Jay invites me to swim laps at nearby Mission Pool. I can gasp my way across the narrow width of Rossi Pool in my swim class. Perhaps I am ready to swim laps.
I know little about pools and swim etiquette so I’m grateful Jay guides me through locker room protocol and into the lane. Because of the lunchtime crowd, three of us squash into the leftmost of four lanes at Mission Pool.
I swim crawl stroke half the length of the pool before I panic, gasp, and come to the surface. I dive down again for more swimming to make it half again as far. Like Achilles in Zeno’s paradox with the tortoise, I may never reach the pool’s far wall.
I swim and walk back down the lane to the start. I can’t take in enough breath. The third member of our lane chugs steadily along.
Jay gamely offers pointers and reassurance. I attempt a few more laps, each worse than the last. This is not the day to start lap swimming. I leave Jay to his effortless strokes and hasten out of the pool five minutes after I started.
Ah, beginner’s mind. What a wonderful experience. In many classes, I’m one of the better students so I rarely flounder as much as I did at Mission Pool. I’m grateful to feel literally underwater as I see from that vantage point how much more there is to learn.
Swimming recalls years of learning to ski. I panicked at the vertiginous tops of ski slopes and cursed that I would never learn the sport. It was then less a matter of graceful form and more fear of crashing and dying. Swimming is similar in that I care now little for speed and more about drowning.
Through coaching from friends, shear perseverance, and a lot of falling, I did learn to ski, so well that I am unlikely improve skiing further as much as I did then. Although I want to be an accomplished swimmer, I’m somewhat happy to flounder as flounders swim better than I do.
In meditation, I’m also a beginning. My mind rarely quiets. It churns through to-do lists, future anxieties, and past wrongs. While brushing my teeth last night, I picked my initial way into meditation. Every time I brush my teeth, I will try to concentrate only on brushing my teeth.
Although brushing is routine, performed twice a day, roughly 700 times a year, and thus about 28,000 times in my life, those two minutes feel different than the rest of my life. I usually combine brushing my teeth with wanders through my apartment in search of stuff to fix or preparation for tomorrow’s tasks.
I’ll try instead to concentrate on the feeling of bristle hitting tooth, gum, and tongue. Stay with that feeling even if I’m bored. If I can focus on brushing the teeth for two minutes, perhaps I can start focusing on the present in other aspects of my life.