Earlier this week I got trapped in a vortex at the local adventure pool. For some reason the staff had cranked up the current. It was perhaps an early morning prank. Before I knew it I had been sucked into a little side pocket of the main pool and I was going round and round in circles. While I wasn’t being sucked under the water, it still felt a little scary bobbing about in tight circles and it took a while before I realised I was really failing to liberate myself back to the main pool.
Fear and giggles were present in equal measure. Having just swam my usual laps I was looking to relax in the heated pleasure pool, but instead ended up fighting the elements.
Then I realised the irony. One of my main life lessons right now is to approach life events with a gentle soft attitude instead of initiating actions based on fear. So I took a deep relaxing breath and allowed myself to be taken on another swirl around the cubby hole while softening into the next move. I realised that I needed both to surrender and to use strength. I also realised that timing was of the utmost importance. And by now a real sense of fun had taken over. A challenge.
I relaxed into the moment and then, allowing my body to ‘sense’ the right timing, I grabbed onto the side and used all my strength to heave myself into the relative freedom of the wider pool. While the current continued to pulse equally strongly in the rest of the pool, I could now allow myself to be carried along, floating on my back, playfully surrendering to the tide feeling like a dolphin or a fish. And thus playing with the water that had seemed to entrap me just moments ago, I made four victorious rounds through the adventure tunnel before seeking the showers and a well-deserved breakfast.
When disaster strikes in life we tend to stiffen up. For some people this stiffened up stance has become so habitual they no longer know how to relax and be playful. Some abuse alcohol or drugs to escape from this corset of seriousness. I imagine it feels like setting up home on an imagined front line in the fight with Life, swords or guns constantly at the ready, while the mind works overtime to anxiously try and figure out the next survival strategy. Once we become cognisant, as children, of expectations and demands, of projections and judgements, we begin to carry a plan inside our heads of what direction life should be taking. Add in a few disappointments and outright trauma’s and our defence mechanisms solder these patterns even more firmly into our psyches.
The words; “This is just how I am” are the saddest ones to hear from a client, because very often it is the very opposite.
When these mind plans are thwarted we may consider it a declaration of war by Life itself, like the moment I realised I couldn’t just swim in and then out of the cubby hole. Some direct their anger at other people, while others shake their fists at the gods. Or the people standing around the pool, the personnel who cranked up the current. But really, the answer is not out there. It’s inside you.
One of the quotes that has decorated my kitchen blackboard these past months says; if you don’t like where your life is right now, that’s the not-self speaking.
The not-self speaking. What does that even mean?
Whatever the psychological or philosophical tradition you favour, and whatever other approaches you entertain, as I do, such as astrology or the Gene Key system, there is an underlying thought that we have an authentic self – a ‘true you’. This is the self that we would be most comfortable with in allowing us to navigate life. But this intrinsic self becomes overlaid and contaminated with social and familial conditioning. Many of the people I meet in the therapy room don’t like themselves very much. But once we get down to the work they realise that it’s their not-self that they dislike, because hidden underneath layers of “oughts and shoulds”, expectations and defence mechanisms lies this truer self; A self that is robust and yet yielding. A self that can conquer whatever Life throws at us. A self that is so uniquely you that you never ever have to worry about being anyone else. But you have to have the courage to search for it underneath the layers of crap. Therapy takes you there by a process of uncovering blocks, while Gene Keys provides a possible ‘map’ pointing you at once to where the work needs to be done.
But either way, the work needs to be done!
And re-learning how to play is part of that work.
The fear of losing control can make us ponderous and serious, like a mental planning professional. As one of my friends said; “I don’t think I know what fun time looks like anymore.”
Which brings me back to the pool. My not-self, prone to martyrdom and poor-me thinking would have sought to blame the pool attendants, turn the event into a huge deal, and also have an inner fight with myself whether I should attract their attention before or after rescuing myself. Because after all, what if no one heard me? That would have been too painful.
Instead, my softer and more subtle self yielded into the present moment, giving the space in my mind and body to trustfully anticipate the right opportunity for escape. These days I sometimes get it right. And often I still get it wrong!
Seriousness, tensing up, being tight with fear or anticipation is one of the greatest obstacles to creativity. And yet, so many of us take ourselves and our lives very, very seriously indeed. Think of how children play, how you used to play. They abandon their minds to the vitality of their bodies; surging high on swings and losing themselves in the fantasy of being pirates on the wooden ship in the playground.
We find it so hard to just stay present to the moment. To be present to the flowers in your bedroom, the geese winging overhead, the smell of freshly brewed coffee. And yes, the discomfort of life. It’s not all sweet smelling roses. But when you try to avoid smelling the shit you also lose out on a whole lot of blissful experiences!
To be in that blissful point where things ‘just flow’ you need to have all of you in the right place at the right time. Intuition, instinct, feelings, and physicality are as much if not more part of that process than trying to anticipate events and steer them with your mind. It’s not our mind that will take us to those moments of serendipity, it’s our playful bodies. Serendipity, this wonderful English word for moments of coincidental synchronicity where someone just happens to be in the right place at the right time.
A playful attitude can lead to great surges of creativity. And being creative, whether you’re a teacher, a manager, a parent, a banker, or whatever part you play in this great theatre piece of life, will lead to bliss. When we stop being so terribly serious about everything, so ponderous, so heavy-minded and begin to hold life lightly, we open ourselves to experiencing the pure delight of being in this mad adventure pool of life. Because when it comes down to it, we have no control anyway.
And that’s a relief, not a punishment.
So in the coming days, when the stars auger for a little more playful energy, take the chance to do something unproductive, something silly, something fun. Ask your inner child what s/he wants to do, and then go have some fun together.