I Went for a Sunday Morning Swim

Posted by on April 30, 2017

A Study in Desire and Letting Go
By Yao Xiang Shakya


It sounds lovely, doesn’t it….to go for a morning swim. Well, actually it was but not without the possibility of obstacles. As I’ve thought about this the obstacles are akin to the undertows in the ocean, the rip tides, the jellyfish, crabs and even seaweed that floats up and sticks to the skin.The stuff that bugs us. In technical Buddhist language this stuff is called the fabrications in the mind and body. They are the obstacles and they are what we need to relinquish until we relinquish the magical ego.

First, let me explain the obstacles arising in a Sunday morning swim.

I swim at a local Y in a 5 lane lap pool. In many ways a fine, fine place to swim. Sometimes, however, the schedule for the pool is such that we lap swimmers, those who go to simply to do laps, limits the use of 3 of the 5 lanes. Now the pool is small with narrow lap lanes making it crowded with two swimmers per lane.  If you do the arithmetic, it becomes clear there are 2 lanes open for lap swimmers which adds up to 4 swimmers. This Y is in a big city….which means it is very good luck if you show up to swim and are able to get into a lane. It borders on miraculous. Immediately there is an opportunity to be grateful on the one hand and irritated on the other. BUT….wait a minute. Both the possibility of good luck and bad luck are in the mind as a mental formation. A mental fabrication that the magic ego uses to cling to the object of desire….does this sound familiar? I hope so.

The swimmer always takes a chance when he goes for a Sunday morning swim. This is true for every moment, for every person, for every situation, for every place. OK? Life, for the ignorant, is a crap shoot. But let’s get a closer look at the crap shoot for the swimmer as an example of what happens.

The undertow and rip tide of anxiety of those who show up to swim is held in check (thanks to our being trained to be civil) but it is on every swimmer’s mind. And it can be felt in the locker room. If there are lots of swimmers, a sense of urgency infects the locker room. If there are only a few swimmers, the pace to the showers is not a race. STOP. Take a look at how the situation seems to be driving the experience. We tend to think it is the situation, rather than the mental fabrications of the magical ego. The situation is not in charge, the mind is.

It is one reason we practice. To clear the mind of silly fabrications that come up over and over again. Let’s jump back into the pool.

If one is lucky enough to get into the pool, jellyfish, crabs and seaweed may sting, bite or stick to you. If one is unlucky, then one deals with the trash in the sand from being beached. Either way, practice occurs. But only if you know where you are and how the magic ego wants to reek havoc. Of course, the way it reeks havoc is to begin to display desire to get what you want or get rid of what you don’t want….which usually comes with a boat load of emotions.

Let me explain.

Say you get lucky and get into the pool….the same lucky and unlucky situation continues, but now in the pool. Since the lanes are narrow, and the pool is full, one is open to getting struck by another swimmer either in the same lane or the next lane over. It happens, I know. A slap from a swimmer’s foot or hand….stings. Less often, but still very much a possibility are bites from a crabby swimmer who thinks he is somehow being shafted in some way or another and that you are the shafter. Each situation becomes sticky in the mind, and tricks for the ego making it impossible to just swim.

These are the conditions of going for a Sunday morning swim. It is always one or more of these conditions. You might wonder why would anyone (including me) put themselves through this misery. Well, my answer is simple….everything and everywhere, no matter what you do is always one or more of lucky and unlucky conditions. They may come in different shapes, with different names but they come nevertheless. It is the nature of this world….to be lucky and unlucky. It is inescapable unless…..and until we practice….and awaken.

Whoa! To know this….to know this well….requires a sober, even mindedness. It is to reject nothing and accept nothing, both at once. This puts you on your toes. Not to pick and choose what comes your way, but to reject nothing and accept nothing. You have to be awake to the situation with an open (empty) mind.  In other words, it means you need to be like that duck with a wet back….keep swimming and reject nothing and accept nothing.


Let’s go back to the Y as an example. Before you even leave the house you remind yourself lucky and unlucky is right here and everywhere. To be ready to meet lucky and unlucky in every moment and every place all the time. Just meet it without the fabrications of the magic ego. But who is meeting lucky and unlucky? Not me….me wants, craves, hungers to be lucky and only lucky….but there is that which is able to meet what comes without craving. It is the one who rejects nothing and accepts nothing. This is liberation.  

There is a tai chi move where you leave your hands hanging against an imaginary mountain and continue on in the movement….the hands are relinquished to the mountain and are not in charge. YES! Your hands are not in charge. You relinquish them to the invisible world beyond the sense doors….to the something greater which is the vast inconceivable source which can’t be faced or turned away from.  

And if you are not liberated….

Tell yourself to slow down, to wait, to pull back and attend to whatever you are doing at the time….from making the bed to making a cup of tea.

Get ready. Watch the sense doors….and the desire that comes….spot the desire coming up all the time and shun it. Don’t give voice to it. Shun the attachment to the object of desire over and over again. Begin to notice how your mind begins to crank up a desire for or against some-thing. Shun it. Shun it.

When desire comes up in the form of rights in the name of complaint, of wanting to be right and wishes for others to get out of the way, don’t act on any of it. Slow down. Get ready. See what is going on in the mind and relinquish it.

Then….just swim right where you are.

A love affair….


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