Underwater

1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3.

The rhythm of my breathing in the pool should have filled me with joy, but instead, as I tore through the hardest set of laps yet, all I felt was rage.

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I had been swimming for as long as I could remember. I loved the sport and the practices so much that I began to engage competitively. Every day I was at the pool, sometimes twice a day, and with competitions on weekends, my free time was getting very limited. 

At first, it felt good to be called a swimmer. But as I became a teenager, I started to get lost in that swimmer’s identity. I wondered who else I was, outside the sport, and how to connect all my other interests. I didn’t know how all the pieces of my life fit together.

My performance was up and down, and I felt discontented and disappointed, getting angry at myself outside of the water. 

I was still practicing swimming and thought I was enjoying it. I qualified for some high-level club competitions and went to nationals with my high school team. But something didn’t feel right. My performance was up and down, and I felt discontented and disappointed, getting angry at myself outside of the water. 

The strange thing was that even though these negative feelings came from swimming, I also felt better when I practiced. Swimming became both enemy and friend, and though I realized this wasn’t healthy, I thought the problem would somehow solve itself.

After I had felt this way for years, something changed when I went to college in the United States and started swimming on the varsity team there. I was attending a college for Christian Scientists, and as I surrounded myself with friends from all over the world who were approaching swimming from a different perspective, I began to understand that I could rethink my approach to my sport. 

For so long, I’d thought that my times in the pool and how much I was improving were what made me who I am. But being around these new friends helped me start to see that these things don’t really define me—and the sport of swimming doesn’t either. Because swimming is an individual sport, I’d thought that everything rested on me. But my teammates helped me realize that there’s way more to it than my own little unhappy world.

One thing that shifted my mind-set happened toward the end of my freshman year when a team member told me before every race, “Just be present.” Right there, behind the block, as I was mentally preparing myself, he’d sneak up and whisper those words so I couldn’t forget them. This really resonated with me and created a little pause—a moment where I could acknowledge that good was there because God was there. 

I wanted to feel more of that, and something within me told me that this was how things were supposed to be. But how could I feel this way on a regular basis? I had prayed about my races before, but now I seriously committed to praying about my whole relationship to my sport, relying on the ideas I’d learned in Christian Science.

I felt myself falling in love with my sport all over again and more effortlessly expressing all the good, spiritual qualities that come from God.

Two things really helped me. The first was two lines from a poem by Mary Baker Eddy: “O gentle presence, peace and joy and power; / O Life divine, that owns each waiting hour” (Poems, p. 4). To me, the presence of God means the presence of good. And knowing this helps me recognize that I can be conscious of good and also feel the strength of God’s power behind me. “Each waiting hour” reminds me of the need to shift my focus from the times I was getting in my races to what God was doing in the moment.

I also prayed with the idea of what it means to “be present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8). This verse helped me realize that I was actually one with God, so I didn’t have to feel anxious or angry; instead, I could feel God’s comfort before my race and in the pool.

I worked with these ideas, praying with them over the span of two years. With this work came an unfoldment of good in every aspect of my life. I felt myself falling in love with my sport all over again and more effortlessly expressing all the good, spiritual qualities that come from God. This in turn strengthened, expanded, and spiritualized my sense of identity, and I could see how all these qualities connect to every part of my life, including my interests outside the pool. I found a sense of wholeness in knowing that I’m spiritual, and that because all these qualities come from an infinite source, I have them to express without limit.

Now I know not only what swimming is truly all about but also who I am.

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