Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

Those Who Float

--by Daniel Gottlieb (Jul 02, 2012)

Young as you are, I know you already know something about faith.  You have faith in your mother's arms.  That's a good start.  But later on, you'll find it gets more complicated.

Not long ago, I was talking with a woman who got me thinking about what faith really is.  She was in her mid-forties, and in therapy she said she felt as if she had been "treading water" her whole life.
"What if you stop?" I asked.
Between you and me, Sam, that is not my most brilliant intervention.  But it's a good question.  What does happen when you stop treading water?  Either you sink or you float.
This woman felt as if she had spent most of her life treading water because she was fighting something inside herself.  Some people do that all the time.  They fight against fear of death, fear of being "found out", fear of losing their minds, fear of realizing they are not the people they should be, fear of becoming who they are.  But as this woman was thrashing against the water, deep down she knew she would lose the fight.
So when I suggested that she stop treading water, I realized the difference between those who sink and those who float.  The very moment you give up struggling with the water, if you're going to float, you have to put your faith in the water -- just lie back and let it hold you up. 
--Daniel Gottlieb, in Letters to Sam

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On Jun 29, 2012 Smita wrote:
I live on Maui, and a couple weeks ago I went to take a swim in the ocean.  The waves were very big that day, but I saw a lot of people in the water so I decided it would be okay for me to go in too.  For about 20 minutes I was fine.  I was out far enough to enjoy the water before it transformed into big crashing waves.  Then came a huge wave that was going to crash further away from the shore than the others had been.  And I was right under where it was about to crash.  I didn't have time to think.  I just took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and let the wave crash right on top of me and send me tumbling under water for a while.  I didn't fight it.  There was no other option in that moment but to surrender.  If I had tried to fight that wave, I probably would've been hurt pretty badly.  I'm just not strong enough to fight the ocean!

What happened next is that a few more huge waves crashed after that one.  And this time, I decided to dive *under* each wave.  Although I really wanted to get out of the water and be safe on land again, I knew that I would be in bigger trouble if I struggled and tried to get back to shore at that moment.  So I dove *under* each wave, where I felt the stillness of the water...ahhhh...a safe haven.

So what did I learn from all of this?  First, that I am grateful for LIFE!  Second, I saw this experience as a metaphor for how I can move through challenges.  When I'm experiencing strong emotions or life circumstances that feel overwhelming, I can do what I need to do to keep myself safe, and then surrender to them fully...ride them like a wave...accept and embrace them...relax and truly enjoy the ride for what it is.  And then love myself and give myself a really big hug afterwards.  :)  There's a very good chance freedom is on the other side when I'm able to do that.

On Jun 29, 2012 Chris wrote:
Great story, Smita! Love the wave imagery, and dig the metaphor of 'diving in' to swelling challenges and experiencing the freedom of that surrender.  Resonate with this passage too, and the 'not-my-most-brilliant' intervention. :) I had a conversation with a friend recently where we touched on the death impulse, the thought that dying might be better than facing what's going on in our lives. I wondered aloud what it would be like to explore the feelings of that impulse (and we then did)--sounds dangerous at first, but my hope is to find that kind of freedom in diving into the experience in an exploratory way (rather than having to actually enact it)...and then like the waves, perhaps there's something else waiting to be found underneath.  Me, I'm exploring both sides these days, the inward exploring and the outward acting. I try to set a beneficial intention in moments of inward exploration. And from there, letting go of how I perceived others wanted or expected me to be has had me renewing my faith in my own easeful, instinctual way of being in the world.

On Jun 30, 2012 Conrad P Pritscher wrote:
 Gottlieb is wonderful. I may float for a few seconds here and there, but most often, I find that I gently tread water while I'm thinking of floating.  I often say it is better to increase the tendency to allow things to happen rather than make things happen, but I find myself planning and doing things rather than just allowing them to happen.  My thinking is frequently a series of paradoxes which I have come to enjoy.  These paradoxes help me "not know", and this not knowing tends to help me float.  I tend to want to be sure that I am not knowing rather than not know that I'm not knowing, and this contributes to my tendency to float.  Thank you for the opportunity to respond.  Warm and kind regards to everyone.

On Jul 1, 2012 Veena Vasista wrote:
 Oh yes!!!! This post really resonated with me. In 2009, my theme for the year was 'Year of Effortless Living." I spent that year exploring how I could live my life with less effort - because I was tired of continuously experiencing life as a struggle. I blogged about my reflections throughout the year and here's what I wrote in my introductory blog on 1 January 2008: "Last year, I was taking swimming lessons and they’ve proved to be equally instructive in and out of the water. Previously, I had been a very poor, fearful swimmer who often found being in the water pretty damn tiring. My strokes were usually quick and sharp, making a strong splash and feeling powerful, but not actually doing much to move me forward. I often behaved as if water was trying to pull me under and I needed to escape from it. But after my lessons, I began to swim differently (you would hope, wouldn’t you?). I put an end to thrashing about and pushing so hard to move so little. I found that water would support me, if I let it. I experienced swimming not only as enjoyable and relaxing, but at times it seemed effortless. Then it hit me, life is a lot like swimming: we can either relax into it or struggle with it."

