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The Deep End of the Pool

Updated: Jan 11

Remember being a kid at the swimming pool? Or watching your own children as they learned to swim? A little scared at first. Sitting on the edge, but too afraid to actually get into the water. Eventually brave enough to venture onto the steps, or cling to the side, wanting so much to splash and play like the other kids, but also terrified of drowning. With inflatable arms bands buoying up your body and your confidence, finally paddling around in the shallow end. It's so much fun there, frolicking and laughing. Maybe even getting bold to the point of jumping off of the side into your parents' arms, feeling safe knowing it's only 3 or 4 feet, and the stairs are close by. But it's always there in the corner of your eye and your mind...the deep end of the pool. That mysterious place where the older kids get to go. You've been warned of the perils of going anywhere near the deep waters until you know how to swim well, so you avoid it with nervous respect. But you glance over there often with curiosity too. The diving board is at that end. Teenagers doing flips and tricks. At first you may think you need to be an expert swimmer before heading into that danger zone. But the truth is, it's not until you finally summon the courage to test the deeper waters that you'll actually learn to really swim. It's a combination of the depth, space and the maturity that comes from facing fears that leads to the freedom. So you hone your skills at dog paddling and floating until the day you're finally ready to swim freely.

If you haven't caught on yet I'm not talking about the swimming pool alone. This is life. I'm talking about the progressions of life. With that in mind, let's go back to the pool imagery for a minute.

Have you ever noticed that as people age the pool behavior tends to go in reverse? After working so hard to earn your right to hang out in the deep end, and having the time of your life there for a few years, if you observe closely you'll see that most people begin to migrate back to the shallow, and often back out of the water altogether. Pool time for adults becomes more and more about wading in hip deep water or sitting on the side dipping in only your feet. Sometimes it's due to chasing your own kids around and keeping them safe, but even when it's not, the older people often are manifesting as more inhibited than the little ones. Maybe just standing back drinking beer at pool parties or sunbathing in chairs watching others. Of course this isn't true for everybody, but pay attention and watch the trends, and you'll see what I mean.

Why in the world do we stop swimming? Some might tell themselves it's because they just don't like it as much as they get older. That swimming with abandon at the pool is for children and they've outgrown it. But I don't think this is usually why. We're no longer worried about drowning, but as we age, other even more powerful and frightening fears emerge. It suddenly matters what others think of us and if we are coming across as cool. Body insecurities crop up in force. We aren't always comfortable in our uniqueness, so we model what everyone else seems to be doing. There's a level of naked exposure at the pool, in the actual sense that we wear less clothing there. But being childlike and playful can also feel intensely vulnerable, revealing the parts of us that are closest to our natural and genuine state. The more pains and rejections we've encountered, the more guarded we become; returning to the shallow to protect our hearts from even the chance of getting hurt. In the shallow end or on the deck we can cover up, literally and figuratively, to project the image we want to convey. It just feels safer there.

It's not surprising then, that people often retreat to the shallow sides of their personalities for protection too. It's scary over on the deep side of life, where all of those powerful emotions reside. Maybe we've been hurt before. Or maybe we seen loved ones who have been. So we develop a fear that we are somehow not enough. That others won't find us beautiful, or capable, or worthy, or lovable. When we "go shallow" we can convince ourselves that we don't care, so it doesn't matter and therefore can't hurt us. Aloofness becomes our armor that helps us feel bullet-proof. Like the player that sleeps around rather than take a chance at falling in love and possibly being abandoned or rejected. Or the person that focuses on the pursuit of money or accomplishments in lieu of close personal relationships. Or those that become obsessed with image and personal appearance to keep life and other people at a safe, superficial distance. Even the one that stays at a secure, steady job they hate, instead of reaching for the vocation that calls to them, in case they might ultimately fail. Failure doesn't crush us as hard if we never cared much in the first place. The walls we build around ourselves create pools of shallow waters, that while possibly safer in some ways, also keep us perpetually existing in a shallow way of living. Always sensing and craving that there is more, but uncertain how to access it.

Here's the thing about deeper waters though. They are where the best swimming can be found. One of the most beautiful afternoons of my entire life was spent swimming in the open sea off the coast of Myknonos. Far enough from the crowds to feel the majesty of the water and the world at large. Floating and communing with nature. Exceptionally free and at peace, in a state of mind that could not have been achieved had I remained closer to the shore.

The same can be said of deep connections and pursuits as well. They are where the best of what life has to offer begins. Only the courage to reach beyond the shallow will lead us to lasting love and friendship. To a life of true passion and purpose. To spiritual centering and peace. There is potential for pain in these areas of course. In fact, suffering is almost guaranteed. But also the most exquisite joy.

It is worth the risk, the effort and the baring of the soul to brave the deep and then not retreat from it. isn't really safe at all if it becomes the thief of of a life fully expressed. So keep swimming. Just keep right on swimming.

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