Fear was the theme of last week’s blog. I was preparing to do a 1.2 mile ocean swim as part of a team completing the IronMan Superfrog triathlon. I reflected how the fear of sharks (and any number of other things) can stop me (and others) from even attempting things we dream of doing.

If fear was last week’s theme, then this week’s theme is courage overcoming fear. Last weekend I did, in fact, finish the swim in the Pacific Ocean. Exhilaration was the feeling I’ve been riding early this week — so excited that I met my goal time AND learned a ton about my place in the universe in the process. I’m now doing what I do even better than open water swimming — pondering the bigger questions that arise from such an experience.

At the same time I am more confident in myself and my swimming abilities, I am also deeply humbled, grateful, and eager for the next challenge. Swimming in an enormous body of water reminds you of how small and awesome you are — all at the same time.

Let me expand on five ways in which this experience humbled me:

  1. Doing difficult things is exhilarating. Training for and accomplishing a difficult goal gives me a rush like no other. It’s why I continue to train for triathlons — it gives me an opportunity to train, to try, to fail, and to succeed at physical tasks that often initially seem impossible. When you do accomplish them, you not only get a pretty good rush, your beliefs about yourself and what you can do are forever changed.
  2. Difficult tasks are always a group effort. While I was swimming, I replayed the voices of coaches and friends who had shown me the way — dive under a wave rather than go over it, finish the entire length of your stroke, lift your head slightly when you breath to site the buoys, etc., etc. Even along the course, a few of the lifeguards offered encouragement and advice. Attempting big tasks are a great way to build your support system — because the reality is that you cannot do them alone.
  3. Humbled by the Waves. At one point when I was practicing for the swim, I learned how to position my body to maximize the force of the waves coming to shore. In theory, this task should be easier because you are swimming with the current; but there is some technique involved. You have to put your body in streamline, which maximizes the help that the force of the wave gives you to move forward. If you are in some other position, the wave can actually flip you over as if weight of your body is no greater than a grain of sand. That happened to me once in practice. There’s nothing quite so humbling as being tossed around like a rag doll by an ocean wave.
  4. Fostering Connection. Being flipped around by a wave is also reminded me of my connection to that much larger, natural universe. Diving rhythmically through waves gave me a felt sense of the deeper, primal rhythm of life that always surrounds me. Looking out at the beauty of the sunrise dappling the waves as I turned my head to breathe, reminded me of what a miraculous and beautiful gift earth is.
  5. Enjoying the Hard Things. After many months of training, it is actually possible to enjoy something like a 1.2 mile ocean swim. To be comfortable enough with your stroke and the water to take in the beauty of what is around you, is truly a gift. I’m always in awe of the gift of my body’s abilities and the awesomeness of my natural surroundings.

You definitely don’t have to do an ocean swim to feel exhilarated, humbled and connected. What challenge might you give yourself?