365 Days: Day 2 - Developing the Daily Ritual
I write from the present about the past. At first I didn't take notes. I had no idea when I started that swimming at dawn would become a daily ritual. This daily journey to the sea simply evolved spontaneously. Then, as I began to realize its significance and value to me, I began to record each day, through photos and words, of how this process evolved. Here is one of my early entries discussing the development of the ritual:
Each day is unique, a gift, a joy. I wake around 6:45am. It's still dark. I leave a little after 7am. I've checked the temperature a few times over the last days and it's been between 6-10C. It takes about 15-20 minutes to reach the sea along rural pathways through forest and field. Bird song fills the air.
I love the morning. I've always been an early bird - she does get the worm after all. The sun still hasn't risen but the sky gets progressively lighter - some days pink clouds, others fog, others just dark blue sky. I relish the awakening new day.
As I approach the dunes the roar of the ocean increases and I can sense the state of the sea from far away without having to see it. I cross the boardwalk and head across the sand. What awaits me today? My heart fills as I crest the dune and my eyes are filled with the splendor of the wild ocean with its ever-changing nature. Tides, currents, weather all vary. Each day is the same yet unique.
I make my way to my favorite rocky area where there are safe inlets and wonderful pools. Each day the tide is different of course so I move around to different spots. I look around to see if there is any old man (peeping Tom) wandering around but there never is at this hour (facing the issue of 'men' becomes progressively more important as this story unfolds over the next days).
I find a relatively dry place to put down my plastic bag with goggles, suit and towel. First, I take off my very sandy shoes and socks, shaking them out, then my pants. I fold these and put them aside. Then, I take off my coat, lay it on the rocks and then peel of my top layers, two fleece jackets and my bra. Last but not least is my trusty grey winter hat. The video shows what it's like in silhouette.
It's chilly but I don't really feel the cold as I concentrate on where I want to enter the water. Choosing where to go in safely is always on my mind. At the beginning I simply did short immersions in tide pools around what I call Mermaid Cove. But then I began to explore other locations and slowly increase my entry and swimming times. In my head, these other places became The Cove, The Place In Between and The Bay. Not very original names but functional and descriptive.
The waves invite me to enter and I step gently through the rocks to the sand avoiding the hidden rocks. The water reaches my knees and then thighs and then my belly. I feel the sting of cold and gasp a little and run my hands over my legs and stomach, enjoying the salt on my skin. I move in deeper and feel the cold reach my midsection and breasts. I gently rub my whole body with the sea. I let the waves pass over me and then I plunge forward into the chilly liquid. I look down and see fish scatter, murky water and kelp. Then I swim some even, hard strokes out to warm up. I discover that the sensation of cold dissipates and becomes tolerable. I let the waves catch me and the water hold me as I float on the surface. I feel light and alive and my wild soul sings. The first numb wears off and I stay a few minutes longer playing with the waves. With some regret I finally get out and find my towel. My body is red, my skin is taut and tingles with the feeling of fresh scrubbed pleasure. Upon first leaving the cold water my body is unaware of the cold and I don't feel the cool breeze. I grab my towel to dry myself off and I notice the cold breezes starting to penetrate the false warmth.
Then I dress in reverse. I put on my hat and top layers and then pants and shoes. My feet are very cold. I look out at the sea and the first rays of sun are hitting the waves illuminating them with magical splendor. I don't want the moment to end and I sit a little longer but the cold starts to catch up with me and I need to start moving. I walk back to a different part of the boardwalk and I watch the sunrise as I make my way back home. And here is one of the many gifts the daily ritual gives me, pushing me out of bed each morning to experience this daily communion with nature, with my beloved ocean and with myself.
In addition to the powerful present moment sensations the cold water brings, the walk to and from the beach also is a powerful introspective time. Here's one of my early, introspective entries:
Not being able to swim has been tough these last weeks. I've been thinking about how having my desires frustrated forces me to do a lot of introspection. I keep coming back to the idea that I need to let go, surrender to the moment, trust the process and be patient. I think it's something I can apply to different parts of my life and will ultimately allow me to enjoy certain activities even more. I want to surrender and flow and feel even more than I already do in the water and I believe this enforced confinement is taking me to new places within myself which will have future rewards. And, if I had been able to have instant satisfaction of those wishes, I might not have been able to enjoy them as much as I will in the future as I take these lessons more deeply within myself.
Perhaps the universe is wiser than we think. It's a rich, yet difficult time and I believe there are many lessons to be learned. But I also believe that only through truly facing adversity head-on do we grow. You see, I'm a person who makes things happen, takes action. I see or have a problem, analyze it and then resolve it. But then life happens like now and you are powerless. There is little action you can take, little room to maneuver when there is simply no option to fulfill your heart's desire. Sometimes maybe I simply need to let myself "be" more rather than act and resolve. Flow not fight. The key is having the wisdom of knowing when to do which.
Reading this now in retrospect, I see how I have been giving myself the same message for months. Apparently, I need a sledgehammer to the head to get some ideas through! But that is why it is a journey. We stumble, we fall, we get back up, hopefully a little wiser. Just keep swimming. And that's what I did.
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Your writing is beautiful. I share your feelings for being in the sea, although I haven't dared to try it in the winter. I swim in my own pond and off my boat in Poole Harbour on the English South Coast. I love the sailing, but it is getting into the water that is the achievement. The feel of natural water, salt or fresh, on your body, is just one of life's great, and completely free pleasures. I shall work slowly through your blog with delight. I follow you on Instagram as cotswoldswimmer.