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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Winfrey

Swimming Lessons

The lesson that resonates most is this: What seemed impossible eventually became easy if I didn't panic but trusted in this Love.

After nearly drowning in my first race, I can’t explain why I went back in the pool, except that I was searching. I wanted to know I mattered. I was escaping from a home where my brother hit me often and my mother was absent. I originally thought winning a trophy would fix that, impossible for the scrawny swimmer I was.

I could barely make a stroke without choking. One agonizing lap across the pool left me breathless for minutes. Yet I stuck with it, slowly learning important life lessons while swimming almost every day for the next 12 years.

I learned to cooperate with the water. It repelled me when I slapped the surface, so I tried curving my hands to enter smoothly and pull through quickly. I began welcoming the water as a friend, not an enemy. When I put all of my being into the practice, my endurance and confidence grew. The harder I worked at it, the stronger I became.

Part of it was trusting in the unknown, sticking with a routine even though there was no immediate hope for reward. I kept hoping that maybe, if I persisted, I could become a champion.

I did, eventually. But that was a long time ago and now I'm old, reflecting on the years between. What stuck with me most is not that fleeting sense of achievement that I had as a child. Interpreting those memories after another six decades of a life full of success and failings, joy and tragedy, I see that it was then that I had looked inside myself and found strength -- an unbreakable conviction that I'm loved and that I matter, not for any victories, but because I am.

The lesson that resonates most is this: What seemed impossible eventually became easy if I didn't panic but trusted in this Love.

Later, when I became an adult and entered a world full of challenges that aren't as clear cut as swimming to the other end of a pool faster than anyone else, I needed this more than ever.

By the time I was 35, I had divorced an alcoholic husband and was raising my two sons alone. We had a rough time -- little money, even less support, long days working two jobs while studying to get a degree so we wouldn't become homeless. That's when I started my contemplation practice, and it helped me intensify my focus on trusting the Love within me. We got through it.

Our true self is not defined by awards or recognition. Each of us matters. By comparing ourselves to one another, we ignore the beauty of each person’s uniqueness. I learned I was important as myself, not as what others think of me, or what I accomplish or have. I learned our hardship and suffering do not define us but make us stronger as we encounter True Love in our powerlessness.

These lessons help us in life as well as in our contemplative practice. When we jump in and commit, trusting in an unknown outcome, we find blessings and possibilities. When we put our whole self into this mysterious contemplative way of getting closer to God, we discover a deeper truth within. When we cooperate and stick with it, the rewards are immense. Our contemplative journey is not about comparing, gaining, or earning. It is about consenting to Love’s Presence flowing within, especially in our struggles.

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