During the summer school vacation the WAIS youth high board diving squad trains at the same time as I swim in the morning. From the 50m pool where I do laps, I can see them training on the high springboards. I am struck by the similarities between training to become an elite diver and training the mind in mindfulness. The little ones spend hours practising jumping into the pool from low heights with their bodies straight as an arrow. Over time they increase the height continuing to practice straight bodies, feet first. Nothing comes quickly, nothing is achieved without repeated attention and perseverance – their focus and concentration being built over time together with their physical agility and strength. This morning I watched the oldest youth practising very complicated dives from the highest springboard. I have seen him in the past and he is an amazing diver – focused, precise and beautiful. This morning though, it was a mess. Many times he started the run up and bounce, only to abort the dive because the bounce was ‘out’. He stuck at it, climbing the ladder back up to the springboard to start again. It still did not come off. After many attempts, I’m guessing the coach instructed him to come back down and start again. Next I saw him back on the lowest springboard practising the run-up and entering the water, body straight as narrow – just like the little ones. These kids dedicate many, many hours of each week to developing these skills. It is not easy – consistent effort is required. Mindfulness meditation also requires application. Many times we may sit down on a cushion or a chair meditate and all we experience is a mind caught up in distraction, rumination, constant thinking… These are precisely the times we can choose to (metaphorically) climb up the ladder to the springboard and start again, accompanying the attention back to the breath time and time again. I don’t know if the young man I watched diving this morning thought that the training session was terrible. What I saw him developing was persistence, core skills and focus. For those of us engaged in mindfulness practice, simply having a mind does not mean that we have developed the capacity to use it effectively. There is an important place for kind and gentle effort as we engage in the mindfulness training. Like these kids training to dive, we can choose to keep at it, even when it is not easy or beautiful.
The image is from the 1918 book: SWIMMING SCIENTIFICALLY TAUGHT: A PRACTICAL MANUAL FOR YOUNG AND OLD, by PROF. FRANK EUGEN DALTON, P.S.A. (Instructor in Scientific Swimming at the Dalton Swimming School, and Originator of the Dalton Method)