It’s a given that people seek out swimming to gain the benefits of physical fitness. In the TI Way we also recognize the benefits of mental fitness that our unique practice brings. More so, we realize that the skills we practice in the water can enhance our life on dry-land as well.
Last week I was land-locked during a trip escorting some foreign business friends in America, as an interpreter and guide. I was left with virtually no discretionary time except when I attempted to sleep off my jetlag. In other words, I didn’t find time or place to swim all week. Bummer.
[Sunrise on the Florida Coast. My last morning I finally snuck out for a swim, but I didn’t need the red and purple warning flags on the lifeguard stations to convince me I was not welcome in the water this morning. But I immensely enjoyed the feast for my senses from shore.]
Instead I had several hours of sitting, walking, or driving as I accompanied my friends about their business. Rather than focus on what I wasn’t getting (no time in the water, nor enough sleep to free my mind for study or writing, etc) I put into practice my mental checklist for warm-up in the water and started to use free mental attention for something productive.
First, I would scan my body, starting from my head down, correct my posture, and then relax all the muscles I could relax. I was surprised to see how many parts of my body I was keeping tense unnecessarily, and how hard it was to actually make some parts just calm down. This gave me a whole new set of skills to work on.
Next, I would concentrate on my breath. I examined how I was breathing and then experimented with controlled rates of inhale and exhale to see which gave the most relaxation. I would notice whether I was breathing from the chest or the diaphram and made adjustments.
And then I took my thoughts, emotions, and imagination which were processing all sorts of things in the past and future- interactions with my friends, anxieties and hopes, planning and justifying – and pulled my mind back into the Present.
I started by tuning in to my senses and noting facts about physical sensations and spiritual sensations- forces internal and external to me. I looked for connections of meaning between details I sensed, yet I refrained from making judgements about them. I felt the air- its temperature and humidity and how it made me feel, though I did not judge it as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ I watched the scenery flashing by, both urban sprawl and wilderness mixed together- noting details in order, architecture, signs, use and function, and how urban civilization intersected with places that seemed to have returned to the wild. I noticed the patterns of people in cars and on the streets, the similarities and stark contrasts between this place and the culture my business friends and I came from. Again, I looked at it as maybe an anthropologist or alien explorer might- curious, inquisitive, but withholding judgment about what I liked or didn’t like, and tried to find meaning and understanding for what I observed.
This is just an example of what I did with my mind, when I could not do something more stimulating with my body in those hours. I did this in the office during their meetings, I did this in the mega-mall while they shopped. I did this sitting in airports on layover.
The result for me was that by being Present and Aware, I enjoyed much of this trip rather than feel like my patience was tried by it. By using my senses and observations, looking for meaning behind the patterns I saw, and deliberately refraining from judgments and attitudes of like/dislike, right/wrong, I walked away with a catalog of vivid and enjoyable experiences instead of associating this trip with less pleasant emotions. Those experiences are now linked in my mind with what I feel are valuable, compassionate insights into the people I was with, the culture we were in, and the environment I had a week to walk through.
What we do with our mind while in the water is training for what we can do with our mind when out of it. The practice of TI, done well, engages the body and the mind and produces valuable skills for living on dry-land too.
Let’s be Present and Aware.