Another swim this week! Noticed in the locker room that a few more people were wearing masks. Should I wear one? Before my swim, a strange sound: a woman walking into the shower area fully clothed, including sneakers that were clicking and clopping like she had yaktrax on. Did she? She went into a shower stall to find the stuff she’d left behind.
A nice swim. My googles leaked a few times, so did my nose plug. Did continuous 200s with my hypoxic breathing (3/4/5/6). Near the end, I turned it into 2 400s and changed my breathing every 100 instead of 50.
Three things I noticed:
1 — looking up at the flip turns
During one flip turn at the far wall, I looked up from underwater as I turned. In a flip turn, as you head into the wall you flip on your back underwater, then twist back on your stomach as you push off the wall (at least I do). I looked up while I was on my back, just before I pushed off. I noticed a yellowish-orangish glow. The lights from above water. It looked so cool that I made sure to look up several more times as I flipped. I couldn’t see anything but bright lights, which was a nice contrast to the pale blue of being underwater.
2 — gurgle, slosh, squeak
In a few of my recent log entries about pool swimming, I’ve mentioned that I didn’t hear anything but an occasional squeak from my nose plug. For a few laps today, I decided to listen. I heard some gurgling, a lot of sloshing as the water washed over my head, and a few squeaks from my nose plug. Nothing too exciting, but sound, always there. I guess I usually tune it out.
3 — crud on the pool floor
In addition to the usual specks of junk on the tiles, there was another chunk of white something on one tile, and some fuzzy brown things floating near the bottom of the lane next to me. Sometimes when I’m swimming, I think I see a thing floating off to the side. I check: it seems like nothing. Maybe it is nothing, or the trick of the light, and maybe it is something, some small bit of visual data sent to my brain that my eyes barely saw.
This week, I’ve been working on the class I’m teaching this winter about developing a practice of noticing and wonder and turning it into better words. Yesterday and today, I’ve focused on wonder as delight and curiosity. In the midst of this, my sister sent me a link to an article about the value of being in awe. Excellent. I enjoyed the article and I’m always excited when ideas about wonder, being open, and practicing awe are spread, and yet there’s something about the discussion that bothered me, something that seemed to be missing. Instead of dissecting the article and cutting down the things I didn’t like about it, which I used to do in my past life as an academic, I’d like to offer an expansion to one of the recommendations for how to learn to be in awe:
Distraction, Dr. Keltner said, is an enemy of awe. It impedes focus, which is essential for achieving awe.
“We cultivate awe through interest and curiosity,” Ms. Salzberg said. “And if we’re distracted too much, we’re not really paying attention.”
Mindfulness helps us focus and lessens the power of distractions. “If you work on mindfulness, awe will come.” And some studies show that people who are meditating and praying also experience more awe.
“Awe has a lot of the same neurophysiology of deep contemplation,” Dr. Keltner said. “Meditating, reflecting, going on a pilgrimage.”
So spending time slowing down, breathing deeply and reflecting — on top of their own benefits — have the added advantage of priming us for awe.
In this section, mindfulness seems to be loosely defined as focusing attention on something, being curious about it — the key here is IT. What you’re paying attention to is the object for you (the subject) and your focused gaze. What if this idea of paying attention (and being present to the world, which is another slogan for mindfulness) was reciprocal with the world? What if the world wasn’t the object, but subject or subjects? What if the value of being in awe was not only about confronting the vastness of the world beyond each of us as individuals, but about opening us up to experience how we are connected to/entangled with the world? I am pretty sure that what I’m trying to say doesn’t make sense to anyone else but me right now. That’s fine. Instead of spending the rest of the afternoon trying to make it intelligible (which is something else I would have done in my former academic life), I’ll offer up a poem that I found by searching, “mindfulness” on the Poetry Foundation site. I think this poem speaks to an expansion of what mindfulness could/can be as a creative, imaginative, reciprocal practice — a practice of not just focusing, but looking, seeing, beholding (see Ross Gay here). It’s that eye at the end — not only expanding what noticing is, but (I think, at least) speaking to the eye in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem about the fish. See my jul 7, 2021 entry for more of a discussion of fish eyes and beholding.
Pot of Gold/ Ingrid Wendt
For Elizabeth Bishop, 1911–1979, with gratitude
We talk, you and I, of mindfulness, here in the world above
water, but what’s below is watchfulness,
pure and simple: creatures trying not to be eaten,
creatures relentlessly prowling or simply waiting for meals to
cruise on by. Except maybe parrotfish.
Ever industrious, ever in motion, it’s hard to find one not
chomping on Yucatán limestone reefs. What we see as
dead, bleached coral or crusted limestone shelves, for them
is re-embodied Fish Delight. Which means I find them by
eavesdropping. Ah, those castanet choruses clicking, clacking,
a coven of promises leading me on until there:
below my mask and snorkel, a dozen or more upside-down
Princesses sway as one, in their pink and blue checkerboard
gowns, their long, long dorsal crowns
cobalt-striped, and turquoise, and fuchsia—useless—
no Prince to be found, not even in fish identification books,
just me and my ardor. Bewitched, each day I hang, transfixed,
above them in a slightly different
place in that once-pristine, once-undiscovered Yal-Ku lagoon,
its cradling mix of salt and fresh water
letting me hold myself, and time, and the rest of the world
stock still. Sometimes I’m even luckier: out of the deepest
shadows (as out of my book) ventures
the shy Midnight Parrot, a constellation of neon blue
mosaic scrawled on its head, its body—two feet long—
as dark as blue can get and still
not be black, its parrot beak (that family
trait) munching rocks and shitting sand. Puffs of it,
great big clouds of it, murking the water until
finally settling down
(it’s how, some scientists
say, sandy floors of tropical reefs are born).
But had I dared the slightest move, my Midnight
would have, just like that, become Dawn.
And so it could have been, as well, with that one
tremendous fish, secretive, off at the edge, among
the maze of boulders piled on boulders, broken sandstone
columns, deep channels between them, there—
in a shaft of sun, the end of all my seeking
and what I hadn’t known I’d sought—three feet long, at least
and all alone, clown-sized lips and eyelids the brightest possible aqua
blue in an orange-gold face,
the way a child might rub its mother’s most dramatic
eye shadow onto the most unlikely places:
forehead, cheeks, even the outermost edges of every single
emerald-green fin, even the edge of the deep red tail, its tips
turned up at the corners—that tremendous fish was eating
nothing, that fish wasn’t moving at all, except it turned its head
and one tremendous eye caught mine. And held it. Taut.
Oh, I almost stopped
breathing. And the fish stopped
everything, too, except for slowly pulsing gills—opening,
closing, opening, closing—in sync with my own
pounding heart. Was I
the watcher or the watched? How long did we stay
like that, hooked to one another, held in water’s palm,
as through my every cell, over and over, rang Rainbow, unstoppable
Rainbow, until I had no beginning, I had no end,
Rainbow I was and happily would
be still, had not a wayward cloud blundered in.