Thursday, July 28, 2011

My mentor is Water

I’ve been swimming a long time. Never took lessons but I’ve got a keen eye for imitation and a strong will for endurance. It was my experience on a swim team at ten or eleven that whipped me into shape, gave me the basics of each stroke and educated me about the mindset behind competition. Since then, it’s been my love of water and my professional curiosity about human potential that serendipitously led me into an extraordinary experiencing.

It started thirty years ago. I was keeping a pretty rigorous schedule and making sure I swam four days a week. As most swimmers might agree, swimming laps frequently becomes tedious so I’d always create some challenge to keep me interested for the full mile. Human potential was in full bloom and I was privy to a lot of extraordinary modalities and discoveries. My practice gave me the opportunity to test the merit and truth of what I’d learned plus it also set my mind galloping into ways to reach a broader audience with ‘living value’. So, it was only natural that I mixed business with pleasure and toyed with applications of technique to living circumstance – like swimming.

My swims became explorations. How many different ways can I alter my breathing and what happens? How can I see without using my eyes? What happens to my swim when I focus on the ventricles of my brain or try to approximate the cranial sacral breath during a swim? What if I use my voice and recite poetry, hum a tune, express emotion? It made for very exciting swims.

The day I wondered what it would be like to focus on the ventricles inside my brain and ‘let them swim me’ was a special day. I like the way ventricles look inside the head and I like what they do but the swim was really a ‘create as you go’ moment-to-moment conjuring. I imagined the two large lateral ventricles that looked a bit like rocking horses and imagined them rocking gently as I moved through the water. It felt very sensual and soothing.  

Suddenly, I’m aware that my whole head is responding to the ventricles and the top of my skull feels like it’s being drawn by some external magnetism. Cool. I continue to allow the sensations to come. My rational mind would notice and name, very quickly because the changes were swift and they soon leaped from one part of my body to the next, I couldn’t keep up. Then, it happened. Like the exhilarating rush on rollercoaster, my body started moving faster than my mind could follow and I had to trust the experience or lose it. The front of my head felt like it was elongating and my eyes were tucking up and behind my nose as this very strong magnetism drew me effortlessly forward.  A strange laser vision shot through my crown at the bregma and I’m streaming through the water faster than I’ve ever gone before. The sudden war between rational and intuitive, between controlling my body and experience and trusting the organicity of the uncontrollable left me physically floundering in the pool, my arms can’t move fast enough. I’m inhaling water as I breathe, and floundering in sort of pre-drowning state: I stopped dead in the water gasping for air, looking around and wondering what the hell had just happened.

My body tingled with excitement. I’d never felt anything like that before and a voice in my head kept saying, ‘you swam like a fish, you swam like a fish!’ Maybe so, maybe not but certainly something significant had just happened to me. I remember the kid on my swim team who was fast as a minnow and the mermaids in Disney films but the real possibility of ‘swimming like a fish’, actually becoming fish-like had never entered my mind until that moment and the idea didn’t seem preposterous. After all, I had tapped an effortless inside line. Just to be sure I went back to find it again, and did. It was very real.

The rational mind simply cannot participate in the experiencing of this inside line. It can’t keep up. Only organic intelligence can. Nor does one ‘give in’ to these altered states, you actually align with them, you become contemporaries and allies or the experience cannot exist. There is no breaking through ‘the wall’ mentioned so often in running for there is no exhaustion and therefore no need to shift gears or catch a second wind. As I have come to discover through thirty years and thousands of swims when you tap this ‘streamline’ you enter a realm of boundless energy, zero fatigue and no compelling need to stop, you are essentially confluent with the field dynamics of the habitat and belong to that world.

Fish comes from ‘fisc’ an Old English noun for any living animal in water. Well, I thought, why not me? How do I translate land animal to water animal? Little did I know when I began that it would lead me to a radical reappraisal of life as we have come to accept it.

So, thirty years and thousands of swims, glimmers, insights, strange sensations, fear, excitement, and following the organic indications one at a time, I have now become an apprentice to Water. Yes, I continue to learn and discover, and through time my attention has shifted from transforming myself into an amphibian human to learning from Water how to partner with that environment. I have moved away from the intrusive, dominating visitor to being friends. Quite like a child discovering their verticality I learned to reorganize my physical presence in water in order to gain access to its force field and support system, gaining the skills to become partners.

