I’m not the fastest swimmer or the deepest diver nor am I a glamorous mermaid lounging on a rock and then gracefully sliding off to play underwater. But the sea is my element. I love to dive in quickly, better if there is some sort of swell with the waves breaking onto the high lip of the shore and rushing through the rocks in a slip and slide fashion. I swim far out to feel free and light and spaceless. The colours change incessantly, sometimes light blue, then dark, followed by aquamarine, and then opaque white. Sunbeams penetrate at intervals showing up fish and rocks and jellyfish.
In the summer months, I see the most wonderful rhizostoma luteum with their perfect shaped domes and the two headlights on top that fascinate me. A cathedral of crystallic shapes like the most magnificent curtains imaginable, decorates the underpart of the dome, pulsing so delicately I gasp with delight. Then I become aware of the perfect blue streamers that melt into brown like the tailstrings of a kite, allowing it to cavort and play with me as we circle each other, exploring. I follow each one as they move to the surface and we weave together dancelike and then after a few turns pulse downwards again to delight someone else. I don’t feel abandoned or discarded as I might do with some other companion because I treasure not the quantity of time but the quality of the interaction.
I feel at home in this water that echoes our own being, the saltiness crackling along my lips and crusting me all over until I wash it off with the sweet water afterwards. I love the stretch along my legs and arms through my back and pelvis as I make myself move through the bay. I’m reminded of the importance of each stroke, of each moment of being in this element and take these lessons of mindfulness with me on land. I never know where I am going to go every time I get into the sea- is it right or left or straight out. It just happens and I swim until I am tired or cold or worst of all, have to fulfil a commitment on land.
A day without immersion in the sea is a day without that sense of losing myself in perfect peace - a form of meditation where I can leave behind the exigencies of life and emerge formless. It’s not a compulsion this swimming but a smoothing out of the kinks of living in the world and I know that I leave behind the ageing process, the thinking and planning, the decision making and demands of daily living into my place of freedom. It’s where I connect most deeply with being in this world between the conscious and unconscious. It’s the place where inspiration creeps across my mind like the trailing banners of the jellyfish and wraps itself around my heart.
I grew up in an island surrounded by the sea. It’s a wind and rain-lashed place with huge high seas in the winter and salt laden winds venturing inland for many miles. My mother gave me the gift of swimming by ‘dry’ swimming instruction on a stool in her bedroom. There are photos of me happily in sea rock pools as a new baby. I suffused much teenage angst in short swims in cold seas and long bike rides to churning ice-laden harbours.
I have no desire to be on a fishing boat being followed by shrieking gulls and I don’t long to spend time on these hulking vessels with their rapacious nets but I feel a kinship with pirates like Grainne Uaile the West of Ireland pirate princess who made life miserable for certain English monarchs. Part of me always thinks about sailing around the world, discovering the best swimming places on this planet with scintillating mornings of glistening sea light or dreamy sunsets of many hued glory. My sister is a sailor. Perhaps we should be planning a trip together. She can do the rope and sail work and I’ll commune with the giants of the deep.
I love the way they communicate with their clicks and deep soundings, underwater musical poetry. I find myself making my own set of sounds as I swim and roll and dive and twist. I don’t care if anyone hears me. It seems natural to make these sounds on the water as I move through its changing colours. I let the different textures of seaweed flow through my hands and tuck some into my swimsuit to infuse myself with its healing quality.
When the water is warm in the summer months I can get lost for an hour or two or longer. When I return the sounds of human voices are sometimes too loud on the beach. I try to go swimming when the rank intrusion of the jet skis or the motor boats too close to shore are busy with lunch and not out there impressing themselves with their power. Sound carries so far down into the water and it must be the season of the torture for my friends down under. Sometimes they come close to greet me as if to say, well you took your time getting here today. Others well trained against the two-legged variety, fin as fast as they can away from me, or hide under rocks until I give up and go in another direction.
I take a while to come back into myself. Sometimes I reach the beach too quickly and then have to loll at the edge until I’m back into this non-liquid world again. I reassemble myself slowly, walking carefully over stones to the showers, showering off my veneer of salt and gradually moving back into the practical woman who has to drive a car, cook, clean house, make phone calls, drink coffee, write. I look out again at the sea and sometimes wonder why I got out. Ah well, there is always tomorrow.