Walking on Water

stand up paddle board on the bayou

One path I never really dreamed of traveling was walking on the water. I taught swimming lessons for years and know pretty well how to interact with the dynamics of the aquatic environment. I understand pull, drag, eddy, and slipstream. I can find my center of buoyancy and float without effort or tuck and throw my body into a flip. All of these actions happen IN the water, however.

Out of the water, I have studied movement through dance, running, weight training and yoga for the past 30 years. I feel pretty confident on my feet–and even on my head. If my balance isn’t quite perfect, I know how to adjust to seek better alignment. All of these actions happened ON solid ground, however.

You know, sometimes our lives turn topsy turvy. Sometimes the ground under our feet becomes less firm. Sometimes we feel like we are under water and out of control. Sometimes we lose our center. David Emerson’s states in his book, “Overcoming Trauma through Yoga,” that “a ‘center’ is anything around which we organize ourselves physically, somatically, psychologically, and/or emotionally. In this context, a center can be our family, our job, our religious views, our community, or our health, as well as our ideas about the world, our psychological profile, and more. The center can also be internal, at the core of our bodies.” When we lose our external organizational centers, we must find that internal one or risk losing our sense of balance and control.

That ability for me was recently tested as I headed out for my first session of Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP). Our instructor taught us the basics of the board, how to paddle, and then took us through some basic yoga poses. I was challenged to find my physical center and keep it engaged, strong, and constantly adjusted to an environment that was unlike anything I had experienced before. The “ground” beneath me constantly moved. I had to compensate for the instability without overreacting. It was like nothing I had done before.

And yet, I have done this before. When my first child was born, sleep deprived, overwhelmed, and under-experienced, I had to find that center, that strength, and that balance. When a friend was suddenly killed on the sidewalk by a car, I felt the solid ground below me slip away. But also when I fell in love for real. When I opened my own business; the dream I had been working toward for 30 years and the most frightening, thrilling ride I have ever been on. These situations tested my stability–physically and otherwise.

Recently physicists tried to find out when energy becomes mass–the so-called “god particle.” Our bodies also have seemingly opposing states of being. At some point we move from somatic (thoughtful) nervous activation to the autonomic nervous system. We don’t have to think about making our heart beat. We don’t have to think to pull back from a hot flame. Can we, like the physicists, understand the forces that create this energy?

Out there on the water, floating and balancing and trying to find my physical center, I discovered strength. And fearlessness. I tried, I fell, I got wet. I tried again. And you know what? I had an absolute blast. It was not only okay to do fall in, it was fun! I kept it up until I could do some of the moves that at first seemed impossible. Maybe I wasn’t actually walking ON the water, but when I did balance on that SUP, it certainly felt miraculous. And I found my source of strength and balance that lies deep within the core of my being.

I don’t have to be a physicist to understand that at some point, that sense of centering and balancing my mass–my physical body–creates a sense of centering and balancing my energies–my subtle body that operates without my awareness. Like the old story about the guy that prayed to win the lottery, but never entered–we can’t really expect miracles without doing everything possible at our end first. When we discover our center under duress, we also discover our source of power and stability. From there, maybe we become a little more fearless, a little less needful and more self-sufficient, and we learn to live life more fully. With a firm sense of our core strength, we know it’s going to be okay if we take a risk. Maybe we fall in. And maybe a miracle happens, too.