To do this, I had to suspend ego. I had to release my attachments about what I thought ‘human’ was, even the good stuff, I had to drop the drama, release the emotions as they came up, stop anticipating outcome and relinquish all pressure to conclude. Not easy. Not easy at all. Essentially, I was undergoing a deep metamorphosis that, ultimately, had nothing to do with becoming a mermaid and everything to do with becoming a whole human being.

Think of it this way. Take our finest competitive swimmers in Shanghai right now and have them swim fifty or 100 yards against a minnow or a dolphin. Who wins? Why? The fast answer is fish, fish win, always, because they are designed for water. Yes. True. Now, consider redesigning the swimmer to be more streamlined. The two biggest challenges are posture and breath.

Let’s address posture. The sketch on the left shows two postural positions for the human being, misaligned and aligned, both exist but the first is more common because the lifestyle, work habits, and creative inventions that represent our upgraded quality of life have seriously disturbed our rapport with gravity and, by consequence, our health.



Alignment with gravity is an absolutely natural phenomenon. We are anatomically built to be harmonic with gravity. If you watch the infant navigate verticality you see the organic, developmental impulse leading the search and the intuitive responsiveness, attentive at every turn, alert, sensing, literally building verticality from the inside out. The child works kinesthetically and when balance is suddenly reached the child often looks surprised by the lift and levity they feel, surprise at the effortlessness. Then, the inimitable grin spreads across their face and lights up their eyes. Found! Alas, through time, with the wrong information and development of unsuitable habits we are weaned away from intelligent living as well as health.

The good news is that the body never forgets and its capacity for recovery is as outstanding as its ‘ecospheric’ intelligence. I purposefully use the word ‘ecospheric’ because part of our genetic intelligence concerns our capacity to create and maintain a harmonic alliance with our environment.

Fish, on the other hand, don’t have chairs and cars, they don’t slouch or eat fast food, there’s no reason for them to get out of shape. There’s also no reason for them to toy with a flawless, ergonomic design, and certainly they want to live and perpetuate as much as we do, that’s what all life strives for, so they aren’t adverse to improving; it is more likely they comprehend the intrinsic nature of evolution and simply remain vigil and responsive, knowing Nature will handle the rest.

For everyone who has observed fish, from the goldfish we won at the fair to visits at the aquarium or vacation sea diving we are utterly captivated by their weightless ease. Big or small, these creatures embody levity, vitality, and agility. It’s practically impossible to know when they’re going to move, they don’t ‘get ready’ like we do, they simply move.

How does that happen? Can we do it too?

Animals have an unbreakable liaison with their environment that is sustained and nurtured by and through their structural alignment. Think of it as streaming conversation on multiple levels. Fish are genetically designed to live and thrive in water. To live, they must have water. To thrive, they must optimize their understanding of the habitat in order to fully capitalize that environment, get food, find shelter, and protect self and offspring. In return, they are careful to preserve the ecology of environment because without it they die. It is a fair and equal exchange between living entities. Sensibility. Reciprocity. Rapport. Alliance.

Humans actually experience those same qualities of weightlessness, levity and agility when they are correctly aligned. Finding and maintaining this alignment requires that we, like other animals, stay mindfully aware and attuned to our surroundings. Overdependence on rational mind and linear thinking must go, (one of the slower frequencies of consciousness), as we embrace the full spectrum of our of intelligence network, sensing, perceiving, and responding to subtle stimuli that optimize our ‘liveability’ and keep us in the flow. No more stop and start.


So, whether we are fish or human, the aligned body has a very specific structure and function, form and dynamic, that is linked to and responsive to environment. If you walk, run, somersault, or swim, there is a specific alignment that perpetuates the weightlessness, levity and ease in motion. You simply need to find it. 


The challenge with swimming is that we are no longer vertical and on dry land. We are horizontal and dealing with the substance water. Even though we change axis and environment the principles are still the same. Like the infant navigating verticality the swimmer can use the same innate intelligence to reorganize their structural alignment to suit being in water and, from there, tap into the electromagnetic force field. Essential to our success is a stop to the land-based animal identity otherwise we continue to perceive water as an enemy territory and continue our unconscious need to dominate it.

