Today at the Santa Monica Swim Center the pool is crowded—there are ten thousand waves—and the water is murky from too much chlorine. A guy swims over me as I turn at the wall. I want to grab his throat but I don’t, because even though there are lane lines, I refuse to have road rage in the pool just because somebody swims like that. Besides, he may not have seen me.
My shoulders are tight, and I’m clunky from sleep as I reach my arm above my head at what would be 12 o’clock. I slap my hand in the water at 4 o’clock to pull myself forward, like my body is a vessel and my arm is an oar. It takes me a while to find my place in the water.
Thoughts in my head seem big, like they are under a zoom lens, but as I swim lap after lap, the landscape of my mind takes a long view. There is a wide-open space there in the cubicle of water, and I know exactly where I am. My breath is part of my movement, and the configuration of my arms, legs, head, and torso feels organized.
I don’t know what it is about pools: they are boxes of water. I once saw a New Yorker cartoon that said, “I do my best thinking inside the box.” The character was inside a box with notes written all over the walls of the box. I’ve found that’s true.
Once you put something inside a box, it becomes more interesting. What’s in the box, we want to know. Is it for me?
Boxes organize, store, and contain things. They are easy to label, even if the label says “miscellaneous.”
When you swim, you are in a literal think tank. The relationship between swimming and thinking is an inverse one: the more you swim, the less you think.
Thinking outside the box is overrated.
I swim a lot, I’m a triathlete in almost constant training, so I know. I swim for hours. People say, “How can you swim like that; are you a fish or something? Don’t you get bored?”
To move through water is easy; it’s a forgiving medium, a foil to gravity. Water smoothes out the rough spots in your body and brain. The brain waves slow down as they do during certain cycles of sleep, and alpha waves—the link between the conscious and subconscious mind—are activated.
Water has no fixed points, so I have to make them up. But before I know it, the water is gone; it’s somewhere behind me, never to be found again. That is what “fluid” means—always changing. I let go without even trying.
I wish everything in life was so easy to let go.
I emerge, having left everything inside the box. I have a softer demeanor and a less furrowed brow when walking to the parking lot, as if I’ve been recombobulated.