Today was my initiation swim. As luck – or divine intervention – would have it, I was invited to swim Maui’s north shore coast with a pod of local swimmers.
When I was introduced to Max, one of the leaders of our pod, I didn’t know he was a treasure hunter. In fact, I didn’t know anything except for the glaringly obvious – a brilliant smile and one missing arm. I immediately wondered what had happened to his arm and how he managed such a happy demeanor.
I quickly learned that our swimming expedition would begin with a ceremony led by Max. I had no idea what to expect but did as the others did, following their lead.
The seven of us gathered, standing like a military front facing the ocean. On Max’s call, we bent our knees, bowed towards the ocean, and swung our one arm – flipper in hand – high into the air twice, all while making singsong like sounds praising the ocean. We moved in unison to the left, repeating the song and flipper cheers, then circled together to the right, to the left and back to our starting position.
I was captivated, a bit confused, and entirely amused by our ocean ceremony. And then Max told us about the imaginary treasure we would be searching for on our swim. I was befuddled and delighted. “Treasure?” I thought. “I love the imagination in this group.” I giggled on the inside. “Treasure! Sure, I’m game. I will look for a treasure. It’s not everyday I receive an invitation like this!”
With our playful mission at hand and Max at the helm, we headed into the ocean. The current was in our favor leading us easily to our treasure. It wasn’t a pot of gold resting at the bottom of the sea. It was something more precious than gold. It was the tenderness of our human connection itself. Each of us kept and eye on the other, we gave each other space but not so much space anybody was left behind. If one of us accidentally got turned around, accidentally swimming to sea or in towards the shore another swimmer would be sure to get us back on course.
Within the hour we arrived at our destination, the south end of the beach. Before we swam for shore, a closing ceremony was held.
We circled up, treading water, and Max began to yell at top volume. The others immediately joined in. I recognized this vocalization, made for therapeutic reasons, helping to release pent up emotions from daily stress. So, here in the ocean off Maui, we swimmers hollered until our thunderous sounds subsided, and we then launched into voluminous laughter. We were a cackling group of water hyenas, now implementing laughter therapy, each one of us outdoing the other with our belly laughs. Waves of laughter rolled through the group until it was time to head back to land.
After our swim, I discovered that Max had been a known treasure hunter, highlighted by National Geographic. Two years earlier, his life came to a sudden halt due to a boating accident, which completely severed his right arm from his body. At the time, he was given a less than five percent chance of living. Yet, here he was, having just led us on a magnificent treasure hunt in the warm Pacific waters.
Being in Max’s presence, I was deeply touched and somehow changed, perhaps permanently, by his courage, presence and heart. While, I have never lost an arm, my own life has come to its own sudden halts due job lay-offs, financial debt, tax audits, debilitating injuries, family deaths and estranged friendships, to name just a few. Some of these have felt like emotional dismemberment; my sense of self, of others and my understanding of life itself had been momentarily shattered.
No matter the challenge, however, I have walked through the fire of each to come out the other side stronger, more grounded and humble. If I may borrow from Max, life is a journey, a quest for the unexpected treasures.
Here are some of things I learned on along my swimming voyage today.
Share your challenge: Develop a “life” support team. This takes time, discernment and patience. Believe me, it is well worth the effort.
Humans are social creatures by nature. We are designed to heal through community, and the support of others is essential to facing our uncertain times. A missing arm is next to impossible to hide. It literally speaks for itself, alerting others that a great challenge is at hand.
Many of our challenges, however, are not so apparent. Relationship stress, financial challenge, and healthy problems are not as easy to spot. In fact, we are often shamed for not being “strong enough” or able to figure out our lives. As a result, we hide our truths. By keeping secrets, we sabotage ourselves. When we share our truth we become empowered. Truth needs to be shared in order for us to overcome and evolve through our life difficulties.
Select teammates that are non-judgmental, compassionate, good listeners and who are willing to share their own vulnerabilities. Reach out to professional counselors, holistic practitioners, support groups, and specialized organizations who can help you to address your specific challenges.
Let go of self-judgment: Self-judgment acts like a knife severing our connection to the divine and our feelings of worthiness; it masks the beauty of who we truly are. By experiencing challenges, we can become more of who we are. We can become more talented, creative, humble and savvy, if we choose.
Media often depicts examples of unhealthy ways to handle fear. We watch actors freak out, scream, become abusive, ingest drugs, suck down alcohol and, in general, become raving maniacs.
This model of resistance is fairly ineffective in real life. It promotes pain, confusion and more fear. Instead, accept the situation for what it is without judgment. Instead of thinking you are an idiot, assert positive thoughts such as, “I am learning everyday. It is healthy to make mistakes. I make better and better choices each day.” Apply loving thoughts regularly and your path to healing will unfold.
Express your emotions: If you feel scared, let it out in a wholesome, beneficial way.
Have you ever considered road rage isn’t about being stuck in traffic? It’s about unexpressed emotions being stuck in our systems, hitting a “boiling” point, and then wham! we are triggered by traffic and our volcano of fury explodes.
Prevent destructive emotional breakdowns by choosing healthy activities that help you release your fear and stress before boiling over. Dance, scream, laugh, cry, jump up and down, do cartwheels. Paint, write, draw, hug, kiss, make love, roll down a grassy hill. Do what ever you need to do to express your emotions.
Discover the humor of your situation: Ever watched live comedy? Then you know what I am talking about. Professional comedians bring humor to every, and I mean every, situation. Comedic perspective is a worthy talent to develop.
What is the unique humor of your situation? I am curious whether Max ever thought he would be surrounded by friends trying to put on his swimming flippers for him. It’s not funny that he can’t do it on his own anymore. But, it is hilarious to watch a group of adults try to successfully place his foot in a mischievous rubber fin while the surf is slapping at them.
In ancient Greece, theatres were built next to hospitals so patients could attend comedies and laugh. Comedy can also come from within. Laughter Therapy is fun, easy to do and free. Go on, start laughing. Make the physical sounds, gestures and actions you make when you laugh. I recommend laughing freely, loudly and often!
Develop compassion: Nobody is immune to the unexpected twists and turns of life. We will all experience our fair share of trials and tribulations. Compassion is a container in which we can hold it all without making ourselves wrong or right. Our experiences are simply that – our experiences.
Whether your loss is an arm, a parent, your life savings, or your job, we will all undoubtedly have to deal with the challenges and fears of being faced with the unknown. Thankfully, we don’t face them alone, or without laughter and compassion. And if you need a little extra magic to get you through, go on a treasure hunt. You can go on a treasure hunt everyday if you wish. No invitation needed.