Becoming Aware of the Water We Swim In
On this morning, a morning like any other, I rise to a new kind of thinking. It is not that I’m altogether different, but rather that my thoughts are forming in a new and different way.
There is an undercurrent that has changed. In the simple course of my before-bed-routine of brushing, flossing, undressing, slipping between the sheets and finding comfort and solus next to my warm companion of so many years, reading a few pages of a light novel, the feeling of my eye lids becoming heavy and relaxation in my body, slowly placing the bookmark in its spot and laying the book on the night stand, reaching carefully with eyes already closed for the off switch to an LED lamp, and within an instant: sleep.
Dream state took hold, which lead to a mid-night trip to the bathroom, only to return to my sanctuary of comfort and warmth and to the mystical realm of dream state.
There were dreams, perhaps many, although their memories are not within my grasp. There is a restfulness that I feel, but that’s not it.
Taken together, the routine, the sleeping, the dreaming, the close proximity to the one I love, and most important of all, the journey into my soul: the questioning, the venturing, the exploration, and those rare few times in which I’ve faced into the fear that felt like death.
Death, not in the literal sense. Death in a very real sense of how it actually felt — that if I faced this emotion, excavated this memory, faced this truth, that I would truly die.
In those rare moments, of facing the fear that felt like death is when the change took place. At first it didn’t seem like a change, just a revelation, a release, a feeling of calm. And yet, that feeling of calm was itself the change, the transformation.
Underlying the fear was an uneasiness. That was the undercurrent that had driven my life for longer than I can remember. It was subtle. It was as if I was a fish swimming in water. The water was fear and uneasiness, but since the water was my environment, I was not aware of it. It was only when I would try to swim with vigor would I feel the resistance of the water, and in those moments become vaguely conscious of the environment in which I was swimming.
Something was impeding my free flow of life. Something would hold me back when I wanted to go forward. The constriction prevented me from swimming with grace and alacrity, like in the dream state when I’m running from something I fear and yet I can’t quite get my feet fully on the ground enough to gain traction.
In those rare moments when I faced the fear that felt like death, I became momentarily aware of the water. For a brief second I saw the code of the Matrix. I saw what was constraining me. But seeing the water didn’t make me fear it any less. The fear felt real, and was to me.
And yet facing it, lessened it. The fear lessened, not by seeing it but by feeling it. When I felt the fear is when the change took place.
The change that took place was a recognition that my thoughts were forming in new and different ways. My thoughts are different. The undercurrent. The thing that’s been ever present for as long as I can remember. The water that I couldn’t see but was only minimally conscious of.
The water is changing.
The water is becoming lighter and softer. I am becoming more able to swim with grace, unencumbered by the resistance, the resistance of the fear that once felt like death, and now only feels like a nuisance.
My thoughts are now forming more freely without this resistance.
I’ve heard it said that if we change our thoughts, we change our reality. But changing the undercurrent, the constantly running narrative, has always seemed like a daunting challenge. Yes, I’ve done affirmations, daily meditation, time in nature, purification ceremony, twelve-step recovery, rebirthing, EMDR, dream work, and so many others — always in pursuit of changing my thoughts and my reality.
I’ve discovered that while all these modalities have helped me in significant ways, the one thing that has brought the change more than anything else has been the infinitesimally small moments of time in which I’ve made a conscious decision to face the water, the resistance, the fear that feels like death.
It’s been the choice to face the fear that has led to the change in the undercurrent, and as the undercurrent has changed, my thoughts have changed.
Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” This quote has been widely celebrated, as it somehow seems to resonate within so many of us.
I’ve come to discover that as I change the undercurrent of my thoughts, my inner narrative, I become the change.
Engaging in political discourse has become one of the most distracting, and at times frustrating, conversations. In particular when held with family members who reside in a place of polar opposition to my own ideology. There is a feeling that I can somehow change them by giving them the right piece of information — informing them of those things that they have previously been uninformed of. I think I can argue them into enlightenment.
But this never works. And the reason is that our political beliefs are a mere reflection of our personal undercurrent — the water we swim in, the fear that feels like death.
It’s easy to see why change is so hard when we peer into our deepest fears and feel it. It’s not rational. It doesn’t make sense that it would feel like death. But it does.
It feels like death because we’ve held the fear for so long that it’s become like a brother, a sister, a trusted friend who is always at our side, through thick and thin, ever present, always dependable.
To lose that . . . feels like death.
To face that . . . we become the change.
It’s the undercurrent, the subtle barely felt impression that affects everything — the water we swim in that we can only begin to perceive when we try to swim against the current. Then we perceive it, then we consider facing it, which is when we feel the familiar old friend called fear.
If we choose to face it, to feel it through and through, the fear begins to dissipate, and as it dissipates our thoughts change and we become the change we wish to see in the world.
This, truly, is how we change the world.