Swimming alone, swimming to meditate, swimming as a release—that was the assignment. How could I fail something so simple? The task was clear, crystal-clear, in fact, like the water. Yet I couldn’t manage to swim with a relaxed mind.
Ok, I got one part right: I swam alone.
As soon as the clock reached 6:00, I bolted from the hotel conference room and headed straight for the pool. It had been a long day of LSAT training, and I was finally free. I thought to myself: what could be more satisfying than ending a day of logic games and lukewarm coffee with a long swim to relax my mind and prepare myself for the next grueling day of mind games?
The pool was small, but “lap-able.” It was outside. It was cold. But a pool is a pool and a swim is a swim, so I jumped into the 5-foot section a sank to the bottom (yeah, I’m short) to get acquainted with the water. But I didn’t calculate that an outdoor pool would be slightly—a lot—more frigid than the indoor one on Furman’s campus. So when my breath caught in my throat and my arms and legs went numb, I quickly paddled to the surface and curled up in the corner debating if I could simply lie about having swum at all. But then I remembered how de-stressing it can be to get into the rhythm…back, forth, back, forth…and to let my mind briefly wander away from reality. So I tightened my goggles, took a deep breath, and pushed off the wall, streamlining toward the 3-foot section. At first it was calming. Every time I put my ears in the water all the sounds from the great city were muffled into nonexistence and I fell into a world forged of silence. And when I lifted my head for a breath the world was back, but only for a second. Then there I was again with my face submerged, alone with my thoughts.
The problem arose about six minutes in. All of a sudden the LSAT was back on my mind. Puzzles, arrows, symbols, problems, graphs, boxes, numbers, numbers, and more numbers. It came on slowly as I recounted my day, but they wouldn’t leave me alone. As I was swimming I couldn’t stop thinking—logic was throwing itself at me with every stroke, with every kick, with every breath, and with every turn.
How do you disprove a conditional argument? If some As are Bs and all Bs are Cs, it is true that some As are Cs? There are six boys and six colored shirts, can Mark wear the green shirt? Does the author have an intermediate conclusion in this passage?
The questions just kept coming and coming. So I swam faster. And as I did so, the logical reasoning followed me, keeping up with my rhythm. They were bouncing off my waves and attacking me from beneath. This was supposed to be my time to unwind, to cool down from the day. I couldn’t allow myself to succumb to games, puzzles, and questions; I needed to make myself impenetrable.
After nearly twenty minutes of battling my own mind, I decided it was time to work with it. I stopped at the wall, closed my eyes, and took a few deep breaths. The air was warm compared to the water. Over horns honking and people yelling and motorcycles, well, just being motorcycles and a terribly bad cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” coming from some 2nd floor room above me, I told myself out-loud to stop being ridiculous. I put my goggles back on and sat on the bottom of the pool for as long as I could hold my breath, wiping the numbers and symbols from my mind. When I surfaced I felt surprisingly fresh and relaxed. But before I pushed off the wall for a final ten minutes in the water, I allowed myself one last puzzle to think through:
If A is B, and B is C, then A is C. If this was my time to swim, and swimming is always a form of relaxation and contemplation, it follows that this was my time to relax and contemplate. Nothing more, nothing less. So that is what I did.
Then, as if the electrical storm of symbols and shapes in my head never happened, my mind fell into a meditative state. The water was smooth and clear. With every stroke, my fingertips gently scooped out a handful of water and pushed it behind me to swirl at my feet. I felt graceful as I cut through the blue, giving the pool wrinkles in my wake. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth—my rhythm was back. I was no longer running from numbers, but swimming toward nothingness (again and again, with every turn). It quickly turned into blissful solitude.
In Bonnie Tsui’s article, “The Self-Reflecting Pool,” she is discussing the phenomenon of swimming and comments that, “for better or worse, the mind wanders” (Tsui). We are given the time, the freedom, as well as the suspension of all sensory distractions when we swim. It just so happens that my mind wandered for the worse, it was my own distraction.