“Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline, no matter how many times it’s sent away.”
In the sea, I found self compassion…
Maybe it was simply that my journey into regular sea swimming coincided with my exploration of the work of Kristin Neff.
Maybe it was the sea’s ability to soften me, while also showing me my strength.
Maybe it was just time: I had lived with a harsh inner critic for most of my life, and when the sea called me, I was ready for change .
But in starting sea swimming, I wasn’t looking for self-compassion.
I thought this new experience was about feeling alive, courageous – about embracing all the possibilities that life offered me.
And it was. And yet it was also so much more than that.
Firstly, getting into the sea was a commitment to myself. To giving myself what I needed, regularly, regardless of whatever else was going on in my life. Self-care, me-time.
Space for change
But underneath this commitment, I discovered that the sea also offered a rich test-bed for a new way of being with myself.
It was a liminal space – somewhere I was free to move, to think, to be – differently. In its constant fluidity, it encouraged and accepted change.
And I found that once I passed through the initial anxiety of getting into the sea – softened into the shock of the cold, and began to swim – my mind became quiet.
Present to the experience. To the water all around me.
“I could never stay long enough on the shore; the tang of the untainted, fresh, and free sea air was like a cool, quieting thought.” Helen Keller
My swims were moving mindfulness. There were my meditations.
A state, in fact, that I had always struggled to attain in the silent last moments of a yoga class or elsewhere – a ‘silence’ more often endured as a few minutes of incessant internal chatter, self-criticism, and to do lists. Instead of understanding that allowing the chatter to pass through was simply part of the process, I thought that I ‘couldn’t do’ meditation.
But in the sea, I discovered that I could be present – to the physical sensation, the change around me, to myself.
In the water, the to do lists fell away.
So did the general mutterings.
The self-judgement didn’t completely disappear, but there was less of it.
And instead of simply accepting this as part of life’s constant noise – as I would have done on dry land – I could hear it, identify it – and start to question it.
By turning down the volume of my internal chatter, I began to create space to practise a different way of talking to myself. And by swimming a few more strokes away from familiar land each time, I learnt that I could motivate myself further with kindness than guilt or fear.
Of course the fear would come nonetheless. I learnt to soften into it, just as I had learnt to soften into the cold of the water. To understand it as simply part of the tender human experience, not a mark of my own weakness. And to gather evidence that the more often we soften, the easier it becomes.
My senses were clear, attuned, receptive. My heart fell open.
“Does the song of the sea end at the shore, or in the hearts of those who listen to it?”
I loved the feel of the water, loved seeing the beauty of the world around me – the low-flying seabirds, bobbing seals, rolling waves, the rasp of sea on stone, the salty taste on my skin.
Immersed in all this beauty, and a growing sense of my own presence, it was a slow but natural progression towards understanding that, of course, I too belonged.
I was a part of it all.
And that meant starting to extend the same love towards myself as I felt for the sea – and indeed, for all that surrounded me in the water.
As I opened my heart further to the sea, embracing it as part of my life – the self compassion that I had found there began to spill into my life on land.
That ability to differentiate between inner critic and truth. To find kindness for myself in the struggle. To maintain faith in myself, even in my worst moments.
To be my own lifeguard – ever alert to my needs, encouraging myself to stretch, and also to rest. Most of all, to accept that my tender vulnerable human self is just as worthy of love as that sea I love with all my heart.
All of this is why self-compassion is such a vital part of the Sea Soul Blessings – and of the Sea Soul Sessions that I offer to help you deepen that practice for yourself. In my next blog post, I’ll go deeper into Kristen Neff’s work on self-compassion, how this parallels my experience of stepping into the sea, and how you might bring these qualities into your own life – whether or not you swim in the sea.
The Sea Soul Blessings are potent sea guides. But most relevant to this discussion – each blessing is also a fresh opportunity to offer yourself mindful self compassion.
Quieting your mind, they connect you to the magic of the sea, and to your own intuition, encouraging personal reflection and growth, self-love and self care.
You can find out more about them here.
If you would like some one to one guidance and a deeper self compassion practice, join me for a Sea Soul Session
What does self compassion mean to you? Let us know in the comments below.