The Swim of Things

My eternal struggle with letting go and living in the moment

Photograph by Getty Images/Flickr RF

I've spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars going to therapy, and the one thing that I wanted to happen never happened.

I used to sit in Shelley's office every week and describe how I felt inside.

"This is the way I feel," I'd say, as if we were on "In Treatment," holding out my hand, balled up into a tight fist. "All I want to do is go like this," I'd continue, and slowly open my fist until I looked like Michaelangelo's Adam reaching out to touch the hand of God. "All I wanna be able to do is to let go, Shelley. Why can't I just let go? Why is it so fucking hard?"

Usually, Shelley would just look at her watch and tell me that our time was up, and then I'd make an appointment for the next 20 years.

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I've read countless books about the process of letting go. I've tried breathing exercises and, more recently, meditation. I've told the Shelley "hand-job" story a ton of times, and yet here I am, still holding on for dear life.

I hold on to the way I've always done things, to the unpleasantness of the past, to every painful thought I've ever had. I convince myself that it somehow gives me comfort and helps maintain an illusion of control, but in my heart of hearts, I know the exact opposite is true. And yet I cling tighter and tighter to all these foolish things that have never worked. Resistance is indeed futile.

What am I so scared of? Why can't I just be me? And live in the moment for once? Who do I have to blow to experience true spiritual awakening? I know that it can and will happen when I fully let go and focus on today. I know this because I've gotten a glimpse of it a handful of times in my life: On one occasion, many years ago, when I left my wife for another woman; and another time, when I first learned how to swim.

I was seven and went to sleepaway camp for the first time, and I loved everything about it, except for daily swim instruction. I was a fish who preferred to stay out of water, and this was fine until my counselor caught on and dragged me to the deep end of the pool.

"Jump in," said the jerk.

"But I don't know how to swim," I said.

"Just do it! You won't drown."

"But I'm scared!" I said.

"Fine," said the idiot, "then you can just stand here for the rest of the period."

And that's what I did ... until the end of the session, when two other counselors snuck up behind me and pushed me in. While they were laughing their asses off, I flailed and kicked and desperately tried to keep my head above water, eventually managing to get myself safely to the side of the pool.

"That was your first lesson," said the asshole counselor.

I was swimming in less than a week.

Tags: memoirs