I was never one to wade in the shallows for very long.
When I was a little girl, we lived on a lake. A beautiful, clean, clear lake with lots of fish and sandy shores. I used to love to sit in the warm shallow water and play with the pebbles and the wet sand. Sometimes tiny minnows would swim near enough that I could catch them in my pail and I’d watch them, fascinated, for a few moments before setting them free again.
Playing in the shallows was fun in its own way, and certainly safe, but I longed for more. I longed to explore the deeper waters where the bigger fish lived and the sun sparkled and danced off the waves.
My parents were trying to get a business off the ground so they had little time to spend teaching their youngest daughter how to swim. But I’d watched other people swim, kids and adults alike, and I thought if they can do it, so can I.
But as anyone who’s ever been afraid of the water at any time in their life knows – learning how to swim takes courage. You could drown. People have.
But I was five. And I was motivated by the promise of the bigger reward, the bigger fish.
And so, courageously, I taught myself.
I loved being in the deep water. There was something magical about being completely suspended yet still being able to see the solid lake bottom clearly through the water, even though I couldn’t touch it. I would open my eyes and watch the fish swim cautiously out from their hiding spots, through the rays of sunshine refracted by the ripples and the waves. Sometimes the smaller fish would even get so brave as to swim right up and nibble on my finger tips as they dangled there like little worms before them.
There was so much richness and wonder to life in the deep water. It made me feel so happy. I was exploring the deep in the best way that I knew how, with the skills, knowledge, and awareness I had at the time.
I notice I sometimes do much of the same thing in relationships.
I tend to wade in the shallows a bit at first. People may find me closed, superficial, aloof even. Someone once said I “keep my cards close to [my] chest.”
But once I feel safe, I’m all in. Courageously. Both feet, head, heart, holding my breath, trusting that I will be held and supported. Excited to get the opportunity to watch what beautiful and interesting things happen in that space, in the depth of our feelings.
But it doesn’t always work out the way I expect.
Sometimes, especially in intimate relationships, people get scared by the depth of my feeling. Sometimes, when you go into the deep water of relationships, the fish don’t come out. Sometimes the rays of sunlight that could be there are blocked by an ominous cloud. Sometimes I’m not supported but instead cast about in rough waters, trying to swim, trying to keep my head above water.
Sometimes I have to weigh my options – do I ride it out hoping I won’t drown in the process or cut my losses and doggie paddle back to shore?
Often my choice has been to return to shore. To safety. In the shallows. Where I can recuperate, dry my eyes, blow my nose, maybe cough up a bit of lake water.
When you swallow too much water, there’s that sick feeling that stays with you for a while. Makes you not want to go back out for a while. Makes you want to go have a hamburger instead, maybe stay away from the water altogether.
When my relationships hit rough water, I tend to do the same thing… paddle back to shore. Get out of the water completely. Go have a hamburger.
But a hamburger can’t replace the feeling of joy that I get when I’m in the deep water. It can’t recreate the happiness I feel when the sun shines just right and the fish come out and I feel all warm and supported and magical.
And nothing can replace the feeling of joy one gets from relationships either – from being in that space of deep feeling, watching what emerges and evolves, being held in awe and wonder of the life before you and the love around you.
Nothing can replace that kind of happiness.
But it takes courage to dive back in. It takes courage to trust, not just in the water but in yourself, to allow yourself to float and be supported.
But, as with most things in life, there are no guarantees – it might not be what you expect. And so to dive back in, well, that takes courage.
I want to always be that courageous; that no matter how much lake water I cough up, I’m always going to want to dive back in and give it another try.
And so, I do – once again, courageously happy.