Open sea swimming in Ireland is spiritual tonic

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing that scares you every day. ”

Two scary events for me in 2017 were turning 50 and loosing my mum. I felt vulnerable for most of the year. I still do but I’m getting stronger.

After I lost my mum in April, in Ireland, whilst on holiday, I went back to life in Northern California. It was strange to grieve her passing in a place where no-one knew her, or where we had few memories. So I switched my home base back to Northern Ireland. I’m still in the transition phase but there are a few beaches close to me that hold precious memories for both she and I. I go there often to sense her presence.  The natural beauty of what’s fondly called Portmagic, and connecting my body to nature has helped me grieve.

Before I get to the East Strand beach I pause at the steps that over look the Atlantic sea. My spirit feels lighter. I get a natural high. Treasured childhood memories are embedded in that spot. Sea water always excites me but it’s winter here and the temperatures make it less inviting.

Lately its not been enough to merely observe the gorgeous blue and green glassy sea.  I’m compelled to get into it.

I discovered others who share my compulsion. They dip and swim all year round. When I asked Michael what motivates him to keep winter dipping, he shouted above the crashing Atlantic waves “I just didn’t want my swimming to stop in the summer.”

He accompanied me on my fourth winter dip on  December 27 at 9 am. It was an awesome experience. He warned me about the shifting winter sands and possibility of stubbing my toes on the rocks. He  then charged into the water in his red shorts as if we were going into battle. I followed him laughing with nerves and verbalizing my fear and excitement. Changing out of a bathing suit on the rocky Arcadia beach in Baltic weather is interesting. Body motions slow way down. I am sopping wet, shaking and the wind is howling. It’s hard to get your socks back on. Co-ordination is difficult because my  body temperature has dropped. I also couldn’t find my trousers. How would I walk through the town back to my car without them? I found them thankfully, a few rocks away.

Some people go into the mountains to experience peace, solitude and a natural high. I appreciate the stunning vistas from mountaintops but I dislike walking up hill. My heart and soul come alive around water, especially the sea. My first winter dip lasted five minutes because my feet burned so much from the cold. Imagine your feet being pricked by a million needles all at once.

I arrived to my second dip late. I walked into the frigid sea, alone as the other red bodied swimmers walked towards me. Cold water swimming improves blood circulation. Carl  volunteered to go back into the water with me. I gasped for air, as the waves crashed over my body. I stayed low to increase my resistance to the cold. Once I’d regained normal breathing I could enjoy the feel of the water on every part of my body. It was exhilarating. I conquered my fear of the cold ocean. I let out a shriek of laughter.

Maybe you have fears too. They don’t have to define you, or hold you hostage. Why not try something new that scares you.  You might discover, like me, a joy that triumphs over fear, and a laughter that overcomes tears.

Isaiah 43:2 NIV: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.”

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Published by Jeanette Dean

I'm a life long learner. I've been on a voyage of discovery since childhood so ask why a lot. I'm Irish and a bit American. I write because its freeing and healing. I love photography, theology, the natural beauty of Ireland and swimming in the sea year round. I see the world through the lens of Celtic Christianity but can try on other perspectives. The business of everyday spirituality has always fascinated me. I hope this blog challenges, inspires and encourages you. Perhaps you'd like to work with me. Please reach out to me if that's the case. I'd love to hear from YOU so please comment and let me know you are out there!

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