Mindfulness by Terry Wilson–the Buddha, a wetsuit, and hypothermia

“Try to stay in the present,” my therapist said to me. I’ve been in therapy for years; in fact, I’ve retired five therapists before this one. But my current therapist hasn’t given up on me yet. She and I had been discussing how, even if I wasn’t good at meditating, I could still practice using my workouts as a meditation.
“Swimming could work as a mindfulness exercise,” she said. “Just try to notice what’s happening as you swim. Slow down the movement of your arms, your legs; be aware of how they slip through the water and what color the water is and the sky.”
This sounded good since I earned my Pollywog badge when I was six, but I mostly don’t swim indoors because the chlorine is too hard on my skin and hair. Luckily, though, it was still summer and there are a few bodies of water around Santa Fe. That weekend, I talked my husband into going with me to Heron Lake, about a two hour drive north. Since it was the end of August I was hoping the water would not be too cold, but as we got closer to our destination— near the Rocky Mountains—the temperature was hovering in the 60’s.
I was determined to swim though; I’m a little anal about exercising every day. Once we arrived at the lake, I sat in the open car door with my feet on the ground and squeezed myself into my rubber wetsuit. My husband zipped up the back for me, and we walked on the rocks down to the water.
I got in slowly, but damn, it was COLD! I kicked my legs and splashed with my arms as hard as I could to warm up, but it still felt like I was in the icebox. I had asked my husband to time me so I could get a good workout. But then I wasn’t mindful of anything but how long I had been in.
 “HOW much longer do I have before I’ve been in 40 minutes?” I kept asking him. I was aware of how numb my fingers and toes were becoming in the freezing lake.
I tried to swim toward the sun, but it was giving me a headache. I found a warm spot, but then I banged my knees on the rocks because that spot was only a foot deep. I again swam out where it was deeper, and I was shivering.
“HOW many more minutes?” I badgered Mark. I had promised myself that I’d swim three times a week, each swim being twenty minutes. Since this was a Saturday, and I’d only swum once that week, I had to swim two more times.
“I’m going back up to the car,” he said, being saner than I am.
“NO!” I yelled. “Don’t leave me here! I’m too cold!”
“Get out of there, then,” he said. “You’ve already been swimming for….” He looked at his watch. “Twenty three minutes.”
“That’s ALL?” I said. “I feel like I’ve been in here for weeks!” He began walking up to the car so he could get himself some food from our trip earlier to the Farmer’s Market. “How will I know when my time is up?”
“I’ll beep the horn,” he said. How I longed to be walking up that path again….up to the car…but I had to keep moving. If I stopped at all, I’d begin to shake. Shit. I need more bulging muscles on my arms and legs, I thought, then I’d be warmer.
Be mindful, I kept telling myself. Look at the sky! The water is so….aqua….and friggin’ freezing! Arghhhh! Beep the horn, damn it! I silently said to Mark. I watched him as I did every swim stroke I could think of. Backstroke, sidestroke, frog kick, modified breast stroke. My neck was hurting. Everything was hurting. Be mindful, I told myself again. But who wants to be mindful when you’re in pain?
Then I noticed he was walking towards the car…maybe to beep the horn so I could get out? No! All he’s doing is wandering around and munching on chips, that brat. Eating while I freeze to death! What if I drown? Sometimes people drown when they get too cold. Hypothermia! I’m sure I have hypothermia. I’ll probably still be swimming and I’ll go into cardiac arrest!
Finally he beeped the horn. I galloped out of the water shivering and shaking and was so cold that I couldn’t stand still long enough to get my sandals on. So I just ran like I was having a seizure, half falling down and not caring that I was running on dirt and rocks. I was utterly and completely un-mindful, which in the moment, seemed like the far better option. All I wanted was to get into the toasty car and rip off the wet suit (which hadn’t done its job) and get my warm clothes on.
When I finally did, I found a patch of sunlight through the trees before the sun went down, and I sat in it and then I faced the sun. Finally I was able to be mindful, mindful that I had stopped shaking and that mindfulness was not all it was cracked up to be. If the Buddha had ever gone swimming in a cold lake, he’d understand.

Terry Wilson teaches Eng. 120, Exploring Creative Writing at Santa Fe Community College, starting again, fall semester…..and any students who have questions can email her at tmwilson222@aol.com 

9 thoughts on “Mindfulness by Terry Wilson–the Buddha, a wetsuit, and hypothermia

  1. This was an interesting glimpse into your life with Mark and your determination to stay in cold water to get a good work out. I couldn’t do it to be sure! I like the idea of a workout being meditative, you did seem to manage to bring yourself back to the meditation, which is the whole object of mindfulness. Very good work! And a true inspiration to me! Nap time.

  2. A qurky, yet steathily insightful, view of mindfulness. And very, very funny, as only mindfulness of the Terry variety can be…

  3. love how you weave determination and humor, perfect blend
    the cold certainly kept you in the present
    meditation in a wet-suit, is that an oxymoron?

  4. Oh, this is so entertaining and brilliantly written. Terry has quite the knack for crystallizing a situation and conveying the humor in an otherwise not so humorous event. Brava!

  5. Terry, you’ve done it again! I shared this story with a co-worker today, and we were absolutely helpless with laughter. I loved your style, blending both mindfulness and wetsuits in the same hilarious piece I’ll bet the Buddha himself was cracking up. Great job! Can’t wait to read the next one!
    Susan W.

  6. Very Funny Terry!!! Sounds like something I would do. Why are we so hard on ourselves, excercise is supposed to be good for us dammit. LOL! Love the title too; The Buddha, a wetsuit, and hypothermia. CLASSIC!!!

  7. Very funny and self revealing. I think it says volumes about the power and tenacity of obsession and not so much about “mindfulness”.

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