Emotion in the Ocean

Yesterday, I swam into the middle of my fear. Today, I am better for it.

Tallebudgera Creek, Gold Coast, Queensland

Tallebudgera Creek, Gold Coast, Queensland

My partner and I had taken the morning off for a little seaside refreshment at Tallebudgera. This is a place where the creek meets the ocean, at the Southern end of the Gold Coast. It’s popular with swimmers because a little way in from the mouth of the creek, there are excellent beaches on either bank, and no waves – as you can see in the photo above. Surf Life Savers patrol a small section of beach on the southern side, so it’s very safe for families.

Because it’s tidal, the water has currents, like a surf beach, but milder. Also, there are shallow areas of water where the sand has drifted up, with a deeper channel in the middle of the creek. While we prepared for our swim, someone spotted a dolphin in the channel and called out. The sleek creature arced gracefully out of the water before diving off to a destination unknown.

As the deliciously refreshing water embraced my body, I felt to swim across to the other side – not for any particular reason, something within just called me to.

Now, I’m not a strong swimmer. Especially in the ocean. It’s big, deep, and there are usually waves, which I find unpredictable when I’m swimming. The worst part, though, is that I can’t see into the water. It’s like this big unknown, and I’m in it.

Still, I felt reasonably safe here, because as I said there were no waves, and while the creek was wide, it wasn’t vast. I knew it would be a bit of a challenge, but I must have also intuitively known I needed this. As I started swimming, I knew it was important to stay relaxed; and I felt pretty confident, so I tried challenging myself a bit with a front crawl stroke – what’s known in this country as “Australian Crawl“.

I’ve never been very good at the Crawl. It’s the breathing thing – taking a breath with your mouth so close to the water… somehow it doesn’t compute. Something in my brain doesn’t trust it. But I know it’s my “room to grow”, and I like to practice it when I get the chance.

I was doing OK with it for a few strokes, but pretty soon a subtle fear built up inside me, putting off the timing of my breathing. All of a sudden there was water in my mouth, my throat, my chest – only a little, but it was enough to trigger a very familiar response from my body… I remembered when I was young, being tickled so hard by my dad that I fell into the pool with my mouth open, laughter turning to panic, being pulled out coughing and stressed, feeling all of a sudden very unsafe and vulnerable… Bringing my head up quickly, I looked toward the bank, realising I was still some distance away. I coughed. I was slightly panicky, out of breath, somewhat stressed, tense and a little nervous. I felt my breath high and shallow in my chest. Should I continue on, or turn back? I looked behind, noting that I’d come this far… I turned again and kept on swimming, keeping my head up, managing my panic, trying to relax, trying to slow my body movements…

I could feel it in my body – a body awareness of the expanse of water around me, the deep green, unknown, unpredictable… this is how it happens, I get into water and all of a sudden, when the ocean is open and deep enough, my body sends distress signals to my brain – triggered responses from cellular memory – Danger! Panic! You can’t do this! Logically, mentally, I know it’s fine, I’m fine, the water isn’t very deep, I’m not far from land, I know I can make it back in an emergency if I have to, there are heaps of people and even lifesavers – but still, the fear, the fear…

Gradually, slowly, the shoreline became larger, the water shallower, as I looked for a sandbar that would mean relief, sooner rather than later, until finally my foot touched the bottom. I had made it to the other side.

As I walked on the beach, regaining my breath and my centredness, my energy centres were busy processing the experience. My Base chakra was dealing with deep survival fear, or a lack of belief in my right to be here. It was also showing me how alienated I am from raw, wild nature – both Mother Gaia’s and my own.

Sitting on that golden sand, with the green shoulder of Burleigh headland rising majestically behind me, I realised more fully how staying relaxed was absolutely essential for my swimming, and for my healing. Once the tension kicks in, it takes over and I lose both my centredness and my ability to swim effectively.

So when I re-entered the beautiful water for the return swim, I chose to forget about freestyle and just do breaststroke, which meant I could keep my head above water. As I swam out, I realised that just being in deep water was challenging enough for now, let alone swimming in it; so I stopped in the middle of the deep channel. I could feel the familiar exposure, out in the open. I could feel the emotion arising out of my body as my Sacral chakra processed my right to feel. I felt into my fear – of marine predators, of the unseen, unknown – just treading water, feeling into the strong emotion, breathing into it. By and by, as I witnessed it from my centredness, it released from my body, wave after wave ebbing away as new waves flowed up into awareness. After a little while, my mind said, “That’s enough. I should go in now, we probably need to leave soon. I can come back another day.”; but I felt like that was the voice of fear – that if I followed it, I’d be letting myself down. I could feel that I was at some kind of quiet edge, and it felt OK… so instead I chose to stay a little longer, paying more attention to feeling again, witnessing the waves ebb and flow. After another couple of minutes I felt quite relaxed. Without making a conscious choice, I naturally started to swim back.

As I reached the beach again, my partner was in the water and greeted me with a big smile – confirmation that my energy had shifted in a positive way. The lesson was over, for the time being. We had fun and played in the shallower water, the joyful yells of kids nearby.

There’s a part of me who is SO scared by unknown dangers in the depths, both worldly and emotional; but there’s another part of me who doesn’t believe that story – who instead believes that I can be safe, and wants to learn to trust life, to trust myself, to trust Nature; who wants to live adventurously, courageously, curiously – even if living that way carries a perceived risk of pain or death. I think maybe I can live with a balanced risk and a healthy caution in the pursuit of growth, healing and exploration; but I’m sure I can’t LIVE in my fullness with fears that limit my expression and vitality.

Loving life (at Fraser Island)

Loving life (at Fraser Island)

What’s your “room to grow”?
Do you challenge yourself? If so, how?
How do you know how far to reach in your challenges?
How do you know when you’ve been successful?

In love & light,
Nicholas.