Swimming in a new city
As part of re-establishing a new life in Melbourne we’ve been exploring for new places to love and call home. So last weekend we went to Elwood beach, the next beach along from St Kilda beach. We’d heard it was nice. And whilst it wasn’t Bondi, there was water, sand, seagulls, surf, plenty of fresh air and lots of joggers – the compulsory components of a beach.
There weren’t many swimmers though. I only saw two braving the surf in the stretch of coastline we walked along. Perhaps it was all the warning signs dotted at regular intervals along the coastline about the various dangers of swimming at Elwood beach.
Or maybe Melbournites don’t revel in the water the same way Sydneysiders do? Or maybe they are risk averse? Or perhaps just plain sensible? It’s hard to know.
But I couldn’t help wondering. On one level I’d gone to Elwood beach, looking for a cure for homesickness – wondering if perhaps I could find a stretch of water and sand that has the same calming effect on me that Bondi has.
So it occurred to me that perhaps those warnings had some important lessons in regard to the tumultuous emotions and the decent dose of homesickness I’ve had related to moving cities. What could those warnings be trying to tell me about swimming in a new city?
Submerged sandbars and objects
If you dive headfirst into a sandbar – you could end up with a spinal cord injury. Heaven forbid. Diving head first into a sand bar is dumb. Blindingly stupid in fact. But is diving into a metaphorical sandbar something I’m always so careful about?
By metaphorical sandbar I’m talking about diving head first into all those quirks and flaws and insecurities we have by virtue of being human. And deliberately stirring them up. So do I really need to criticise myself for not having a whole circle of friends and a support network in place already? Do I really need to feel bad because I’m continually playing catch-up with keeping the house stocked with food and the washing done and folded?
That’s just ramming my head right up against thoughts and is designed to make me feel bad. It may be habit but it’s harsh and cruel towards myself. Far better to be kind to myself instead. Far better to avoid the sandbars and give myself a bit of a break. There’s only so much person can do in 6 weeks after all. Avoiding those sorts of sandbars is a much kinder way of being.
Being caught in a strong current, or a rip, can sweep you straight out to sea, waving desperately for rescue. HEEELLLLPPPPPP!!!! Swimming between the flags is recommended to avoid getting caught in a rip, but there are times (too many times really) when I have let myself get caught in a metaphorical rip.
Sometimes I let my thoughts overpower me to the point where I am swept into heartsickness and feelings of loss. Indulging in thoughts of home can easily sweep me away. Thoughts of Bondi. And thinking how much better and more beautiful Bondi is. How the amazing sea green colour of the water and white pure sand never failed to make me gasp with its beauty. Enter that doorway of thought and before I know it I’m swept away in maudlin heartsickness longing for what is not.
So perhaps thinking between the flags for now is how I can manage those runaway thoughts and find a wiser and kinder way of learning to live in Melbourne. It may also leave space for me to find places and spaces to love in Melbourne. You just never know.
Variable water depth and drop off
We’ve all been to those beaches where the ground seemingly just falls away underneath you. One step you think you are on solid ground, the next you are floundering out of your depth.
And it can happen so quickly with thoughts as well. One must tread so carefully because a step out of place can sink me into despair in an instant. It only takes a moment or two of thinking about what I have lost, or comparing cities and the inevitable inadequacies of Melbourne beaches – and I am sunk. It is really not a productive think to do.
Safer and kinder to stay on solid ground and be more mindfully aware of the beauty in front of me, than sinking into the mire of beauty lost.
Jellyfish may be present
Thankfully I’ve never been stung by a jellyfish. I’ve managed to avoid that particular beach hazard – and plan on keeping it that way.
But like real jellyfish stings, metaphorical stings can also be painful. And for me metaphorical stings come from people who deny your feelings and tell you what you “should” do and why it’s not so bad after all. They may indeed mean well – and often do. But if I have let my thoughts run away from me or the ground has fallen away from me – then I just want the kindness from others I can’t find for myself in that moment.
So if I start to detect a “should” in the air I metaphorically run.
This area is not patrolled by lifesavers
Lifesavers at the beach are those dedicated people ready to save you should you get into trouble inadvertently. And in our lives, lifesavers are those people who form our support network. Who love us anyway and who are there when we need it.
And swimming in a new city without a support network can make the process of adjusting longer, harder and more painful. Of course Skype and Facebook and texting and phone calls all facilitate the maintenance of my Sydney network. But that is not enough for Melbourne. I need people right here.
And those of you who are becoming part of my fledging Melbourne support network, you know who you are, you have been my lifesavers – helping me avoid sandbars, strong currents, drop-offs and jellyfish.
I thank you.