Channeling Creativity While Swimming

Channeling Creativity While Swimming

Courtesy of WOWSA, Huntington Beach, California.

It is said that creativity requires a combination of mindfulness and daydreaming as well as seriousness and playfulness with a mix of solitude and collaboration thrown in.

These conditions can be ideally created while swimming in the open water. There is not only a sense of mindfulness, but also a smattering of daydreaming while swimming along the shoreline. There is also a degree of seriousness while in the ocean just as there is a healthful dab of playfulness. And even if you are swimming with friends, you most definitely experience depths of solitude in the open water.

Daydreaming while swimming in the open water is easy – you are aware of your external aquatic surroundings as well as the world inside your head.

We asked the following questions to veteran open water swimmers:

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you feel creative or imaginative while swimming in the open water?

Anne Cleveland (U.S.A.): As a yoga therapist and teacher, I must say that swimming is an incredible moving meditation. Breath and movement are perfectly and naturally synchronized, usually with a longer exhale. This alone automatically calms the nervous system and therefore the chatter of the mind. When this occurs, real inspiration can bubble up to the surface.

Sakina Zerrel (Algeria): Yes. I actually get lost in thoughts about things past, or upcoming events, only distracted from those thoughts and brought back to the present when I catch myself up slacking off swim form or because I notice marine life/objects in the water or because I need to keep sight of my swim buddies.

Ori Sela (Israel): Yes, all the time especially when the water is cold, it’s like the first 20 minutes you clean your mind. Then if you want it or not, everything opens up and I start dreaming, I just love it. I think the power of the sea is the reason for cleaning up my mind. I get new answers for hard questions. I even wait after swimming to call people to close the deal. I’m more energetic and most things that I’m afraid of are becoming easy after swimming in open water.

Ben Hooper (Great Britain): Yes, I find my mind wonders into the past and considers the future. Some of my best fiction plots are created whilst swimming, as well as some of the logistical issues I’ve had previously, have been solved during a 10 km or 15 km session.

Ben Stubenberg (Turks & Caicos): We are certainly more alive and in the moment when open water swimming. All cluttering thoughts from land are removed and the focus is on the feel of moving through the medium of water, the stroke, and challenge if there is a current or chop or waves. But I don’t come up with ideas while in the water. Rather, the sharpness of my mind after emerging from the swim provides me with much more clarity to deal with activities or problems. And that sharpness creates immediate solutions. Now that I reflect on it, I can see where decisions are more confident and decisive. There is a richness and expansion to thinking. Perhaps that is also a form of creativity.

Sally Minty-Gravett (Jersey): I simply feel that when I swim in the ocean, I am at peace with myself and at one with the ocean. And I can put all my life in order.

Suzie Dods (USA): I do find that having ONE thing I can do where I don’t have to think about anything else is freeing. Whether it’s the breathing or the fact that swimming is an all encompassing sport – an art and a science – swimming allows me to be free, if only for an hour or 20 minutes of the weight of the day.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Do you feel more creative or imaginative in the open water compared to life on dry land?

Anne Cleveland (U.S.A.): One of my favorite aspects of open water swimming has always been the opportunity to allow my mind to float in that peaceful state the ocean invites…and yes, all of my best creative work and ideas have ‘come to the surface; while swimming in the ocean. For this reason, even though I’ve retired from the long swims, I still go for a little pootle out there every chance I get.

Sakina Zerrel (Algeria): Am I more creative? I am not sure. But definitely more introspective. Something that happens also during my long commute driving to and from work. I don’t listen to the radio.

Ori Sela (Israel): Open water for me is like paradise when you’re on land, Or as I call it real life: you are a machine; you’re like running a marathon in a sprint with no time to think.

Ben Hooper (Great Britain): Not necessarily. I feel in the water my thought processes are a little more extreme and abstract. On land, more structured and deeper (i.e., with plot creation and sub-plots).

Ben Stubenberg (Turks & Caicos): I don’t recall actually creating something while in the water, but, I am more prepared to create after I get out, especially if I’m interacting with others. Certainly what goes through my mind while swimming is significantly different that thoughts on land. It comes down to effortless focus. It’s something you just do when you get in the water and start to swim. But there is no need to steel the mind like you would in most land endeavours. Indeed, the OW water allows you to just “go” with it once you get in and commit. Of course, you can’t talk to anyone while swimming. You can’t look at Facebook or TV or email. There is no snacking. And there is very little noise. So when you stop, you are in a new zone and ‘see’ differently.

Suzie Dods (USA): I find that sometimes I will spontaneously figure out a problem while swimming. This most often happens in the open water rather than in the pool, but it happens frequently enough that I am sure there must be something to swimming liberating the usual tracks your mind follows.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: If so, why do you think this is?

