We approach the barista for a refill as our morning chat expands into a robust conversation. Our light-hearted discussion moves to a more profound exchange as I share I am “swimming in awareness.”

I have been pondering this observation and affirmation for several days. Earlier in the week, a friend acknowledges and affirms my current state. While it is not obvious to me, her observation causes me to pause.

While my journey has been an intentional path to awakening, my experience has often felt more like waves of momentary clarity. These waves often leave as quickly as they arrive.

Sometimes waves move slowly, allowing us to prepare for the joy of the splash. We can see and feel the anticipation of the experience. Other times, waves arrive with a force that catches our attention in an unexpected way.

As a child, I recall standing at the shore filled with anticipation as the waves approach. There is a moment of clarity and pure joy as the salty ocean spray touches me and leaves me refreshed on a hot summer day.

This memory is quickly replaced by a recollection of a large wave quickly gaining momentum that knocks me off my feet. I am left in a momentary state of confusion before catching my breath and feeling the burn of the saltwater as it passes through my nostrils.

Whether we foresee waves or not, these moments of awareness bring us into the present moment. There is a break in our rhythm of life allowing us to become present in the moment and aware of what’s happening.

Buddhist teachings on mindfulness point us to the quality and power of a mind that is aware of what’s happening without judgment and without interference. Mindfulness is viewed as the key to the present moment.

Mindfulness serves as a mirror reflecting on what is happening while keeping us connected to everything around us. Mindfulness and awareness sit together, one sees the wave exactly and the other takes in the nearby beach, sky and clouds.

Most of us seek to increase our awareness, yet we often become distracted by noise, judgment, feelings or emotions. At times, we are resistant to the awareness that emerges as we search for a waterfall of awakenings while they emerge as drips, trickles or leaks.

During these times, we may also have periods of drought as we pine for the past or hope for the future. We often swim against the tide or resist the urge to float or refuse to be lifted by the water. If we are not careful, we may even drown in a river of awareness that feels too burdensome.

Even though we seek to be mindful and to be aware, when swimming in awareness, we may ask ourselves: Will our arms be strong enough to move the water? Are we comfortable with our own strength or frightened by it? Yet we may also ask ourselves: Can we be shaped by our awareness or adapt to it rather than resist it or be consumed by it?

There is a Taoist story about an old man who accidentally falls into a river. He is aware that the river rapids will lead him to a perilous waterfall. There are bystanders who fear for the man’s life as they watch the water carry him downstream. They are amazed as he reaches the bottom of the waterfall unharmed. When the bystanders ask him how he managed to survive, he shares that he adapted himself to the water. He allowed himself to be shaped by the water. He leaped into the swirl and he came out with the swirl.

While there are various accounts of this story, I always marvel at the man’s ability to swim in awareness, simply allowing himself to be carried and shaped by the water.

I’ve never been a strong swimmer and the ability to float has eluded me. Yet as an adult, I learned to swim in a pool on a rooftop deck in New Orleans, overlooking the Mississippi River. When I stopped resisting the water and allowed myself to adapt to it, I learned the joy of swimming.

As we finish our second cup of coffee, I share that my current state of swimming in awareness is a gift. It is a gift that provides joy and clarity as I continue to adapt and to be shaped by the movement of the waves. We both agree the wonderful thing about mindfulness is that we can keep beginning again with each new wave.

Teresa Schulz is a spiritual director, author, retreat facilitator and health care chaplain. She is the founder of Tools for Intentional Living and Transformation (TILT) and co-founder of MaineSpiritus. She can be reached by email at: [email protected] blog: mainespiritus.com

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