Seems simple enough until you do it and Pandora’s box opens and all our preset beliefs and behaviors constructed around the Homo sapiens myth of superiority raise their mighty fists. Our lives have been infused with an untenable egocentrism that has resulted in the devastating global issues we face today. Fortunately, many are striving to revise and repair the situation but it is very clear that dressing the emperor in new clothes and campaigning with new jargon is not enough. We must recognize and behave as members of an intricate and intelligence ecosystem.

This means dismantling ego and relinquishing those beliefs, practices and illusions of autocracy that have spun an intricate and clever web of exclusivity and importance in our psyches. This means harvesting a brand new paradigm forged through an ecological alignment, rapport, and alliance with our ecosphere, ‘the power of I’ emerging through ‘the genius of ‘we’. Confluence. Reciprocity.

The sketch below transposes the core rhythmic pattern of goldfish to the human body. Forty years of research actually demonstrated that application of this vibrational frequency replenished and revitalized the body. Today, it is available to the public as a Chi Machine.

My purpose, however, is to intrigue you with the vision of what happens when the ‘land animal’ is infused with wave patterns, when the density and weight of joints is replaced by sensations of fluid motion and liquidity. I want your imagination to lead you by ‘osmosis’ to intuitively experience this difference and sense how versatile and smart and responsive the body is. You look at a picture and the body interprets and brings it to life for you, instantly.

Ultimately, the perfect swim is a streamlined swimmer. This means the swimmer has optimized his body to capitalize on the dynamics of water and experiences effortless motion. It places the swimmer and water in a continuous, reflexive alliance of effortless motion, effortless for water and effortless for the swimmer.

The streamline is an electromagnetic field. We feel it when we are aligned with gravity, the head levitates heavenward and the feet feel the draw into the earth, the body seems like it’s floating in a supportive magnetic field and movement is effortless. Similarly, in water, once the streamline is found the arms still move, the legs kick, and the head turns but there is absolutely zero exhaustion at the conclusion of the swim. 

Breathing is the second big hurdle for swimmers. Obviously, the less need there is to turn the head the faster we move but remember, just like fish, our optimal alignment in water includes respiration. For us, however, our alignment adapts to the stroke as well as the body of water we swim in. Fish don’t do backstroke, we do, and in order to tap the streamline we have to modify the alignment. Really, it’s no different than what we do when we run or jump, change in speed or style of locomotion requires us to tweak our alignment and as a result our breath.

The majority of us don’t really know breath very well. We’ve either taken it for granted or developed disciplined strategies we follow. Seldom do we allow breath to be the guide and yet, as I discovered, breath knows the perfect quality and quantity for every situation.

At the end of my long swims I’d conclude with 25-yard sprints, no breathing except for the starter breath. In the beginning, I’d fill my lungs to the max and ‘hold’ the breath as I swam.  Completing the sprint was easy but finding and maintaining the streamline was impossible since my attention was consumed with holding the breath. In fact, I overexerted and ultimately exhausted myself. It was overkill. As I experimented with different quantities of air and rhythms of exhalation, and continued to wear myself, I did finally realized my attention to breathing was my way of hedging my bets, assuming I wasn’t going to be able to complete the sprint without ‘running out of air’ and therefore compensating by filling up or outsmarting the inevitable.

All I did was engulf my system and exhaust myself. It wasn’t until I took breath out of the equation that I began to discover the way breath actually works and found the hidden reserves. Oxygen was everywhere, in my lungs, blood, organs, cells, and there was plenty for what I needed to do. With my mind was out of the way my breathing revealed its own consciousness and added dimension to my swimming beyond inhalation and exhalation. Breath knows when and how to breath, exact quantities and quality, it varies moment to moment and is perfectly attuned to my be-ing in the water. 

A ‘sip’ goes a very long way.

I had no idea when I started my experiencing that I’d become an apprentice of water or be initiated into the art of forging sustainable alliances between man and environment. Little did I know that ‘swimming like a fish’ would lure me into the kinesthetic world of physics, electromagnetic fields, streamlining and flow, bring me face to face with my own Pandora’s box of limiting and untenable beliefs as well as immerse me in the sociology of alignment, rapport and reciprocity with the biosphere. But it did.

I’m still an apprentice only much wiser than when I began. Now, my hope is that this story not only intrigues swimmers and athletes who will certainly seek me out for more detailed consultation but that it also captivates the imagination of those investigating paradigms of ecology and sustainability.


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