Take a second and imagine yourself on a hot summer day. A slight breeze blows through your hair as you set your cold drink down on the table, stroll across the warm concrete and start descending a set of submerged stairs into a nice cool, crystal clear pool. You’re happy and smiling as you slowly wade through the shallow end of the pool. Once you’re done splashing, you exit the pool, pick up that cold refreshing drink and plop back down into the safety of the chaise lounge.
Take another moment to imagine a slightly different scenario. This time, before exiting the pool, you decide to take a little stroll into deeper waters. You start creeping ever so slowly over to the darker colored water. As your lower extremities start to leave the slippery slope, you begin to flutter your feet and swim into the deepest part of the pool. A quick but exhilarating shock flows through your body as your sunburnt shoulders feel the cool water for the first time. The synchronized movement of your feet and arms is allowing you to comfortably stay a float in the center of the deep end. You take a deep breath, close your eyes and submerge your entire body. You gently release small bubbles to help yourself sink further into the depths. You feel a slight rush of excitement or maybe even the softest touch of anxiety as you sink deeper… deeper… deeper. All anxiety and fear disappears when your feet touch the bottom. On the floor below, you find footing and launch yourself back to the surface like a rocket pushing through the earth’s atmosphere. As the sun hits your face, you show your teeth to the sky and casually swim back over to the safety of the shallow end.
Now, take a minute to run through one last scenario. Imagine yourself on the same hot summer day. Same smile. Same cool, crystal clear pool. You again start creeping ever so slowly to the darker colored water of the deep end, but this time when your feet leave the slippery, slanted slope… there’s no foreseeable return to the shallow end. How long do you think you could tread water? 1 minute? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 30 minutes? Your legs begin to tire and your arms become heavy. Your heart rate spikes and panic sets in. You bob your head above the water and suck nervous air into your lungs before the crude nature of gravity grabs your head and submerges it again. You frantically kick your legs and flail your arms in hopes of getting back to the surface, but you don’t seem to be going anywhere. You’re in limbo. Stuck somewhere between the bottom of the pool and the surface. Your vision starts to flutter… dark… light… dark… light… dark… light… the world around you slowly fading. As your body drifts closer to the bottom of the pool, you gaze one last time up at the sparkling surface before everything fades to black.
Which of the 3 scenarios speak to you the most? Was it the first scenario where you gently played in the shallow end? Was it the second scenario where you safely and thoughtfully explored the deep end? Or was it the third… where you drowned? I feel like it’s safe to assume you didn’t pick scenario 3.
I feel like this metaphor is a great metaphor for relationships. Relationships are truly the essence of existence. We can find relationships in any and everything: spiritual, animal, nature and human. Going through the masters program for counseling at the University of Montevallo has been incredibly insightful and has allowed my to look more objectively at my own personal relationships.
One of the concepts that has stuck out to me the most is depth within the therapy session. I think this same mentality can be applied to personal relationships as well.
What’s one thing you noticed about my crudely drawn chart? Hopefully you noticed the depiction of how much time is spent at the deepest portion. As you can see, the bulk of the time is NOT spent at the deepest level of the session. Why do you think this is? I believe it’s because growth is tough and can be exhausting. If you consistently stay in the deep end, you’re bound to exhaust yourself and drown. That’s why it’s important to have a healthy balance. This not only applies within the therapeutic relationship, but applies to every day relationships and many other areas of life in general.
First and foremost, you should be applauded for simply getting into the water. Many people will spend their whole lives afraid of any sort of relationship or conflict. Sitting on the edge of the pool watching everyone play in the water is extremely safe, but by doing so, you miss out on lots of meaningful moments in life. Much like the first scenario, lots of people will keep things in the shallow end where it’s nice and safe. Perhaps you can view “shallow end” friends as acquaintances, co-workers or school friends. “Shallow” is not used here as a negative term, but instead, a metaphor. Where most of the relationship is spent lighthearted and just above the surface, instances remain where you can still completely submerge yourself and get deep within these relationships. The shallow end simply provides a stationary boundary for the depth that can be reached.
