


Carol said...

I swim because it is fun to be suspended in water, to be able to stretch all my muscles, and to feel cleansed by water. Many more reasons, but those are the first that come to mind.

Don said...


I can relate at least a little bit to all five of the swimmers. I especially like the second and fifth students’ replies.

I have done swimming and running workouts for most of my life. The longer ones are times for meditation, for conscious dreaming. At times like that I lose contact with time and place. In some ways it is almost like sleeping. I am in the realm of dreams.

And the subject of dreams is what this blog is all about. Thank you for posting the story. I love it.


Savannah said...

I do like this version a lot, Robert! How about I swim because I tumbled off my bike and am reconsidering my relationship to gravity :-). I might have also learnt something about surrender and resistance in the process. And choosing a lane speed that fits, in the pool and on life's roads. In the end I will always favour "just because".

Wanda said...

Fabulous story - and everyone was accepted. I like that.

I have never learned to swim properly but I love being in the water. I swim - sort of - but play and float and love the feel of the water and, ah yes, love to glide over it in my little yellow canoe and find special places far away from people where I can pull my boat in and explore the view of the lakes and water from different places and explore its surrounding forest environment.

My son loves the water and was on a swim team when he was a child. The coach would become furious because Evan would be far ahead of the others and stop and look around at the others before the finish. Not a competitive bone in his body he would just grin at me and said he just wanted to know where they all were.

Then he discovered scuba diving and loved exploring beneath the water.

Justin Patrick Moore said...

I like this story. I love to swim, but don't find myself swimming nearly as much as I could if I tried. Walking and hiking is the agreement I made with my body, so I can eat and drink what I like. Maybe a version of this story could find it's way into "Dreamland"... certainly they have sacred pools to swim in there.

Carol said...

Just finding what one loves to do, regardless seems to be the message to me.

Carol said...

although swimming is the best

Nancy said...

At the risk of being branded a sneaker-head, I run because it's discipline, play, a celebration of Life, a time to dream wide awake, a chance to fully feel my animal Self, the closest I can come to flying when I'm awake. Yet I still feel my connection with The Mother at every step.

Irène said...

When I'm in water (swimming or having a bath), I often like to feel & think about how the water inside my body communicates with the water outside. Two "different" worlds, apparently separated by my skin, mirroring back to each other all kinds of goings on. Much like the mirrors into dream worlds. ...

Robert Moss said...

NANCY - "Sneaker-head" is a new (and clever) one for me. When I first read your comment, I thought you were saying, mischievously, that you were "sneaking ahead" - something a dedicated runner like you could probably get away with :-)

I think we're all getting the point. Whether it's running, or biking, or swimming, or writing, or gardening or even working the register at the grocery checkout the ideal thing is to do what we do for the sake of doing it. And if we can't ever be in the moment with that activity, then I guess we need to pick another.

Robert Moss said...

CAROL - I love your enthusiasm for the theme and for swimming, expressed thrice over. But then three times does make the charm.

DON - Good to hear your voice. I think I like the second and fifth's student's responses best myself. Though I must confess I was also in tune with the fourth student in the pool early this morning, as I pictured I Ching hexagrams while swimming loops (not laps, since I had the pool to myself). And for a moment, I confess, I was in league with the third student as I mused on the big dinnet I'm planning to cook tonight.

SAVANNAH: Thanks for indulging my joke about pedalheads. I'm with you on the "just because" but we want at all costs to avoid having that statement confused with that of a surly or uncommunicative kid of any age who uses it as an alternate to self-revelation. The "because" here is JUST, not "only just."

Robert Moss said...

WANDA - I love the word-picture of your son so far ahead of the others that he can bob up and take his time to look back and see where they are, competition and stopwatch be damned. This is a lovely aquatic revision of the fable of the tortoise and the hare.

Robert Moss said...

JUSTIN: I often talk like that, about the agreement I've made with my body to get it in the water - for at least a mile - whenever I can in order to compensate for what i do (or don't do) with it the rest of the time. The third student has a point. They all do, as the teacher of the Way acknowledges.

Thanks for the encouragement to make this story part of the fictive (or not-so-fictive) world I'm building. I will probably do just that.

JaneE said...

I swim because I love to swim. I watch the gemstone sparkles of colors as the light moves through the water, different in each direction. I am suspended in an almost gelatinous jewel. I can only see this when I swim with my head above water, which means I don't move fast. I swim because the world is just so when I swim.

Robert Moss said...

JaneE, "I swim because I love to swim" is a statement that has our teacher of the Way in the Subtle City smiling with approval. I don't swim fast myself, but I do tend to swim for a very long time, stroking the water rather than beating it, loving that moment when I feel myself becoming a creature whose natural element is water.

Irene, I love your description of letting the water inside your body communicate with the water around it. Our bodies are mostly seawater, compounded with the dust of a distant star...

Lou Hagood said...

When I swim I'm in a transitional medium between Earth & Sky.

Robert Moss said...

That's charming, Lou. In the mind of Egypt, as you no doubt recall, it is Shu and Tefnut - deities associated with Wind and Moisture - who genly separate Sky (Nut) and Earth (Geb) creating the medium in which humans and all the life-forms with which we share the planet can exist.

Naomi said...

I swim when I can because I'm terrified of water. I don't know why I'm terrified of water, but I am.

I know how to swim, and am not afraid when I'm swiming on my back, but get my face in the water with the possiblity of water in the lungs.....oh boy.

Robert Moss said...

That's something I might want to move beyond before I drop, Naomi. I might start by imagining myself swimming face-down in the water. And maybe by seeking to find the origin of this fear. For example, is it connected with the fear of going deep, into the well of memory and emotion - or a fear of drowning related to s possibly forgotten childhood experience or an event in another order of reality, perhaps involving a "past life" in one sense of another?

