Competition: A Body Game

Spiritual Lessons in the Swimming Pool

My personal exercise of choice happens to be swimming, so I joined health club and started to go three times a week after work. Because a major part of what I wanted involved increased communication with my body, I was careful to listen to it as far as what it could tolerate. The point was exercise for health and validation - not to blow myself out of the water (literally and figuratively).

I have discovered several unexpected benefits to swimming. I had forgotten how tactile it is. I can feel the water all along my entire body – reminding me that I have arms and legs as well as a head and torso. I find that it has also helped stir up and move out foreign energy stored in my legs. And of course, there is the fact that it is just plain fun to do.

One day I was swimming along, feeling good about my workout, and enjoying the movement of the water over my body. Suddenly a woman appeared in my peripheral vision swimming in the next lane. Adrenaline kicked in and I wanted to start to race her – to try to keep up. Never mind that I was 25 meters into the 200-meter Side-Stroke section of my workout and she was zipping along with a very fast Freestyle. I consciously stopped my automatic competition; telling myself to remember where I was – what my capabilities were. The second half of my swim was a constant internal battle, clearing away competition and envy, while I kept to my normal pace.

Competition doesn't work for spiritual things, but in many instances, it doesn't work on a physical level either. Even if I swam the same stroke she did, there was no way I could have kept up with the swimmer on my left. She moved with such speed and grace through the water; it was clear that she was on a much different level than I was. I could have ignored my body - ignored where I really was - and pushed myself to go faster than I could – ultimately flailing, not swimming, through the water and swallowing a good deal of the pool in the process. I would have felt invalidated because I never would have caught up with her, and I’d have been stiff and sore for a couple of days as well. When I hauled myself out of the pool I felt a bit stretched, a bit tired, and I could feel sweat forming on my face. (One reason swimming is my exercise of choice is that the water keeps the sweat washed away.) Total collapse was not imminent; my body felt validated and strong. In other words, I felt the way a person should after a healthy round of exercise.

As I walked back to the locker room, thinking about what had just happened, a spiritual light bulb went on. I start to compete when I am trying to be someplace other than where I actually am. When I let go of the competition, on a physical or spiritual level, I make room for validation of what I CAN do.

Once I've let go of the competition, I am able to move forward with joy.