Life Beyond The Swans

“The comfort zone is the great enemy to creativity; moving beyond it necessitates intuition, which in turn configures new perspectives and conquers fears.”
Dan Stevens
It has been said that when you do something outside your comfort zone, something different, something that stretches you, that you actually create a new pattern in your brain. As much as I have done some adventures that have challenged me, sometimes I have to laugh at myself when my wimpy side comes up.
For six years now I have co-facilitated a women’s retreat with my good friend Joan Borysenko at Kripalu Retreat Center in Lennox, Massachusetts. At the base of the property is a beautiful lake that I immediately go to as soon as I get there. I’ve written many times about my passion of being an open water swimmer, so you’d think that I would just dive right in and start swimming. The truth is that I swim in the little roped off area on the lake and never go beyond the plastic swans that mark the swim area. The reason why? Grass that comes up from the bottom that feels slimy and creepy and not something I am used to having touch my skin. I would swim in the 3 feet of water for 3 strokes and turn around but never venture out beyond the swans. Until today.
I have a friend who lives right near Kripalu who migrates to my area to escape the cold of the east and swims on my team in California through the winter. When Ray heard I was coming to his town he said, “Oh when you come this summer you have to swim with me in the lake at Kripalu – it will be so fun!” I smiled one of those sick smiles at his invitation, thinking of the slimy grass and whatever creatures of the deep could be lurking in that lake beyond the swans. I was hoping he would forget by the time summer came around, but the invitation was set – 9:00am Friday morning. How could I get out of this?
That morning it was a beautiful clear day and the lake was glassy and still. I looked at the boundaries of the plastic swans, and as Ray and his friend John jumped in and started swimming I knew there was nothing else I could do but just go. With my heart pumping, I immediately felt the slimy grasses on me but kept my head up and moved my arms as fast as I could to get out of it…and within a minute I did. The grass gave way to deep clear water that felt great. I looked around and saw the trees and beautiful blue sky and was in heaven. We swam to the other side of the lake for an hour. How could I have let the plastic swan barrier keep me from this for so long (and it made me wonder how many other things like this could I be doing in my life)?
I realized that this is what a portal feels like…that sometimes I have to just push through something hard right before the nirvana stage. This happens when I swim in the San Francisco Bay – that initial jolt of the cold that gives way to the beauty of the bay, or the nervousness before I do a retreat that gives way to the satisfaction of seeing people happy and empowered, and let’s not forget the jitters before a performance that gives way to a sweet connection with the audience. It’s moving through whatever those fears are and breathing, trusting, surrendering and moving into the mystery that can bring me treasures beyond my wildest dreams. So those swans? I won’t let them stop me again!

Just Show Up

“Sometimes the bravest and the most important thing you can do is just show up.”
Brene Brown 


Last month I wrote about training and getting psyched up to be part of a relay race across Lake Tahoe. The race took place on July 22nd and there were 190 teams consisting of 6 people each swimming the 10 miles across the width of the lake. I had been nervous about the cold (turned out to be “warm” – meaning I didn’t shake for an hour after I swam), and about swimming longer since we did the race with 5 people instead of 6 (no biggie – we all just got in the groove and swam more legs), and all the other variables that could go wrong (but nothing did – just fun and sun!). We had a great boat captain – Ian – who drove our boat and gave us a great course that resulted in us finishing the race in 5 hours and 29 minutes.
When we were done I reflected on how I felt the very first time I had done this race. After years of being a pool swimmer and just seeing the black line at the bottom of the pool, there was something so deeply satisfying at looking at the other side of the lake and realizing we had swum all that way across. When I got home I pulled out one of my scrapbooks and found a picture of my first Lake Tahoe swim team from 1982 (!) and realized I have been doing this swim off and on for 35 years! Longer than our 28 year old captain Ian has been alive! I started to feel really old until I realized that I have actually been living one of my favorite mottos: “Just Show Up.”  I have done this swim through the years with so many different kinds of teams – some were out to win, some just had fun, some were way to serious for me. There were times when I felt slower or faster, swims where the lake was like glass, and others when there was rain and eight foot swells. But I kept showing up.
Maybe that is what spiritual practice and life is all about. Just doing it. Just showing up to meditate, or pray, or sing, or listen to a friend, or write that book that has taken years to do, or in my case going to swim practice in the dead of winter when there is frost on the ground because I know in the summer I’ll be swimming in a cold lake and I want to be in shape to do it. It also means showing up for a friend when they need you, or pushing past the discomfort when there is something in the air that needs to be said, showing up for yourself in terms of your own self-care and nurturing. In other words: making the commitment no matter what the obstacles are, and pushing past the whining and negotiating of your “logical self” and just showing up. No matter what.I have always said about myself that I might not be the fastest swimmer, or the most talented singer or songwriter, or the most wonderful speaker or facilitator around, but I do know that I will keep showing up and always giving it my best…and for me that is what it’s all about.


Your Thoughts Create Your Reality

“So this is how you swim inward. So this is how you flow outwards.
So this is how you pray.”
Mary Oliver

Well here it is – finally summer! Finally warming up enough around where I live to put on shorts and kick back a bit. Well, that is the idea…but I am in the process of recording my next CD, traveling to a bunch to fun gigs and retreats, and training for my annual relay race across Lake Tahoe in mid July. Yes, this is what I do for fun – swim in cold water. This year my team and I are all a little more nervous than usual because of the high volume of snow that the Sierras got this winter. While we definitely needed the snow, the subsequent snow runoff is making the lake a lot colder. This means that once again I am being given an opportunity to practice what I talk and sing about: your thoughts create your reality. Yes the water will be cold, but I have learned the power in that wonderful saying: “What you resist persists.” If I clench my teeth and keep saying, “Oh it’s cold, it’s cold, it’s cold” – guess what? It’s gonna be cold! When I practice “leaning in” to the cold and breathing, accepting, surrendering, in a few minutes my body adapts and I am fine. Kind of a great metaphor for life, don’t ya think? I keep working on this one!

The truth is it’s so much fun to accomplish this goal of swimming across the width of this beautiful lake with my wonderful teammates who all share this crazy passion/hobby…and it’s a wonderful excuse to eat, drink, and laugh while supporting and encouraging each other.

Since it’s summer I am taking the time to play a bit more. I am actually having to give myself permission to play during those times when my “driver” voice says I need to keep working….so here is a song for you to join me in allowing yourself to get out and play! Happy summer!