Posted by: Bruce Proctor | June 25, 2008

Swimming, Opening Windows: magic in daily life

I watch in amazement as the windows open as smoothly as can be, and I have very little to do with it. I don’t know anything more than I knew before. All I know more is that now I can do it.

I swam for just the second time since my couple weeks’ break. Tom Ishey, a great swimmer, joined my lane for about half my workout. He told me, with an unexpected bit of irony: “You know, you can make splashes if you like! ” Then: “Your strokes are powerful and efficient, and you move fast.” About the non-splashing, which I wasn’t aware of (since I’ve never seen me swimming) I said, “You know, when you try to do something really well, sometimes there’s elegance to it.” To which Tom agreed.

(You don’t try for elegance, though; elegance is a by-product of something else, something essential, and beyond show. It’s a feeling of “rightness,” and to me it seems to have both the power of my intention, and the blessedness of grace.)

Tom had just seen me do my thousand, which had started off with my stroke kind of nebulous, trying to find my way back to something I recognized as my own. I patiently hung with it. It was sort of like wallowing forward, bus-like, on soft shocks.

The last few hundreds I began to find it, or it me: a firmness and economy of movement, being able to put my energy where I intended.

I don’t take Tom’s compliments lightly. Even the fact that he shared the lane with me said something about his sense of companionship with me and confidence we could work out side by side. When I left, he had the lane to himself for a few minutes—you could see he enjoyed the extra space. Then a lady asked if she could join him. He courteously gave her the lane and moved to the outdoor pool.

A couple weeks ago, when I first moved in with Hob, he showed me how to maneuver this ten-foot aluminum pole with a hook on the end, to open four windows high over the stairwell to let in cool night air. He’d done it without the slightest fuss, so I was thooughly flumoxed when I tried it and completely failed. He took three minutes; I took thirty, sweating the whole time.

The hardest part was getting the shaft of the pole to turn. It felt like I was tripping hugely over boulders and getting jammed solidly between them. No movement, angle, or speed seemed to make the slightest difference. When something did yield–to my excited pleasure–it would sieze up again immediately. I was even then consciously trying to find the “feel” of it that I knew must be there. For the life of me, though, nothing came.

Now that I’m more practiced, it comes like I knew it would. In fact, mostly even more easily: fluid, very little effort, a nicely engineered tool. But amazingly, to me, it seems to have nothing to do with any technique I’ve discovered. As with my swimming, it seems to be almost entirely that I’ve gotten the “feel” for it. I watch in amazement as the windows open as smoothly as can be, and I have very little to do with it. I don’t know anything more than I knew before. All I know more is that now I can do it.

But there’s something so crucial in that inner-listening “feel” to things! It’s like the Tao of the world, something that underlies all our activities, that makes thing magically easy, if we just can learn how to access it.

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