Fast forward to April 2012 and the Pacific Ocean. There I was on a holiday and the calm, warm waters beckoned me. For the first time in my life, I calmly floated in the ocean. I had the experience of laying back, letting the water hold me while I looked up at the blue sky. But it wasn't all calmness. Sometimes,  when the tide would come in and my feet were unable to touch the bottom, I would feel the fear enter my heart and notice that I would stop breathing - I would panic, even if only for the few seconds. And even just floating when the tide was very low could still bring me to a panic - it took a few tries to get really calm and at ease - to surrender to the water. I was very conscious that my relationship with the ocean reflected my relationship with life. 

The short of it is that I am the most comfortable I've ever been in water - I'm still not fearless, but I definitely have had the experience of life/water holding me. I no longer move through life anxious and fearful much of the time - I no longer think I'm being pulled down. How has this happened? Deep soul work to recognize my fears and to let go of them while I altered my core beliefs. I don't think of myself as having faith, per say, but as being able to believe that I am safe and secure. This is tied to a belief in my wholeness - a wholeness that cannot be taken apart or destroyed - a wholeness that is safe and secure. Maybe this is a form of faith - and my not using the word is semantics....I deepen this trust through my daily Vipassana meditation and through on-going practice of repeatedly letting go and surrendering on a moment by moment basis.


On Jul 2, 2012 Chris wrote:
"To be still and trust" is one thing, "To be still and know " is one of the soul's foundational gifts that is for each of us to realize.  I have come to understand that it isn't simply a one time recognition but it is a rememberance that is always with me when I use the vision of a railroad crossing sign to literally STOP me in my tracks: breathe, look up and become still.  These moments of gratitude and grace lift me up to the source energy of my creator and I smile... 

On Jul 2, 2012 Shweta Gupta wrote:
 EXtremely beautiful... I experienced this same thing for the first time on June 29, 2012 i.e 3 days back. I go to the beach everyday for a walk but never go in the ocean. Three days back my cousin insisted that I go into the water and I did.. She asked me not to fight the water and just trust it. I closed my eyes and just let myself be still.  I couldn't believe that I was floating there with a heavenly feeling. It was a very beautiful feeling. It reminded me of Buddha quote "What you resist, persists". Once I stopped resisting fear, it was no more there.

Thanks for sharing this beautiful article.

On Jul 2, 2012 Tim K wrote:
Hello my friends, this posting also really resonated me as well. When will I stop treading I wonder. There have been times that I have come close. But I don't think I have ever completely just stopped and just let me truly be me.

On Jul 3, 2012 Kellie wrote:
Thank you for this inspiring read. I have become a huge fan of your writing and look forward to an auspicious drop of wisdom every time your posts show up in my email.  This one is no exception in its perfection and timing.....

For me, treading water has been a great place to is the best excuse in the world to avoid what I know is my soul's calling. 'Sorry, I am too busy trying to keep my head above water to open to change or challenge in my life' 

My husband has experienced 3 years of debilitating illness which, as I reflect on it in the light of this article, was a very painful but effective way we both decided to 'tread water'. Our mutual conspiracy to ignore our creative urges seemed to attract this perverse kind of escape from facing our greatest fears - that we were inherently flawed and were certain to fail. It took a long time before we 'wisened' up and decided  to shift out of this untenable situation. Saying ' is time to turn this awful experience around' was all it took for dramatic shifts to begin happening. The first was discovering a path to we had been fighting against as not a viable option...western medicine after all was poison, unspiritual and inherently unhealthy. Yet, in desperation, we turned there only to find compassion, support, loving kindness and solutions. Now,  new opportunities to expand our life coaching endeavors and a writing career for me have arrived at our door ....  scary as it seems to be allowing the water to hold us up, it is way scarier to stay in the exhaustive struggle with the status quo.

On Jul 3, 2012 Terry wrote:
This brings to mind, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms!"  (available for floating!) 

On Jul 3, 2012 Narendra wrote:
 As part of a ‘living, survival oriented Nature’, challenges generally come with multiple solutions to choose from. If we stay objective under stress, we will be less fearful and more open to options. This objectivity and 'open-ness' is the goal of daily meditation and “community spirit.”
When we are self-centered or when we are obsessed with a particular result, challenges are magnified and we tend to fight the change or close the windows of options in fear.

On Jul 4, 2012 david doane wrote:
 I suppose all of our fears and our fighting against them is fighting something inside the self, and ultimately fighting self.  The point as I see it is to trust myself and trust life, which is very difficult to do.  I can do it in some areas sometimes, and don't do it in other areas.  I am often "treading water."  For example, when I give a talk, I get anxious, fear not doing well, which results in my preparing in ways that wear me out, and then speaking from my memory instead of from my heart.  In so doing I tread water and don't really float.  The fear is within me -- I generate it.  The solution is for me  to trust me and the situation I am in, trust and talk from my experience, and sink or float, and my assumption is I would enjoy more alive floating and have less mediocre treading.  The challenge is to do it.  It is by doing that and floating that we develop faith in self and in life.