Dream Gates

Dream Gates

Why swim

- N Hero dock dawn I’m heading out along the bobbing dock to swim south along the shore of Lake Champlain for a couple of miles in my leisurely version of the Australian crawl. I have a book to work on this week, and I’m recalling an essay by William Stafford titled “Writing the Australian Crawl”, a celebration of how that’s what writing is like when you are on, moving in intimate rapport with your chosen element. I’m not fast in the water and I doubt that I’m graceful, but I love to lie sleek and low, turning my head as little as possible when I must take in air, stroking the water without shaking it.


I love lake water best for swimming. Head down in the lake, I delight in the glow of green and golden amber light. Maybe some fresh pages of my new book will come to me as I stroke, but in truth I don’t swim with any agenda but to swim.
I wrote a piece about that and I’d like to offer it again here:
In the Subtle City, a teacher of the Way sees five of his students returning from swimming in the Great Pool. With a twitch of his lips, he makes them stop in midstride and sit with him under a flowering tree. He tells his students, “I wish each of you to tell me why you swim.”
The first student leaps up wihout shyness, muscles rippling. “I swim to beat all the others. I swim so I will be made captain of the swim team, and sent to swim meets in the City of Milk and the Archipelago of Delight. I swim so all will respect me and my name will be inscribed on our city’s rolls of honor.”
The teacher nods. “It is no bad thing for a young man to want to win. The spirit of competition in your spirit makes you excel. No harm. You may keep doing what you are doing.”-
The second student says, with quicksilver in his smile, “I swim because I love the water, I swim so I can feel like mer-man, at home in this element.” He blushes just a little because he is in love with a water sprite.
“It is good to know your element. You may continue to play with the water spirits.”
The third student is round-faced and solid and a little slow in his body and his speech. “I cannot deceive you, master,” he says at last. “I swim so I can eat and drink whatever I like and laze around the house when I am not in your classes.”
 “It is good to recognize the dynamic harmonies of life. You are seeking balance as best you can. You may carry on.”
The fourth student is very serious. His high forehead and little round glasses suggest he is already devoted to a life of study and austerities. “I swim as a mental discipline and a mode of meditation. Sometimes, as I swim laps, I go through the sixty-four hexagrams of the Book of Changes and then through the changing lines, observing the laws by which one pattern turns into another.”
“You are enlightened. Please continue.”
The teacher of the Way inspects his fifth student.
A drop of pool water is slipping down this student’s inner thigh from his wet bathing costume. When it reaches the ground, the fifth student says, “I swim in order to swim.”
The teacher of the Way rises from his seat among the roots of the ancient flowering tree. Using his staff to help him bend his aged knees, he squats before the fifth student.
The teacher says, “I sit at your feet. You are my teacher.”
  • Wanda Burch

    I’m skimming through old journals and found a 2008 quote you sent from Stafford’s book: “A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.”
    You noted that Stafford had not quite made the perfect connection or the perfect analogy between writing and “head down” swimming as you would like to see, an analogy that you are making now in the words in your first paragraph.
    A few months later, also in 2008, you found some rather fierce words by a Zen therapist(One Continuous Mistake by Gail Sher)on writers writing no matter what. You quoted an example she shares – a bit over the top and in keeping with the example of your “fourth” swimmer – of a gy?ja running a marathon around Japan’s sacred Mount Hiei over a period of a hundred days. Each day starts with a midnight Buddhist service and ends around 9 am. The runner must perform prescribed rituals and make offerings while running 40 km every night around the mountain. The gy?ja wears a uniform of pure white cotton and, around his waist, a “cord of death” with a sheathed knife tucked inside. He vows that if he fails to complete a single part of the practice on any night, he will commit hara-kiri with the knife or hang himself with the cord.

  • Maggie

    How very delightful to read your post. I must say just that expert from your new book is inspiring. Simply to ask a question where I never thought to ask it, is thought provoking. Why is it always the simple most direct answers that make you think and put you closer to the spiritual side of life.

  • Robert Moss

    Thanks, Maggie. It is interesting to pose questions in life and perhaps especially to question what we or those around us may take for granted. This can help shift our default reality, and make us aware of the possibility of making choices and finding deeper meaning.

  • Robert Moss

    Wanda – Ah, the gifts of a journal as a memory book! That Stafford quote is one of my favorite descriptions of what happens during creative writing. The “cord of death” tale is an over-the-top story I found in Pressfield’s “War of Art”, which pushes us to approach writing assignments like boot camp. I’m not inclined to follow that approach here at the lake this week!

  • Grace Osora Erhart

    Robert, i love this, how wonderful to be imaging Lake Champlain for me right now on this humid summer night. Yes, life is simply what it is, but that can be a challenge. If we can stay in the moment, that practice most certainly continues into our dream life, waking life and beyond, allowing us to see the truth of the moment we are experiencing and not get lost and forgetful….practice, practice ,practice…..

  • Thomas

    Thank you for sharing… a wonderful story and message to us all! Each day we should wake to live life deliberately… and with passion every thing we do. I see children who’s brains are being sucked of all the passion playing video games or watching mindless babble on the tv. My focus is to lie down at the close of day and to consciously ask for wonderful experiences while I sleep. I have been blessed with a few great journeys while my structure is rebuilding after a tough day.
    Perhaps you will be able to travel and visit the Black Sea… with its sodium content… it is so high that even I float. When I swim in a pool, I glide across the bottom… I use to love to swim from end to end with out surfacing… now, I would be happy bobbing in the Black Sea. Sochi is a spa town that Russians travel to to rejuvenate.
    Blessings, Peace, Love and Light!
    Oh, Please feel free to check out the Vashon Peace Wall on the Facebook site. We do not have a web site up yet… I am still learning about that… perhaps I will manifest how to do this in a dream!

  • Robert Moss

    Thomas – I haven’t gone swimming in the Black Sea recently, in either reality, but thanks for the thought. Since I am teaching a good deal in Eastern Europe these days and dream repeatedly of teaching and traveling in Russia, Sochi may be a literal possibility. In the meantime, in some of my favorite dreams and conscious journeys I enjoy swimming deep underwater with no need to come up for air.

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