Santosha and the Apple


  1. 1.
    a category of people or things having common characteristics.
    “this type of heather grows better in a drier habitat”
  2. 2.
    a person or thing symbolizing or exemplifying the ideal or defining characteristics of something.
    “she characterized his witty sayings as the type of modern wisdom”

You show up early at Barton Springs often enough, and you eventually realize you are becoming a type:  There are a lot of healthy old people.  They actually like to swim their laps.  There are usually a few younger guys (in their 30’s-40’s), always alone, but very natural and fast swimmers.  They don’t waste time, in and out.  A few triathletes, usually women, who really seem to take all the joy out of swimming.  They look like very dry sticks, but I honor their quantity of work and have compassion for them, for that day when they ask themselves “why?”

I was talking with Lou–“call me Lou, please.  Lou, from Long Island”–in the dressing room, which always reminds me of a Roman bath.roman bath  Lou is one of the healthy old people.  I thought “I hope I look sort of like him when I get old,” and then I realized he was about my age and reconsidered.  “I swim every day.  Swam all around Long Island.  But this is nice here.  You look like you swim a lot.  It’s great, isn’t it?”

Yes, it is great.  I’m getting ready for the Cap2K again.  I swim a lot of pool laps, which I enjoy, but once a week or so I come to Barton Springs to swim in cold water, water without nice straight lines to follow on the bottom, water closer to what I’ll race in.  I go for a run after, because it’s a beautiful place to run, and then usually come back and swim a little more.  And I always come away from it amazed at these wonderful strangers.  And cold.

I’ve read a lot lately about people up in the Arctic, people functioning at -40 degrees and happy for it.  It has caused me to think about what “cold” is.  If you’ve lived your entire life above the Arctic Circle, and don’t know what “hot” is, does “cold” even mean anything to you?  It is like Adam in the Garden, with no knowledge of good or evil, and no conflict between what you want to do and what you ought to do.  You have to be expelled from Eden to know sin.

And now, unexpectedly, I am not “cold.”  Oh, I shiver after the swim, and turn a little blue, and when I was finished this morning all the muscles on the right side of my body contracted together and stayed that way, but while I was in the water I was ok with that.

“So this is what cold feels like.”  Not “I am cold, and wish I was warm.”  I mean, I know what warm is; I’m not Adam in the pre-Apple Garden.  But once I let go of wanting to be warm, I discovered that cold can be a good place, an interesting place.  You just have to stop comparing it to someplace else.  I’m learning to be at peace with whatever circumstances I find myself in–santosha in Sanskrit–which is not the same as happiness, but it sure gets you closer.  You can be afraid, or happy, or heartbroken, but instead of wanting the fear to go away, or worrying that your happiness will not last forever, you gain the peace of discovering “so this is what heartbreak feels like.  I understand heartbreak, now.”

Despite being naked, I don’t suppose Adam knew “cold.”  He just wandered around the Garden with Eve, and was.  Unlike Adam, I could not swim in that water forever if I’d just follow the rules, because both hypothermia and exhaustion are very real physiological processes that have nothing to do with contentment.  But near the end of my swim, I fell into pace with another swimmer, one of those natural, fast types there alone, an all-business type of swimmer.  We weren’t really racing, but sometimes you just fall in sync with someone and it draws you both higher.  We finished together, got out of the water together, and stood there breathing in that morning air and bathing in that light you only get around tree-lined water.  Smiling, he said “this is wonderful,” to no one in particular, I think.


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