Six hundred and six days.
Somewhere in the middle of last week, bobbing alone amongst the waves, I passed the half way mark of “The Swim”. Whether seen as a ritualistic milestone or a ritual turned mill stone around my neck, there is an element of satisfaction for having stuck with it so far.
Half Way. Wonder how many gallons of sea water swallowed?
Barring any unforeseen calamities or illness, I hope to continue taking my boogie board down to Roaring Beach and greet the surf for another 606 days with late January, 2006 marking the end of three years, three months, three weeks and three days. All up, a total of 1212 days of continuous surfing. Sort of like a “water-downed” version of a Tibetan Buddhist meditation. And I haven’t peed in my wet-suit once.
Back in October, 2002, I was originally only interested in seeing if I could swim daily for just three weeks. This, however, turned into three months, which led to half a year, then to a year, and now, here I am, at the top of the time curve looking down at a long, wet slide for another nineteen months (or through two more winters).
My motivation is simple. When I finish I will be in my 60th year. What I am now doing is a form of disciplinary initiation into assuming eldership of my latter years. Hopefully, these years will be fuelled with a tiny bit more wisdom and compassion than would otherwise have been gained just standing on the shore looking out to sea.
I won’t say that it has always been easy. Because it hasn’t. Swimming in the cold dark on a winter’s night at 3:30 in the morning in order to attend the dawn to dusk Parliament House Vigil wasn’t all that cheery. Swimming on those days when physically tired while a strong chilling blast of Antarctic air was whipping off the waves, did raise questions of sanity. Getting slammed by a wave with sufficient force to force me dizzy out of the water had its dangers. And always, whenever alone out back of the breaking waves, I would wear the fear of sharks; sometimes lightly, but more often with alarm bells ringing in my heart as I caught the next wave in.
But out of this discipline of “doing the ritual” faithfully, has come an awareness that commitment, in itself, is rewarding. No matter what the conditions, there is always a boost afterwards in my physical, mental and emotional state. My body feels charged, my mind more alert and any depressed or anxious feelings are lessened and replaced by a buoyant optimism.
If I go into the water happy, I come out happier. If I go into the water feeling confused and negative, I come out happier. Just endorphins? Or just possibly the magic of water.
More importantly, for every seemingly “bad” day, there are a week of good days when “bliss” is not too much of an understatement. These are the days of smoothed sloped, green waves arching gracefully forward, breaking, not all at once, but either to the right or to the left, allowing an exhilarating ride on a board that is cutting an edge through liquid glass. Think ski slope, but add in a moving snow bank towering above your head.
In the end, will I have learned any “secrets” of the land and water? Will I be able to communicate in a shaman like manner with the flora and fauna surrounding me at Windgrove? Does it really matter? More and more, the “journey” seems of greater importance than the arrival somewhere that is still clothed in mystery.
So what does the Christmas Cactus have to do with “The Swim”?
Simply put, it gives me the confidence to continue with a swimming ritual that can, on its arduous days, seem slightly ridiculous or an endeavor bordering on the nutty.
This particular plant defies the rule book by wildly abandoning accepted protocol and adorning itself with outrageously beautiful flowers when most plants are hunkering down for winter.
All my life I have been a slow learner. Still am. Watching the Christmas cactus push out its near florescent flowers is a grand inspiration for people like myself about to enter the “last quarter” of our lives; a supposed time of retirement, of greying, of getting ready for death.
“Hell no, I won’t go” seems to be the mantra of the Christmas cactus. At least, not without a great demonstration of just how audacious one can become late in the year. I, too, believe that my most colourful years are just beginning; that it is never too late to blossom; that it is happening even as I speak.
Trouble is, it is getting more and more difficult to get out of bed in the morning without tripping up.