Patricia said...

I'm with you Naomi...
I love being in the water and I know why I don't like putting my face under. I go to the pool to just be in it and walk in it (walking ON it is still a work in progress:)).
We talked a little while ago about intentions for the the New Year and mine was concerned with walking in the water more often. And then this blog surfaces to remind me to just do it.
In the meantime I'm working on the WHY and while doing that I enjoy the experience of the water. When we are having the heat waves that we are having at the moment, like yesterday, still 30deg (centegrade)in my house at 8pm, it is with a sigh of relief that I slide into the coolness for a while. Whether I walk or swim is of no consequence, just being there is.
Thanks for this one
Patricia from OZ

Robert Moss said...

Looking over the comments so far (both on this thread and from others who have not - yet - posted here) I'm thinking about relstions with swimming other than those spoken by the students to the master in my story. For example:

I don't swim because I am afraid of the water.

I swim BECAUSE I am afraid of he water and choose to go beyond my fear.

I don't swim because I never learned.

I'm not here to swim, just to tan by the pool (or have drinks with paper umbrellas in them, or check out the babes/dudes in their swimsuits etc).

Patricia said...

Hello Robert,
Here we are sitting at the keyboard at the very same time. Your response to Naomi is certainly appropriate for me as well. Thank you. I will do some more work around the childhood experience. Never too late to have a happy childhood, is it.
Much love Patricia.

Robert Moss said...

"Never too late to have a happy childhood." Now THAT line is a keeper, Patricia.

Gyllian Davies said...

ooh-la-la! Such a lovely thread. I swim because I love water, because I love to feel my body being an efficient machine, because I love the sensuality of the water moving past my body and the light shimmering on the bottom of the pool or the lake. I love how my body is water on the inside at the same time as I am swimming in water. And I love the connection with so many of my dreams where water figures prominently. Here's to H2O!!!

Robert Moss said...

Hi Gyllian - Thanks for adding some lovely strokes to our theme. I'm thinking now that one of William Stafford's early books on creative writing was titled "Writing the Australian Crawl". For me, as an Aussie who loves to swim and to write (when I am in that effortless stroking rhythm) this is a perfect image of what it's like to be in the zone. We all seem to be in the swim here, releasing waves of creative flow!

Carol Davis said...

Like Wanda "I swim - sort of - but play and float and love the feel of the water..." and like Wanda I love to glide across the water on a vehicle. The one I use is a kayak. On certain summer days if you are standing on the shore of a lake in the early morning, you may see me disappearing into the mists, beyond your sight, merging into the landscapae and waterscape to just be with the mountains, waterlillies, loons, and perhaps a mink along the shores or an osprey overhead. Buoyed up by the water, with the sound of the oars and water I simply am present in the now.

If an hour later you are still standing on that shore, you will see a kayak emerge from the mists that are now lifting with the rising sun. The woman gliding across the water is gently smiling as the winds caress her.

On those special mornings, the water calls to me. I respond and when I emerge, I am healed. I hope earth knows healing too then.

In the afternoon, I'll be immersed in the lake waters, floating and at play.

Robert Moss said...

Dear Carol of the Mists - What a lovely image of the woman gliding in and out of the liminal element which we know well as the preferred Celtic portal to the Otherworld.

Lou Hagood said...

Hi Carol & Robert, I once incubated the question, "How can I be faith full?" and got a dream image of blue water with puffs of clouds. I couldn't tell if it were the sky or its reflection in a still pond.

Naomi said...

Robert, I'm working on this.

I have had a dream several times about drowning. I "feel" that in a past life I did drown. I chose to drown.

I have been not wanting to see that pain from that life. Oddly, I met a person about 7 years ago that I recognized as a person from that life who I was in love with then.

A totally bizarre experience. I recognized the soul, but the body and the mind was different. But that person is working through karma from that life as well.

I am a friend to this person (although I've had to distance myself from this person because of substance abuse) and realize what we're supposed to do in this life. Is to recognize the past, the wrongs done and be free in this life.

I'm not sure I'll ever be comfortable in the water, but I'm trying. When we were in Tahiti I was snokeling and I took water in my mask and started to panic and hyperventilate. Thankfully, an experience scuba diver was with me and could walk me through the primal fear that I have of the ocean.

Later, in Kaui a few years later, I was able to sort of float with the waves and to be able to feel the pressure on my lungs without too much fear.

I'm working on it. I will try to swim in my dreams.

Naomi said...

As a child in this life I almost drown in a swimming pool.

I was a breach baby as well. My mother did not see me for almost 7 days after birth. These were the days before oxigen was given mothers giving birth. I almost suffocated.

I don't know if these experiences colored the other part of a past life or that dream and came from the early birth issue.

But the meeting of that other person was rather telling. I just knew. Not right a way, but much later I really understood why the simpatico existed between us.

Well, that's my story about WATER. The big water, the small water and the dream.

Strangely enough people have asked my why I moved from New Mexico to Washington State and I tell them in one word: WATER.

I love rain and snow.

Naomi said...

Oh another thought.

The person that I recognized from a past life is an experienced swimmer and tells of an event when he was a young man of saving a couple from drowning in the ocean. HOw's that for "coincidence"?

Naomi said...

or I should say sychronicity. That soft snuffling little guy. I love that Robert.

Robert Moss said...

Naomi, Thanks for taking the plunge into the waters of memory. I am sure there is healing to be found here, and lessons from the deep.

I nearly drowned when I was nine, for reasons that have no rational explanation, since I was already a very strong swimmer. That was the period in my life when I was also in constant danger of drowning inside my own lungs, with recurrent bouts of double pneumonia that had me hospitalized several times.