Earlier this morning I swam up from sleep remembering a vivid moment from my days at Esalen Institute. I was standing just outside the greenhouse shielding my eyes from the sun rising over the Sierra Mountains. The air was thick and humid as I had just watered all of the seedlings which had not quite poked their heads above the soil. My friend, Benoit, was tying up tomatoes we had planted weeks before, so I joined him and we talked until it was time to go to Dance Church.
Every Sunday morning after a cup of coffee in the lodge, I walked next door where a group of us gathered to dance the day into being. Whenever J.J. was the D.J., I made it a point to get there early, kick off my shoes, and eagerly listen while J.J. sampled music that he would be playing during our time together. He had the most eclectic mix of ethnic, multi-cultural, and Eurasian CD's which filled the air with harmonies I had never heard before.
On one particular morning, I was dancing by myself in the corner while everyone else swirled and wove their way around the room. It's not that I wanted to be anti-social; I simply wanted some space to myself before I went back to work in the garden. Completely entranced by the music, I closed my eyes and moved my body in whatever way it led me. That's was the whole point of Dance Church: to freestyle and free up our bodies for a brand new day.
Afterward, while I pulled on my work boots, one of the women I knew well came over and whispered, "I love to watch you dance, Katie. It's so hypnotic."
I looked up at Bianka and smiled. "Really?"
"Yes," she nodded. "Just like the way you tend the flower gardens. There's a rhythm to everything you do."
As I walked back to the greenhouse, I thought about what she said. While I tended the chickens and thinned out the seedlings and hoed the chard, I noticed there was indeed a gentle cadence to the way I moved my feet, my hands, my entire body. I felt strong and steady, flexible and flowing. Even now I'm infinitely grateful for Bianka's kindness in mirroring for me something I might have missed had I not allowed myself to dance in front of people.
And I'm infinitely thankful for the year I spent in Big Sur which grounded me in my body in ways I can't quite explain.
These days I'm pretty stable. I lift weights and run and practice yoga nearly every day. I no longer fall down the stairs (or up them for that matter, as I used to do in my years pre-Esalen). While I prefer to be barefoot, I'm perfectly content wearing a host of footwear that reflects the life I'm now leading. I've kept my gardening boots from Esalen, but rarely wear them as I prefer to don flip-flops in the backyard while I weed and prune and water.
Yet with springtime still more than a month away, I've put my flip-flops to good use this winter. In January, I learned how to freestyle and spend a few days a week practicing in the indoor pool at the gym. Usually I'm a pretty quick study when it comes to new patterns of movement, but I have to say, I'm struggling with this one. I can backstroke and sidestroke and breaststroke. I'm not afraid of putting my face in the water or diving deep for that matter. With my nifty goggles I can even open my eyes and not worry about drowning my contacts in the chlorinated water. I've got the form of freestyle down, no problem.
It's the breathing pattern that's got me skunked.
I find it's easy to either be completely submerged beneath the surface or float on top, but to find the balance between the two has been an ongoing challenge, for I'm afraid of breathing in a wave of water instead of a quick intake of air. It doesn't help when I'm in the lane next to a swimmer who slaps the water with their arms as they move past, making waves and splashing my face just as I turn my head to breathe. The other night I was surrounded by men who were all moving at a different pace, and no matter how hard I tried, their often-overlapping wakes rocked my body from side to side and it was hard to stay afloat, let alone breathe.
So I did what I usually do when I don't want to get out of the pool, but I also don't want to be affected by someone else's momentum: I dove deep and channeled my inner mermaid, eventually increasing my lung capacity to cross the length of the pool in two breaths.
Still, that doesn't do much for helping me get the rhythm of freestyling.
All of this has got me thinking about the times when I've been either in the game of life or out of it. Actually, on any given day I can be completely submerged in my spirituality through writing or yoga or diving deep into my subconscious through dreamwork and other forms of meditation. Then, in the blink of an eye, I'm out and about in the world, teaching or running errands or spending time with friends. Actually, I find it's pretty easy to slip in and out of the pool of life, never missing a beat...or a breath. So I've often wondered why it's so hard to strike a balance between the two.
I suppose it's because I'm not used to it yet.
Since the new year began, the Universe looked down on me and said, "Kate...it's your turn to be happy." I've been given a host of opportunities to learn, grow, and move forward, many of them being completely foreign, yet completely welcome. I'm still trying to find my feet in many ways, but I've learned, that like the seedlings in the Esalen greenhouse, I can't expect them to sprout overnight. After all, growing strong roots is essential to creating a stable structure later on, and I've learned that anything worth having is worth waiting for.
In the meantime, I'm not pushing the river (or the pool water) when it comes to learning freestyle swimming, for I've decided to walk my talk and take it one stroke at a time. I always tell new yoga students, "Don't worry about the breathing patterns just yet. Learn the physical movement and trust that the breath will come along in time when it's ready."
So these days when I get in the pool, I do what comes naturally. I backstroke and breaststroke and sidestroke to get a rhythm going. Eventually I practice my freestyle form, stopping when I need a breath and taking my time with the process. Usually I let it go after a few laps and just go under to feel myself completely surrounded by the peace and silence of the water.
But in the end, I always finish floating, resting my head and arms on a kickboard. It's then that I remember all those mornings in Dance Church and allow myself to be carried by the rhythm of my breath while I feel the waves of all the other swimmers gently move my body from side to side. What an amazing thing to know that I can let go into that space of being balanced between water and air...between myself and others.
Between heaven and earth.