Treading water: the life analogy you were hoping for

You wouldn’t think of treading water as an apt metaphor for optimal living. Yet here I was just an hour ago, treading water in the pool, and its benefits unfurled for me one by one, both physically and life-ically. (I’m sighing at this terrible misuse of the language too, I feel your pain.)

Let’s start with the physical:

It was when I added treading water to my exercise rotation several years ago that my body morphed into a more appealing manhood. It was the best shape I’ve been in in recent memory. I only know this because so many people came up and asked me what I’d been doing.

A woman might make a flattering comment — and Ann seemed to rub up against me more often, all the incentive I needed to keep it up! — but it was the guys who pulled me aside to ask what was my new secret. The whiff of disappointment was always thick in the air when I revealed it was treading water.

Inevitably the response was like this, “Naw, come on man, really, you can tell me, what kind of secret workout are you doing?”

Though I was walking and biking and swimming periodically — this was pre-yoga — the one thing that had really changed was that I had begun treading water several times a week. My overall exercise time each week remained the same — I de-emphasized the others to insert treading water into the mix.

Sometimes the treading would be soft and gentle, just a way to move weightlessly while I lost myself in reverie. Other times it would be vigorous, a workout that would leave me sore, and huffing.

Can you imagine huffing when you’re treading water?! Try it with concentrated force, for 20 to 30 minutes, you’ll see.

The trick — like satisfying sex — is variety. Who knew there could be so many ways to tread water? I certainly didn’t, until I began to think like a Marine and improvise.

Here were some other beneficial side affects:

  • Spinal flexibility — maximized! In the water you can undulate like a belly dancer and no one will notice. You may get the water a little frothy . . . but other than that you are little danger to others or to yourself.
  • Joint strength — superior! You may slip into the water aching like an octogenarian, I guarantee you that three months later you’ll emerge twenty-two again.
  • Full body workout — uh hunh!

Now let’s tease out the benefits of metaphorically treading water in life

1) It’s perspective

When I’m in the pool and I’m treading water, to someone else standing poolside it will appear that not much is happening, maybe they perceive a little lazy motion.

I know differently. I know that I’m building up strength and flexibility and stamina. This knowing is a profound difference.

It’s the same in life. Simply knowing — trusting — that you are creating something as yet invisible to the eye when it appears that you are only treading water . . . is sublime experience. It is the mark of a master.

Who doesn’t feel invigorated when the arc of life is propulsive? But to tunnel in and feel the reserves you are building up when no forward movement is apparent — that is being in tune with the infinite. That is finding perfection in the moment.

2) It’s intention

Harking back to treading water in the pool: When it is my intention to live that experience fully — to tread water like it matters — that is when my gains are had.

Isn’t it always the intention? Isn’t that what makes the difference in prison between a Malcolm X and any other prisoner? Malcolm went in a petty thief. When Malcolm did prison he wasn’t just treading water — it looked like it, but no, he was intensifying his commitment to life. And when he came out, he would burst out. Into a new life! Because he’d used a fallow time as a guide to a deeper self.

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