When you live on an island swimming is second nature.
When you live on an island and you have a fear of water it can feel like being offered an ice cream but not being allowed to eat it. It means you don’t get to take part in all the swimming pool birthday parties but stay clinging to mum on the beach instead.
On an island the fear of swimming can be a serious blow to a child’s self-esteem and his playground cred.
‘Cool’ in the pool is like cool in the playground or not.
When O found out I ‘do’ water he was already 7 years old and his fear of swimming kept him from playing with his mates. Arm bands where simply no longer a good image. Most importantly, however, contacting me was the first time he himself requested to confront his fear.
Crucial in dealing with any fear is that it comes from within.
Fear likes to be seen, acknowledged and to feel that it is in control. Its very purpose has been to protect the person from a perceived threat, usually for a very long time. I feel that in most cases if one tries to confront fear directly it will dive deeper into the fear of itself.
My first meeting with O is on land. I do not enter the water on the first day as a matter of course.
I asked him to walk as close to the outdoor children’s pool we would be using as he could and to stop when he felt the fear getting too much. He stopped a good twenty meters away. This gave us both a visual clue as to the ‘length’ of his fear and a measuring mechanism with which to monitor his progress.
The second important step was to agree upon the STOP code he would use, in or out of the water, when the fear got too much.
A debatable point of discussion particularly in dealing with the fear of water is whether its unraveling needs to be as traumatic as the fear itself? For some swimming instructors dealing with this important point of transition is by pulling the kick board unexpectedly away from the novice swimmer when they see fit.
Being pushed into the ‘deep end’ like this can work well for some but traumatize others even further or even for life.
During the time O and I worked together I never betrayed our STOP code once and I always made a point of reminding him that at the beginning of every session. In O’s case I knew a lot of patience was necessary. He did, however, have an unbeatable advantage.
As a kindergarten student at Iliaxtida school in Corfu, he was taught how to center himself and to practice mindful breathing.
Combined with a natural sense of determination O demonstrated the courage of an adult warrior and a heart wrenching effort to work through his fear. He rarely faulted, he seldom turned back and he was crystal clear as to his limits at every turn. O swam and joyfully went under water in less than two months.
My intention was not to teach O how to swim. My intention was to transmit my own love of water and the peaceful pleasure I feel when I am in it.
I do not fear water and so O’s fear did not find a match in me. I loved his fear deeply and willfully transmuted it through my heart. I mirrored his courage, his strength and the magnitude of his conquest until a smile rose to his lips and replaced their usual tremor.
I never lost sight of O’s eyes even when he started going under water.
When I think back to the moment O swam on his own for the first time I know I cried but I couldn’t tell you when it happened. The transition was smooth. There was no sudden moment, no pushing, and no forcing. There was no ‘technique’ as such save for a loving presence and a deep acceptance.
The love of water is a gift for life. Thank you O. Thank you water.