The second scenario speaks to those deeper, more intimate connections in your life. Perhaps this grouping would include your closest friends, life partner or even your own self. Where most of the relationship is spent somewhere between the surface and middle, there is a need and desire to dive deep every now and again. However, before diving in headfirst and cultivating depth, there needs to be a mutual understanding and healthy respect for one another. In therapy, this is where building good rapport with a client is absolutely crucial for the therapeutic process to be successful. Presenting yourself in an authentic and genuine way is one way to build the trust needed to deep dive in any relationship.
Another great way to build trust and depth in a relationship is self disclosure. Self disclosure can play a crucial role in bonding, however, I feel that it’s vital to understand that just because you disclose an intimate or personal life moment with a friend, doesn’t mean you should expect them to do the same. Everyone is on their own journey and it’s important to respect that individual’s journey and boundaries. Healthy and balanced relationships are built on communications, not ultimatums and control. I think sometimes people get the wrong impression of boundaries. Boundaries are often set not to hurt or offend anyone, but as an attempt to continue the relationship in a healthier, more self-preserving way.
Meaningful experiences aren’t something that can be forced. When you set out intentionally to have a meaningful experience, oftentimes it turns into the opposite. I’m not saying that forced meaningful experiences isn’t in the realm of possibility, I simply believe that meaningful experiences mostly occur naturally. I can think of numerous experiences in my own life where the latter has happened. One moment that comes to mind was when I decided to run the 71 miles of Appalachian Trail that crosses the Smoky Mountains for my 31sts birthday. My intentions for the run were simply to cover the distance safely and do it under 24hrs, but somewhere along the way the adventure started to become meaningful. As I climbed up the ridge through the early morning light, my favorite forest was illuminated in a magical way.
As I pushed further, the hoarfrost near one of my favorite peaks (Rocky Top) clung to the trees in a way that made it feel like I was in an enchanted fairy land.
But the moment when this adventure really became meaningful to me was around 2am somewhere between Mount Sequoyah and Mount Guyot. After a 40 mile solo stretch, I had picked up my buddies for the final 30 miles. We had been chatty throughout the night, but there were sections of comfortable silence. I’ve found there’s a certain beauty in the way a group can silently move through the mountains together. Though the temps were in the low 20s and the wind gusts were +25mph, the sky was clear and the moon was full. We popped out to an exposed section of the ridge and the entire valley below was illuminated in the soft moonlight glow. It was in this instant, that the reality of moment set in. Here I was in my favorite place on earth with some of my favorite people doing one of my favorite things. No words needed to be exchanged for me or them to understand our relationship and how appreciative I was to have them there with me.
Another running moment that comes to mind was last summer. I can’t count the number of times I have run up and down Mount LeConte. It’s safe to say that Mount LeConte is probably my favorite mountain. For whatever reason, when I’m on that mountain I feel like I’m part of something mystical and ancient.
Like most Mountain Girl Weekend trips, we would make at least one trip up LeConte. The trip up varies slightly each time, but in a way, LeConte was a staple and welcomed routine part of MAW. On this summer trip, when me and Ash set out for the summit via Alum Cave, the weather was grim. We spent most of the ascent wondering through the classic drizzly Smoky Mtn fog…
However, when we crossed over the summit, the weather started to give and we got to experience a beauty at Myrtle Point that was unmatched by any other trip.
I’ve been moved by mountains before, but was almost in tears at the sheer beauty of this awesome creation.
As we bounded down the Boulevard, the color of the flowers were radiant, the sky started to clear and the sun was out in full force by the time we arrived to the trailhead. It’s still one of the most meaningful mountain days of my life.
I encourage everyone to take a little deeper look at yourself and your own relationships. Every single relationship looks and feels different. There’s not a right or wrong answer to the construct. Be open, be mindful and protect yourself in these relationships. Don’t be afraid to get in the pool. Have fun! Splash around a bit in the shallow end. Venture out into the deep end but be mindful of how much time you spend below the surface. Remember that we all need air to survive. Someone famous and noteworthy once said, “It is not length of life, but depth of life.” We’re promised nothing more than the breath we’re currently breathing, so with your breath, make sure your living your fullest and most enriching life.