It’s a sunny Saturday in late August and the beach is bustling with activity. I glance across it and notice that the lifeguard chairs are empty. No red umbrellas towering above them, no red clad figures nursing long slender floatation aids. I wonder if they are on their half hour break.
My eyes are still on the beach as I walk along the concrete promenade. I watch a tall slender figure in a wetsuit and cap entering the water from the area where the DCR patrol boat is moored. That’s strange I think, knowing that it is not an entry point for open water swimming. Then I spot a friend. He is waving both hands in the air to attract my attention.
“Hey Tom,” I greet him. “I missed you yesterday.”
We chatted a bit and Tom solved the mystery of the empty lifeguard chairs.
“They’re short staffed” he told me.
“It’s the college students,” it dawned on me. “They’ve all gone back to school.”
But what didn’t make sense was the open water swimmer…
As Tom and I chat about the staffing problems at Walden and how the open water swimmer is taking advantage of no one being there to “blow the whistle” I am reminded of something I learnt in my Buddhist readings this week.
“Well, I’m going to mind myself,” I decide. “And enter from over there.” I point to where open water swimming is allowed.
Three times this week I have caught myself paying more attention to what others are doing, behaviors that may not be “right action” rather than focusing on what I am doing myself. Those times have been at Walden.
Last weekend as I entered the water around 8 am on Sunday morning I watched a small fishing dingy stop in front of the open water entry. I was not twenty yards from the shore and found myself carefully negotiating the bow of the dingy as the figure in the boat prepared his line. My first reaction was to be aggravated. Then I swam on I thought more about it. I was probably one of a handful of swimmers in the pond at the time and although it was an inconvenience it was not insurmountable. Why was I allowing this action to negate my blissful morning swim? I continued on feeling more relaxed and when I returned to the shore the small boat had disappeared. Perhaps the fish had not been biting. Perhaps more swimmers were left to negotiate the bow of his small boat and he decided to move.
The other occasion I found myself focusing more on the actions of others rather than my own was on a warm and sunny afternoon during the week. The beach was speckled with colorful towels and umbrellas and kids were splashing in the water whilst parents relaxed nearby. I walked around to the open water entry and for some reason stopped to glance at the sign delineating where the guarded swim area abutted it. A small sign stated “Open Water Swimming Entrance” and in smaller type “No wading allowed.” Beyond it small groups of adults stood shin deep in the water chatting. Again I felt mildly aggravated. Why are they standing there? Do they not read the sign?” An inner voice called out loudly. Then I thought about it. Sure, this was a small inconvenience but it wasn’t insurmountable. I merely walked between them, put my goggles on and glided into the water. It felt wonderful. Cool and refreshing and totally cleansing my body and mind.
As I was wading out of the water after my swim yesterday I got a pleasant surprise. A mother, ankle deep in the water was callingto her son who was playing within the open water swimming entry. “Come out,” she called waving her hands at her child. “You can’t swim there. This is for open water swimming.” I smiled quietly to myself as I walked past her.
I don’t know if own “right actions” had any influence on those situations but as I write this I am reminded of the tale of the boy at the seashore throwing beached starfish back into the water.
He is approached by an old man who seeing him and the thousands of starfish scattered along the sand says,
“Why are you doing that? You can’t possibly make a difference.”
The little boy bends down to pick up another starfish and hurls it out to sea.
“Made a difference to that one,” he responds.