Anne Cleveland (U.S.A.): Long open water swims are an excellent opportunity to draw our sensory perception inward. The rhythmic lapping of the waves, the cool water on the skin, the deep blue beneath, all provide a cocoon for us to access that part of ourselves which arises from within when the busy monkey-mind, filled with details of everyday life and worries, has been quieted. When this happens our true genius, our highest intelligence, is able to come forward with boundless creativity and inspiration.

Ori Sela (Israel): There are lots of reasons: the water on your head, the salt, the view, the sound of your hand in the water. It’s like meditation, as an ADHD – it’s the place that everything connects together.

Ben Hooper (Great Britain): I feel in water my mind is wondering to control the mundane swim process and keep pain at bay; therefore, it will find anything it can to keep processes stable and functioning. On land, this is not the case so I can focus more individually and therefore, deeper on any given thought or idea. The gym sessions, it’s usually people who have done me or my expedition/charities wrong that I become creative in plotting their demise. Of course, it is fictional thoughts, but it helps push through pain and focus my resolve to complete painful sessions.

Ben Stubenberg (Turks & Caicos): The why is more speculative. But I have to attribute it to the immersion in water and suddenly changing the way you move from walking upright to propelling yourself horizontal that is so fundamentally different. Also, there are fewer distractions. It’s just you and water and that probably concentrates the mind in a unique way. Interesting, too, how the more I swim the more I like it. It never gets old.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Have you ever created something while swimming (e.g., an invention, a business concept, a recipe, a book idea, a solution for work, a song)?

Dan Simonelli: All the time.😃 The problem is I forget once I’m dry. 😉 I need to invent a waterproof, compact dictaphone.

Sakina Zerrel (Algeria): All the time. Mostly figuring out solutions and logistics around work or domestic projects or schedule.

Ori Sela (Israel): Open water is my pill to concentrate. Once a week, I have 1-2 hours to write new things. The WEST swimming technique had been written while swimming in open water, my goals in the future, I have to say almost everything.

Ben Hooper (Great Britain): Often, my plots come while swimming…Exclusive: the book that I am working on between training and managing the expedition is called ‘Text’ – I’ll let you know when it is on its way to the store shelf.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: Is your internal exploration while swimming any different (more creative or more imaginative) than while on dry land?

Sakina Zerrel (Algeria): Yes. It is more of a peaceful meditation, only because the outside distractions are minimal. In fact, the outside environment becomes part of this sort of meditative state.

Ori Sela (Israel): There is no time to think on dry land.

Ben Hooper (Great Britain): Swimming = more abstract and creative; dryside = concentrated, but deeper in creativeness.

Daily News of Open Water Swimming: What circumstances or conditions in the open water enable you to be creative or think imaginatively?

Sakina Zerrel (Algeria): I don’t feel that there is a particular open water circumstances that enables this state-of-mind. However, I admit that swimming as a group, in day time and not having to deal with big surf, makes it easier; it helps remove the fear element from the experience.

Ori Sela (Israel): In the open water, bad changes to good, pain goes away, and the stress goes away. I really feel pure after that.

Ben Hooper (Great Britain): I have no idea, but it happens most of the time from numbers, puzzles, smells, friends of old, languages and story creation…it just happens and it keeps me going. But I will add, the creative idea of swimming an ocean in full all started when I drowned at the age of 5 in Belgium. It came to life with precision and depth during a bout of depression 3 years ago on dry land.

Ben Stubenberg (Turks & Caicos): Although fun to swim alone and feel that zone, it’s even more fun to be in that zone with other swimmers who are sharing that same experience. The chatter is more animated, uncritical, and total accepting. Those judgments we make about others on land, consciously or unconsciously, melt away. Maybe that is the purest form of liberation.

That, I believes, allows for more unfettered collaboration and trust, which in turn allows ideas to flow. No question, you look at each other and the world differently.

One of my most memorable open water swim experiences was running into two friends swimming in the opposite direction along the shore in the ocean. I noticed a couple of people in the distance heading in my direction. At first I thought it was just people who had swum out too far from the beach. But in fact, it was two open water swimmers doing their own distance swim. We stopped when we encountered each other and just marvelled at the moment of meeting up this way. We treaded water and laughed for a while and then continued on.

I also think it’s important to make a distinction between pool swim workouts and open water swimming which we are all acutely aware. Pool swimming is great too and produces similar states of focus and concentration and clarity of mind. But with open water swimming, you are in the wild and that elevates the sensation, particularly when swimming in the ocean. You are conscious that you are more vulnerable than you are on land. And, of course, you just keep going, looking up every few strokes to check your direction and position.

You are immersed in nature. I have to wonder if that taps into some primitive experience of our ancestors long ago who lived in the wild all the time, and thus must have had a much more connective experience. That unique connectivity or perhaps more accurately “re-connectivity” makes the sport and the experience more profound.

Photo courtesy of Hopper McDonough, SwimVacation in the British Virgin Islands.

Copyright © 2016 by World Open Water Swimming Association
Steven Munatones