Ecstatic Swimming Lessons

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Christ / Course Ideas / Creative

I was sitting alone on a stone bench overlooking the harbor, sipping on a latte, as I took in the sights and sounds of a strange land- (I was on vacation)- when a young woman on a scooter whipped past and let fly a paper airplane.  Judging from the sparkle, it was made from a laquer-faced card stock.  This girl meant business.  Her face bore an inscrutable expression, like the facade of an abandoned bank building that is now a cheap rehearsal space for a local theater troupe, and she struck with the precision of a bombardier lining up a target from five miles high in the atmosphere.  She moved with a purpose that reverberated in the moment like day long gravity waves that caused my soul to bob to and fro in time with all the planets.

I immediately wanted to tell her my life story.

I wanted to discover the meaning she had dropped upon me, the meaning that had arrived instantaneously, as soon as she had entered my consciousness, of which the paper airplane was merely a playful, flying echo.

The origami craft swooped through the air in a gentle, banking turn, decelerating rapidly, and then settled into steady flight along a vector that tunneled straight through my forehead.  Probable future paths can do that- e.g. pass through solid objects.  ETA 2.9 seconds.  I waited, thinking the wind would have something to say about this pending collision, but the craft seemed immune to the laws of physics.  Instinctively, I ducked.

When I looked up, the young woman was gone.

I retrieved the airplane.  I didn’t even have to unfold it to read the note: “Swimming lessons tomorrow.  2 PM.  We’ll send for you.”

* * * * *

After I read the note it turned into a dove and flew off.

* * * * *

The next afternoon I was driven to a mountaintop retreat and led down a beautiful trail to a gazebo.  Jesus was there.  My heart opened up as soon as I saw Him, as if I had just opened the vacuum sealed container in which I keep the vapors of my purest feelings.  The space inside of me expanded from a small, fenced-in yard to an endless prairie of rolling hills.  I joined him at the railing, and together we looked out wordlessly over a sheer cliff that tumbled down to the sea.

I didn’t say much, for there was no need.  We shared a communication that had an infinite bandwidth.  Deep inside, all beings know this Communion.  Our minds became like two fluids mingling- not just with one another, but with everything.  My everyday thoughts felt like silly trinkets I had stored away in a box back home.  They were distant and lifeless compared to this experience of complete immersion.

“I thought I was going to swimming lessons,” I said finally.  I had on flip flops, swimming trunks, a tank top, and a towel wrapped around my neck.

“You are,” He said.  Then He told me it was time to learn to swim in wordlessness, to become the bridge I sought between the world of perception and the world of Knowledge.

* * * * *

He stayed with me for a while, watching the waves crash into the rocks far below.  Then He turned into a dove and flew off.

* * * * *

I stood alone at the railing and began.  My first forays into wordlessness relied upon a simple mechanism: I used all the will power I could muster to bring my thoughts to a halt.  I tried to pause the life of my mind.  This was literally just like holding my breath, as within seconds the words of the inner narrator I have known my whole life began to push upon this bubble, the pressure steadily rising, until my concentration wavered- just one tiny flicker- and the oxygen of thought rushed into the void.

It didn’t take too many attempts for me to realize that my approach was deeply flawed.  It was utterly mechanical, as if my mind were a sponge and I had used the entire force of my will to squeeze it so tightly no words or thoughts could enter.  My entire being felt compressed down into this hardened pellet.  It was a strain to produce and sustain this state, and all it did was reinforce the importance of my own mind.  I knew this was not at all what Jesus had intended for me.  When He was with me, my sense of self was as broad as the Universe, loosed of its boundaries, and freed of conflict.

I stepped back for a moment, and relaxed.  I looked again to the sea, and an image appeared in my mind almost immediately.  I saw a beautiful, glowing star sunk deep, deep beneath a thick mantle of cool water.  The star was emitting a continous stream of soft white light.  As the light rose towards the water above, it slowly cooled, until it became a gaseous cloud.  The boundary between the star and the watery mantle above it was a thin, transparent film of perception.  The cooling vapor from the star was changed- refined and shaped somehow- when it passed through the film.  It cooled quickly then in the sea above, condensing first into solid matter, then contracting and cracking, until finally it broke into little pieces that floated up to the top and bobbed on the surface.  They were words- the names of things, mostly.  The water’s surface was covered with them, and I was up there in a boat, moving them around like the parts of a magnetic poetry kit, building stories and hunting for meaning.

I knew somehow, that Jesus was asking me to dive below that film, into a place where thought simply arose, unconditioned.

* * * * *

I dove into this inner sea and swam downwards.  I had thought it would be easy now, but I realized that the deeper I swam, the more expansive I had to become.  This wasn’t a matter of concentrating on the outcome, of putting in the effort, or focusing on the goal.  I discovered I couldn’t simply will myself down to the depth of the membrane.  I was in a strange sea whose power magnified with depth, coalescing into a realm of infinite density in which only the purely abstract- the perfectly weightless- could descend to its heart.  Objects were like bubbles.  Wherever mass appeared, it was squeezed out, expelled to the word-ridden surface.  Concepts, too, drifted by, and whenever my attention attached itself to one of them, it rode it right to the surface.

Time after time I attached myself to something drifting by- an outcome I had to protect myself against, a beautiful future that caught my eye, the vision of a mistake I had made and never forgiven, a moment of personal recognition, a scene of the past in which I was wronged, something I had worked tirelessly to achieve that I simply could not leave behind, a disease I feared, the fame I craved, a relationship that made me special- and found myself ejected onto the surface.  These were all the conditioned thoughts of the film I was steadily approaching- the boundary where pure Creation was tagged with meanings and reasons.

If they were just images, like movies, it would have been easy, but they came with intensely charged emotions.  The ecstasy of a brilliant future.  The bitterness of a past defeat.  The sticky guilt of failure.  The sweet fullness of a temporal love.  These were my addictions.  These were the sparkling lures in the water around which my wave function collapsed, all my weightlessness converging onto a single, finite point- a mass- that simply floated to the top of the water.

The surface mind is a boneyard of concepts.

* * * * *

Remember, now, this was only swim practice.  Jesus came for me again late in the day, a dove alighting in my heart, and for an instant we plunged to a great depth.  On the way down, however, I remembered I had a reservation for dinner that night.  I remembered I was on a vacation.  I was pinned by the sensation that something was incomplete inside of me, something I needed to take care of.  Promising to return with Him as soon as I took care of things, I rode this feeling to the surface.

You might think this would be the toughest choice of all- to walk away from His presence and engage in my own unique medley of “life pursuits”, but I do it all the time.  Crazy.  I know.

* * * * *

One day soon, (together), we will accept Reality.  We will turn into doves and fly off, and our swimming lessons will be complete.

2 Comments

  1. On the surface, three immediate thoughts: 1) “To swim in wordlessness” is equal parts beautiful, powerful and inviting; 2) “…for an instant we plunged to a great depth.” Oh, to be guided into an abyss with Him… and; 3) “…but I do it all the time. Crazy.” Crazy, foolish perhaps and yet, understood and appreciated by Him. Whether as a dolphin or a dove, I’ll revel when released from the lessons. Exquisite share. Thank you.

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    • Thanks very much, Eric. I appreciate your reading and sharing. That is one of the great things about Him- his understanding and appreciation. Somehow you know that no matter what you think of your own actions or thoughts, failings or faux pas, His response will always be the same. Perfect Love. I am struck by a thought: what a great definition of a First Responder. As soon as a gap opens up- Love rushes in. This is a great reminder of the type of friend I desire one day to be… Michael

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