Are you surviving without the sea in lockdown – or have you been able to make it back to the water? For sea swimmers and sea lovers of all kinds, being out or away from the water due to the current crisis is hard.
Last year, I had a difficult life experience that has actually made it easier for me to adjust to life in lockdown.
It took a dramatic injury, Spiderman, and a Sea Soul Blessing card, but I made it through…!
So I thought I’d share that story with you today – in case you’re missing the sea, as I was – in the hope that my lessons might be helpful to you too. (And maybe you could learn them, without having to break anything…)
Life before the break…
I’ve been sea swimming for three years now, and by 2019, wild swimming had become the ultimate life balm.
It reduced the pain of my arthritis and dodgy knees, soothed away my mental chatter, thrilled me, and taught me to respond calmly to anxiety and panic. If I’d had an argument with a loved one, I could go for a swim and return ready to make peace. If I’d had a stressful self-critical day, a few minutes in the water would wash it all away. The sea even gave me the courage to start a new business – and I created Sea Soul Blessings.
Every morning, I would step out of the sea feeling stronger, clearer and more purposeful, ready to face whatever life had in store that day.
I felt indestructible.
Running across the road, I slipped, smashing my ankle into the road with a crack. A few hours later, the A & E nurse congratulated me – I’d managed the rare feat of breaking both my ankle and my foot.
But as she strapped me into a huge black boot, my immediate concern wasn’t the pain, or the challenges of managing my work, family and life commitments – it was how would I get into the sea?
I was stuck – angry, sad, lonely, low – laid up on the sofa, far from the sea: my “cure-all”. In frustration, I turned to the tools the sea had led me to create, and drew a Sea Soul Blessings card, with this message:
May you ALLOW:
The sea cannot be fought, or controlled, or resisted. The tides cannot be stopped. When you are in the water, the sea can only be moved through, even as it moves you. When you stop battling against, you soften into lightness, finding the power to rise.
May you yield. May you release judgment. May you give loving permission. May you make space for what is. May you allow the pull of the waves to lift you.
It was as if somehow, months before when I’d created Sea Soul Blessings, the sea had known that I would need those words later, wisdom to guide me through my withdrawal.
Lockdown aside: Funnily enough, this was the very same card I pulled in January for April 2020 – as part of my spread of twelve cards for the year ahead. And of course in April 2020, as the crisis hit, I needed the reminder all over again…
But last year, I wasn’t ready to hear ‘may you allow’.
Instead, I fought back harder, plotting ever more ridiculous ways to access the water – maybe I could get a waterproof leg cover or inflatable, or commandeer the hoist at Jubilee Pool, our local outdoor lido…
I tried to rationalise the intensity of my response: maybe my body was still in shock after the accident, maybe it was the peri-menopause kicking in, or a reaction to the codeine? Perhaps my grief was simply a lack of endorphins: the loss of the swimmers’ equivalent to the “runners’ high”.
But as I slowly reduced my dose of painkillers, I couldn’t help but wonder – was sea swimming my medicine, or had it become my addiction?
A Spiderman epiphany…
One night, laid up on the sofa watching Spiderman: Homecoming with the kids, I heard Tony Stark berating Spiderman: “If you’re nothing without this suit, then you shouldn’t have it…”. and I finally had my light-bulb moment.
Without my superhero swimsuit and all that came with it, I felt diminished. Less able to manage the challenges of life. Less alive. Less present to it all. Less me.
I had been relying on my morning sea swim for everything – including my sense of self. And yet of course, under the swimsuit – I was still the same old Pippa.
Yes, swimming felt amazing, and was clearly good for me in many ways. But to move on, I needed to stop wishing that things could be different, and accept that I could survive without my swim – that I had all the resources within me that I needed, even without the sea.
Because when we have to survive without whatever suit has been holding us together, we can’t run away from ourselves any more. We have to face whatever we’ve been avoiding each time we’ve escaped to the water.
Now, that’s a challenging process at the best of times, but even more so when we’re laid up on the sofa with a broken foot, or facing lockdown without access to our loved ones and all of our usual self care resources…
Listen to the sea
This year, during lockdown – and more painfully, last year – I finally came round to the sea’s way of thinking.
It’s not until we finally ‘allow’ all of our feelings – the dark and the light – the joyful, the boring and the miserable… and allow ourselves to be who we are without the superhero suit of a sea swim, that we can fully appreciate the many unremarkable miracles of our daily life.
My injury last year gave me ample time to see the beauty and tenderness of life’s more challenging human moments. I sat with the guilt and failure, with my low mood and anxieties coming and going. I accepted gifts from family and friends. And I reminded myself of all the other tools in my self care toolkit – doing yoga in bed, reading books, chatting to friends, taking time to smell the flowers.
I realised that I was able to tend to my physical and mental health in so many other ways. And as the weeks passed, I began to heal. To reach towards a different kind of ‘peak experience’ – one where we can settle gently in the lows, knowing that soon we will be lifted again.
Lessons in lockdown
Last year’s accident taught me how to tend to myself in a small space, with limited opportunities, and wildly fluctuating emotions.
As challenging as it was, it also gave me space to sit with the tiny joys – and breathe through the darker moments.
It showed me that I can sit with myself in compassion, even when I feel broken.
I can embrace the chaos of life, and still notice the wonder of the unremarkable all around me – without getting into the water.
So much of this I recognise in the experience of lockdown.
Much as I continue to love sea swimming – and it remains one of my absolute favourite things to do – it is no longer my only resource in challenging times.
Right now, if you’re mired in frustration at not being able to get to the sea, and feeling that something within you is missing without it – let me reassure you that it isn’t. You are still whole. All of your responses, each part of you, the lows and the highs are valid. You have the resources to get through them. And you will get back to the sea.
The sea is within us all.
We find it when we allow the waters of life to move us – and stay buoyant, even when we are frightened. It’s in how we seek out and appreciate life’s simple pleasures – yet also allow ourselves to feel into the shadows, without judgement. We find it in the loving permission we give ourselves to be, and feel, the entire ocean of our being. It is there in our acceptance of what is. In our ability to step into the flow and gather the strength to rise, instead of fighting against what we cannot change.
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And Sea Soul Blessings continue to be available, even during lockdown, to help move you forward as they have moved me.
I’d love to know how you are getting through right now – do share your thoughts in the comments below.