Swimming Lessons

Remember learning to swim? Or better yet, the moments before you learned to swim? Remember that instant when you became aware that the instructor had removed their arms and you realized you were actually floating? How many of us panicked, grasping for anything that seemed safe, wriggling and struggling, gulping and swallowing buckets?

Before mastering the “float” the pool was compelling as long as you could find footing or the edge. Or when the teacher’s outstretched, supportive arms allowed you to hover, gazing upward, the water just barely covering your ears and blocking out sound granting that feeling of suspension, free from gravity in a muffled world all your own– able to hear your own heartbeat and the sound of each breath —it was magic.  Your body was encouraged to relax and let go. It was liberation from earthly ties, deliverance to a private realm.

Then when the instructor pulled their arms away a momentary sense of panic took over and as your muscles clenched you began to sink. And then imaginary alarms screeched in your head. Water filled your nose, tears might have filled your eyes. It had been sublime and then it became so scary. Even though you knew someone was right there to save you from drowning, you couldn’t help your reaction.

We came to know in time that the water would have buoyed us. If only we had stayed relaxed and trusted.

Relate that to how it feels when you have been putting your all into your work and it’s SO close, but not yet right. And you’re just not sure what to do. But that area to the lower left, or the upper right, or smack dab in the middle is just not working and then….? What? Do you freeze up? Get tighter? What happens? Do you hold your breath and hope for the best?

When you’re at that point, step back. Relax. Get some distance. Hear your own heartbeat. Listen for your breath. Move to another painting. Know that you will not “drown”. There is no failure. Getting to where you are was the value in the endeavor. It’s only paper or canvas–a surface that can be re-worked. The gain will come from practicing risk and trust.

This week see if you can find a way to believe that you’ll make it to the other side of the pool.  Make it your job to find your own personal “water wings”.  Is it the music, is it working upside down, or with eyes closed?  Try using something as a printing tool to take the onus off your brush? Perhaps it’s using a new tube of paint or passing your work to a friend for just one mark–one that serves as a catalyst– a life line. Find a way to float to resolution rather than struggle to get to the edge.

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