One of the sayings I remember from my past was “sink or swim.” And, while it conjures up harsh images of some poor soul being thrown into deep water without the knowledge of how to survive, it does contain an important message for us today. When life throws us into deep waters without any instruction on how to survive, we are often left with a sink or swim reality. It is never a pleasant experience. When we are thrown into the deep waters of personal and social change, it is important to learn to swim and not to sink into the depths of our fears.
The lessons that life teaches us comes in various ways. I had a fear of swimming when I was young. I loved to play in the water, but I would panic every time I tried to put my face in the water and swim. On the summer day, when my parents signed me up for swimming lessons, I carried this fear with me.
I was a little panicked on my first day of swimming lessons. My older brother had tried to teach me to swim by holding me up in on the surface of the water in a swimming position, and then turning me loose. Well, the first thing I did was panic. The second thing I did was sink. My brother pulled me out of the water when he realized I was drowning, looked at me and said, “I didn’t know you were afraid of the water.” Then, he turned around and walked away leaving me with my fear.
So, what I learned from my first swimming lesson with my brother, was that I was afraid of the water, and what that meant was that I’d never be able to learn how to swim. Yet, here I was on my first day of swimming lessons. I felt that I had to come clean with my swimming instructor and tell him what I had learned, that I couldn’t swim because I was afraid of the water. And, so I did. I really thought that that would put an end to my lessons, and I was OK with that. But to my surprise, the instructor asked me to come with him into the water at the shallow end of the pool. I didn’t mind wading, so I followed him on into the shallow waters. We stopped when the water was just up past my waist. He asked me to fall backward and allow him to hold me up on the water’s surface. Cautiously, I did what he asked.
As he held me, he asked me to take a breath and hold it until he told me to exhale – and I did. He slowly let me settle into the water until I could feel myself become lighter and lighter. I was so caught up in feeling my buoyancy that I had no focus on fear. He gently lifted me again. This time he did not hold me on the water’s surface, but just supported my body’s own natural buoyancy. His support was comforting, and it gave me time to feel how my body could be supported by the water. I could feel the natural supportive relationship between the water and me.
The next part of his instruction was on how to breathe. He told me to hold my breath until I needed to breathe and then to just take another breath and hold it until I needed to take another. So, that’s what I did. And as I was breathing and holding and breathing and holding, he gradually began to hold me less and less. I began to feel how my body was more buoyant while holding my breath and less buoyant while I was taking a breath. As I continued to breathe, I could feel the natural up and down motion of my body on the surface. I could feel the instructors gentle touch, but he was not holding me up. I was floating! And with that feeling of floating, I let go of my fear of water. I could float and not sink. After that, it was just a matter of learning how to move my arms and legs.
So, what I learned from my swimming lesson is that to overcome fear you need to have faith in a teacher. The teacher maybe a swimming instructor, spiritual teacher, therapist, or simply life itself. A good teacher will give you instruction and support you in applying it, carefully removing his support as you gain confidence in your experience. A true spiritual teacher is one who knows how to swim in God’s ocean and can provide instruction and support you in your attempts. They will also give you more and more freedom as you gain experience and expertise. In the end, they will enjoy swimming and playing with you.
The lessons taught to overcome fear will always be basically the same – pause, breathe, and pay attention to what sensations you are feeling in the body. The pause opens us to a different state of being, the state of being in God’s Loving Presence, the presence of a Higher Power, our True Self. And as we breathe and pay attention to what is happening within us, we can experience the transformational power of Love’s Grace.
I’ve come to realize that all life’s lessons are spiritual lessons because all life is spiritual in nature. It’s all about God and our relationship with that Higher Power no matter whether you have a personal or impersonal relationship with God, whether you call it science, philosophy, ethics, religion, or Mother Father.
MaDar and I teach to trust in a higher power. The name we give to that power is Love, God’s Love. God’s Love is not an emotion. It is a state of bring, a consciousness and a power greater than the fear filled limits that we have placed upon ourselves. If we but pause, and rest in Love’s embrace, we will feel the natural buoyancy of our own spirit. All we have to do is to let ourselves breathe, slowly and fully. In those breaths, we will find Love’s natural rhythm, and we will be held within the ocean of God’s Love to rise above our fear. Through this experience, we will learn a whole new way to be in relationship with the world and others. It is the experience of pure Love, the greatest teacher.