Swimming and writing

SWimming and Writing by Sarah ActonSwimming and Writing by Sarah Acton

It’s June, time to get down to the beach and take a dip in the sea.

You may not think of a writing as a physical activity, but the fact is that you cannot write unless you connect body and mind as one. It is an activity of whole being.

Writing requires as much an effort of mental and physical activity as swimming in the sea. Both acts are complete: the body engages in physical response to the grey chill of open space and sky, and remembers how to move through it, whilst the mind responds to the adventure, the danger, and the exhilaration, the sharpening of senses. You emerge tingling with life and perception. You might feel very tired after the event, but desperately keen to capture the vital essence of the experience again.

From the moment you dive in to the sea, or a new piece of writing, you are alive to every possibility, and you see and feel every swish of seaweed and current brushing your skin, the salt sting and the wave, whilst all the while knowing you are watched by others.

Swimming and writing share other aspects:  both are solo acts of surrendering the naked ‘self’, leaving aside all distractions of domestic routine and anxiety,  adapting to move in a different way, to float in graceful harmony, or panic and stiffen up if you can’t relax into it.

When you enter the sea, you enter a natural element governed by weather and by its own rules. You feel physically light. The effect on both body and mind induces a total state of being in the present moment. It is immense and awesome to feel this vulnerability as a tiny fragment, belonging.

The sea has two worlds, above and below. Swimming, like writing, offers reflections of the most secret of these from above, and perhaps it is such a  dual privileged view that empowers the body to overcome the fears of the mind…and of the great unknown below.

It is surrender to the unknown that opens possibility. The desire to enter the water is always at odds with irrational and rational fears of what may happen, but each stroke steels the body against doubt, excites the mind to have dared.  The drive to propel yourself on is bounded to the breath and flow of elemental forces surrounding you. You get stronger after each experience, you learn something else about the behaviour of the sea though you must always respect it’s power.

For a writer, the unknown of a blank page or screen, the unfinished novel, the unwritten poem- these all present a daily whitenoise of irritation, anxiety. Lack of productivity increases the frustrating distance of the writer from the writer in action, worrying about creating rather than creating. We all have to remember how good it is to run down to the beach with a swim suit. The physical action in motion overtakes all of the mental defence mechanisms against failure, by preventing the attempt.

I step down to meet my destiny in the vast open water of waterblues and seagreens.

Each poem I write is a physical action, a statement of intention.

This is my ritual. I de-robe on the shore, slip in, then excited by the cool chill on skin, I abandon myself to the joy of swimming out a little way in a huge uncivilised wilderness. Even the briefest dip benefits. I do not go far at first. I climb out on the steep shingle shore panting with the electricity carried by the cold sea that connects me to the far dreamed horizon that I have just aimed for at eye level. I have seen the world from a new angle.

Swimming and walking outdoors are excellent spurs to dissolve boundaries of self, to overcome mental obstacles, to embolden the spirit. I’d recommend both to anyone. Physician heal thine self!

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