Zen and the Art of Mermaid Living

" Mermaids Playing " by Antonio Wehrli

"Mermaids Playing" by Antonio Wehrli

Today, four mermaids slipped into the lake at Burrows Landing, a public dock just south of Chism Beach in Bellevue. It was 5:45 a.m., the morning after the Fourth of July. The water was so glassy and calm, it was as if the lake was in a deep state of restfulness following the chaos of the evening celebrations.

"You're mine lake, all mine"--what PNW mermaids say after a long winter.

"You're mine lake, all mine"--what PNW mermaids say after a long winter.

It’s a strange activity, swimming—nothing but arms turning over like a body pendulum, one stroke after another, the core rotating, legs (barely) kicking, breathing left, breathing right. You see the world flash by in micro-seconds as your focus pivots from water to horizon: a heron rising from a dock, the underwater forest of kelp swaying, the sprawling homes, a couple of large bass, a passing speedboat, the deep green.

This morning, we repeated this activity for three miles, with occasional stops to collect ourselves and admire Mt Rainier, an eagle diving for fish, a glass art sculpture on a dock, the peace of it all. Swimming is a sport, and it’s also a practice, the way I imagine meditation is a practice. The way I try  to make meditation a practice. Thoughts slow down, even disappear.   

On a swim like this morning, my mind is not off catching problems and turning over projects and puzzles, second-guessing goals and deadlines, or planning. Instead, the mind returns again and again to feeling the water, savoring the tranquility, sensing my sweet mermaids swimming to my right, to my left. With each stroke it’s a return to right-here, right-now; the glass-cut stillness of the water that makes forward motion almost effortless today. I focus on form: hips rotating, elbows bending, breathing in, breathing out, pulling the water with my hands.

Absolutely nothing on our mind except for body position, the slide of arms through water and OK, maybe lunch. This was a long swim!

Absolutely nothing on our mind except for body position, the slide of arms through water and OK, maybe lunch. This was a long swim!

At our last stop, 500 meters from the finish, we stopped for one last look back at Mt Rainier, rising behind I-90's East Channel Bridge. There were murmurs of appreciation. Four goggle-wearing heads bobbed ecstatically on the surface of a new morning. We had the lake to ourselves.

“So many more cars now,” one of the mermaids said, pointing toward the bridge. Civilization was joining us. They have their transportation, we have ours.

After I returned home, hung my wetsuit up to dry, took an Epson salt bath, made my coffee, I felt it slowly creeping in and taking over: My pesky thought life was SPRINGING into ACTION, wringing those hands and ready to Get Shit Done. The problem is, this springing-into-action mode looks more like a dog chasing its tail than someone triumphantly plucking away at projects.

And then something occurred to me.

Work like a mermaid!

What  if I approached the projects of my work day with the calm stillness that inhabited me during my lake swim?

My first answer was: Haha, nice try. NO WAY. I have too much to do (tail chase tail chase). If I Mermaided my day away I’d get nothing done.

I'd just sit and drink my coffee in the Red Chair Cafe, in a state of bliss and never move.

Really? Let's put this answer through a reality check test:

1. When have I ever felt comfortable enough in a sitting position to just stay there for hours on end--doing nothing? 

2. Let's say I sit there in bliss and never move. But bring over a notebook and my laptop. If I sit there with these items and never move, and I'm in a STATE OF BLISS, imagine what kind of work, and idea generation I'd do!

3. So what. I mean REALLY. What if I sat there and did what looks like "nothing" in a state of BLISS but had all sorts of internal shifts and moments of clarity upon clarity that made me more open and loving, and even moved me closer to the land of Dreamy-Dreams? Maybe I would benefit from sitting in a blissed out state more often. (Isn't that was meditation is about? Transcendence? Is it ironic that I once wrote a poem called "Against Transcendence" ?)

If the miracle of mind-stillness and presence--BLISS--can happen during an hour-and-a-half lake swim, what other miracles could happen inside the peaceful mind presence of a Zen Mermaid?

Photo of legs in water looking back at beach.

Here's to the Mermaid's life--in and out of the water!