"Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive." -- Elbert Hubbard
Last week I was offered another lesson at the indoor pool where I swim. Sunday, it seems, has become everyone's favorite day. The pool was packed. Lane designations are important when it's crowded, and two lanes are reserved for slower, leisurely swimmers--like me.
So, I was in the first leisure lane with two other swimmers, while another very slow swimmer was in the second lane. Things were flowing well until three guys got into the second leisure lane with the slower swimmer. They were much faster and kept running into him--literally.
I got upset and finally spoke to the guys, who had gathered at the end of the pool as I was getting out. I was fairly centered, friendly, curious, and assertive. I asked if this was a new pool for them (no, they'd come a few times), and if they knew that some lanes were reserved for slower swimmers (yes, they knew that). Then, as if in reply to my silence, they said, "We're slow!" I laughed and said they seemed pretty fast to me. At the same moment, they noticed a swimmer leaving the medium lane and decided to move over.
I felt okay about the interaction. Glad that I'd had the courage of my convictions, and also wishing I'd been maybe a little more centered. I like to practice centering by thinking in percentages. And I was maybe 60-70% in that moment. If I'd been 100%, instead of laughing, I might have listened more, and then explained that in my experience at this pool, they were fast swimmers for that lane.
Benjamin Zander, conductor of the Boston Philharmonic, author and motivational speaker, writes about creating a life that works, and the influence we have in helping others to do the same. One of his lessons and best stories revolves around what he calls "Rule #6", which is:
Don’t take yourself so g--damn seriously.
I’m pretty familiar with this mental habit of taking myself too seriously, and have five practices that help me catch myself. They fall into two categories:
1) I meditate daily. A brief time to sit quietly and do nothing each day is restorative over the long term.
2) I exercise. Personally, I enjoy swimming and walking, and do one or both every day.
Rituals and Spontaneous Practices
3) I catch myself. I notice the mental or physical tension and relax. Try it now: lower your shoulders, lengthen your spine, and feel the weight of gravity rooting you to the earth's surface.
4) I breathe and smile at myself. You can do this anytime: exhale and focus on your breathing. Notice how it moves in and out of your body. Count breaths and smile internally. You'll begin to get your perspective back.
5) I do something for me. Have a cup of tea. Take a walk. Read a book. Move. Dance. Sing. Go out into the garden. Look out the window. Do what works for you.
So maybe I could have chosen one of those practices last Sunday at the pool. I could have noticed myself winding up, smiled and relaxed. I could have minded my own business instead of designating myself the "lane police." That's what lifeguards are for.
Did I really need to speak? Was I taking myself too seriously? I'm still not sure. It was a ki moment, and I'm still learning from it. Maybe next time (there will be a next time), I'll smile at myself, relax, take a deep breath, and--like Dory says--"just keep swimming."