Do you ever feel like you’re approaching each day as just another list of things to get done? As you go through your calendar, do you ever feel like you’re counting off the days like a prisoner in a cell, making a mark on the wall for each day that goes by? Tick. Tick. Tick. I know that I sometimes feel this way. I bet you do too.
I’m a lap swimmer and I often approach my swim in the same way. I love swimming — the way my body feels in the pool and especially how invigorated I feel afterwards. Sometimes, though, I just spend my swim thinking about how many laps I’ve swum and how many are left to go. Other times, I distract myself by doing math in my head while swimming. Let me explain.
I’m what they call a “winter swimmer” at a beautiful country club only five minutes from my home. Instead of paying the exorbitant membership fee of this club, I pay a much lower fixed fee to swim in their gorgeous outdoor pool September through April. On some glorious days, I have the whole pool all to myself. My favorite “swim-math” is to divide the number of swims I’ve swum into the total cost of the winter swim fee. I find that this exercise motivates me to swim more often — the more I swim, the lower the cost per swim (OK, I guess I like a good deal!) Sometimes I also calculate how many miles I’ve swum so far this season. You get the idea.
But there are consequences to my “counting” in this way. Often, I’m so in my head and mathematical thoughts that I lose track of where I am in my swim program. Even worse, I’m not even noticing my body, the pool, or the process of swimming at all. Doing division in my head is certainly a way to distract myself from counting laps, but it is not a way to enjoy my swim! I used to be a mathematician and I can certainly attest to the fact that mathematics is probably one the most “head-y” of subjects, transporting you completely into your mind and out of your body sensations. It’s no wonder that mathematicians are perhaps the most rumpled of absent-minded professors.
While I was swimming yesterday, I completely lost track of where I was in my program — twice! — while doing my swim-math. It was then that I realized it was time to get out of my head, stop counting, and be in my body. To really enjoy my swim. To feel the water gliding across my body, to see the sun’s shimmering reflections and my shadow on the bottom of the pool, to enjoy the pleasant sensation of stretching my body out and the vigorous feeling of exercising my muscles. Suddenly I found that I was swimming more effortlessly too. I had no problem with keeping track of where I was in my program and I was truly enjoying every moment of my swim. Ahhhh. I was living my life, being aware of and making every moment count, rather than counting out the past and enumerating the future.
As I mention in my book Active Consciousness, it is really those rare moments when we are truly in the Now that we remember best in life. They might be cherished memories of one-ness with nature or peak moments of experience in our lives — a graduation, a birth, a death. The true experience of the Now is also a reason why people are drawn to extreme sports. You can’t think about the past or the future when you are flinging your body off a bridge or hanging on to a rock face for dear life. As Austrian skydiver Felix Baumgartner said about his recent record-breaking jump to Earth from a helium balloon hovering at the edge of space, “When I was standing there on top of the world, you become so humble, you do not think about breaking records anymore, you do not think about gaining scientific data. The only thing you want is to come back alive.”
Of course, you don’t need to go to such extremes to be in the Now. You can do it right now as you’re sitting in your chair reading this newsletter. You can make this moment count, instead of counting off your moments. Just settle into your body and feel the sensation of being alive!