Stay in the moment: Experience timelessness. Enjoy more. Swim better.
by Terry Laughlin

Posted on January 30th, 2011

A post from Naji in the TI Discussion ForumI emailed Terry and Dave Barra (a veteran of 8 marathons, including the English Channel, in 2010) a few months ago about training for a Cook Strait attempt in 2013. In reply, both emphasized that while good technique and time in the water were important, it was more important to train myself to swim a marathon as a moving meditation. While down under I took this to heart, emphasizing being present with the stroke I was taking, not about how far I was swimming. I met with some success, but “Zendurance” as Shane Eversfield calls it, eluded me.

This morning, back home in San Francisco swimming in Aquatic Park, I had a revelation. I decided to focus on two aspects of my freestyle technique – maintaining  proper head position on each breath, and achieving a zen like rhythm.. I picked out a blue dinghy in the middle of the cove as my first landmark. What happened next surprised and thrilled me.

As I moved along concentrating on focal points I arrived at the dinghy in seemingly no time at all. Not winded, no stroke wasted and no break in my thought process. I had been 100% present.  I continued to another landmark called “the flag” and the same thing happened.  Before long I was back on the beach, feeling unhurried, strong, and, for the first time ever, totally satisfied with my stroke, balance, and rhythm.

Three years ago, I didn’t know how to take a freestyle stroke. Since then, I’ve seen my swimming progress by leaps and bounds through direct coaching at beginner and advanced workshops, and helpful information on this forum.  Now I can realistically envision marathon swims — and enjoy practicing for them  in water that is currently 49F 🙂

TI’s meditative approach to practice is artful, practical, spiritual and most importantly helpful in equipping thousands of adults like me to enjoy and excel in the art of swimming.

Keep Swimming!


The most important insight of Naji’s experience is his confirmation that the most valuable capacity one should build in training for a marathon swim (whether your personal marathon is a mile in your local pool, or 20+ miles in open water) is the ability to stay in the moment, fully present with your stroke . . . whether for 30 minutes  or, as Dave Barra has, for 15 hours.

As with aerobic endurance, or neuromuscular movement patterns, you need to train yourself to stay present through practicing exactly that. Sometimes I need a reminder myself, as I learned near the end of the Little Red Lighthouse 10k in the Hudson River last Septermber.

I’d been swimming for perhaps 2 hours when I first got a glimpse of the large colorful balloon arch that marked the finish. I was still a half-mile away.

As soon as I saw the finish I wanted to be done. Until that point I’d enjoyed every stroke. As soon as I began thinking about the finish, rather than my stroke, I felt distinctly less ‘Flow’ — in both the swimming and psychological sense.

It took about a minute for me to realize why I’d lost the flow. When I did, I returned my attention to the moment and stroke I was in, and kept it there for what was likely 10 to 12 minutes, but became timeless.

3 Responses to “Stay in the moment: Experience timelessness. Enjoy more. Swim better.”

  1. suds says:

    The “Little Red Lighthouse” story reminds me of a similar experience I had at a time when I was seriously studying traditional Japanese Karate. Zen meditation was a standard part of our training. Even so, it was relatively “lightweight” compared to real zen devotees. We would meditate for about 45 minutes once a week. I enjoyed it, but I was never able to completely ignore the discomfort that would sometimes set in when I sat in traditional zazen posture on a hardwood floor. We were taught and indeed part of the practice was to learn to accept the discomfort and not fight it or avoid it. One weekend a group of us went to Mt. Tremper Zen Monastery in the Woodstock NY area. At Mt. Tremper they were SERIOUS. It was common for some people there to sit in meditation for 7-10 hours a day. We didn’t attempt that, but for a few days I tried to sit with them for at least 3 hours at a time. Well, if 45 minutes could get uncomfortable-3 hours was a killer. The only sound that was heard during those sessions were a couple of times when the newbies were squirming or trying to figure a way to keep some snot from running down their face (sorry) and one of the monks finally had enough and would shout KEEP STILL or QUIET! Anyway, what reminded me of that weekend (about 20 years ago) was that at one point when my legs were screaming at me I was finally able to stop fighting the pain and just accept that I couldn’t do anything about it. Miraculously, the pain went away and for a short while and suddenly had the wonderful feeling that I “got it”. Of course, as I started to mentally congratulate myself for this “achievement” I was paradoxically ensuring that whatever “state of grace” I had found would be lost. The hurt returned…with another hour to go.

  2. Matthew By comparison, TI seems such an undemanding way to pursue enlightenment 😉

  3. Tom Norris says:

    This blog entry gets at pure Zen.

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