It’s the fifth class and Cynthia still has one hand gripping the wall when she tries a front float. And this is in water that, when she stands, comes barely up to her ribcage. Her personality is relentlessly upbeat. She has responded positively to what she has accomplished thus far; she has put her face in the water. She has felt the water on her face, in her nostrils, and not freaked out. She has felt how her legs float toward the surface when she puts her face in the water, how her body is buoyant. But after trying unsuccessfully to let go for three classes, I guess even she must be getting frustrated, and I guess correctly.
I ask if she’d like to change the subject. She is a sport but she is wondering, change it to what? This is about as basic as it gets, isn’t it? I suggest since she’s comfortable floating while holding on, why not hold on comfortably with both hands and let her body feel the float, nothing else. Don’t even think about letting go.
She puts her face in the water, her hair floats on the surface, her back emerges, her legs rise. Here is her front float, and I can tell she feels it. I keep my hand lightly on her lower back so she knows she will not drift if she does let go…which she does. Immediately the impulse to re-grasp the wall kicks in, her nerves seize up, but there is a gap, one second, two, before she grabs a hold. I point it out. She noticed it too. How about doing it again, going back to that same place, two seconds, no more.
She goes into her front float. The same sequence, the float, the letting go, the spasm to re-grasp the wall, the resistance, the clock ticking one thousand one one thousand…she grabs the wall.
Are we getting somewhere? Am I adding another layer to her frustration?
What would she like to do?
Do it again.
This time there’s no spasm to re-grasp the wall; she just goes into the float after she lets go. Three seconds, four, and then the curtain falls and she thrashes for a handhold.
What happened there?
It was like I heard a voice.
And what did it say?
I don’t know.
Listen to it. See what it says.
It said, “YOU’RE GONNA DIE.”
In the long term, I say, what the voice is saying is true, but in this particular moment it is telling a big fat lie. You’re in four feet of water. I am standing right next to you. The lifeguard is ten feet away. Unless you have a heart attack or an asteroid hits, neither of which is likely to happen, you’re not going to die right now, so you don’t have to listen to that voice right now and that’s all that matters. Right now. You can hear it without listening to it. Almost everybody has a version of this voice, saying things like you’re never going to get this, that it will never be fun, saying you don’t even deserve the fun. Your version plays its trump ace. YOU’RE GONNA DIE.
Don’t listen to it. It lies. It is not your friend.