“When you go out there tonight and find yourself under the bright lights, look down at the pool. Pay attention to the glassy surface of the water. Notice its reflection and smoothness, without even so much as a ripple there to impede you. Imagine that this calm body of water stretches out over a distant horizon.
“Don’t swim to get anywhere before anyone else, don’t swim to achieve a time or even a medal; simply swim fast to enjoy the wonderful sensation of swimming fast for its own sake, because you can. Feel the energy inside of you. Think about how great it’s going to feel to go fast. Pretend that you are swimming again for the first time.”
This wise advice came via a timely text message recently from Mark Hill, a good friend and coach, right before my race at the Pan Am Games. He coined this approach destination free swimming. It’s amazing how something as small as a few bits of data in a text message could carry with it so much energy, that its waves of freedom and power would continue to ripple through me, and now you as it spreads out into the world. Destination free swimming is good practice for the art of destination free living.
Your attention makes this real. It’s the currency of our lives that we spend on experiences whether it’s directed at your smartphone, the outside world, your body or your mind. Mark’s message compelled me to let go of the mind’s abstract concepts of time, winning, and even a destination to return my attention to the primacy of direct experience.
Too often we get caught up in the mind, consumed by thoughts that are two or three steps removed from the actual experience unfolding before us. Destination free swimming is about chasing a feeling that is ahead of where the feeling becomes words, and where the words coalesce into concepts.
To truly be without a destination one must overtake the mind that contains the idea of a destination in order to bring our attention to the cutting edge of where the present meets the future, and keep it there. It’s where the water is not yet “wet,” the sky isn’t yet “blue” and clouds haven’t been labelled “clouds” or “white” by the mind. In fact it’s more primal than where the idea you have about yourself, that has its own ideas about itself even exists. As strange as it sounds, you simply become the total experience.
Imagine that we are on a fast-moving boat. Most people are crowded down on the lower stern deck inhaling the noxious diesel exhaust fumes while they look back at the churned-up wake stretching behind. What I have been talking about above is akin to leaving the back of the boat and getting ahead of the mind by moving forward, to where the bow is constantly cutting the waves as the boat races forward toward the horizon.
Up here we can breeze out, enjoying the view where there is always a new surprise to check out. Up on the bow, we bask in the radiant sunshine of life and can even watch thoughts drift by like clouds in the sky above the waves if we choose to. All of this while the boat mysteriously drives itself.
The destination free philosophy is not about becoming a drifter, nor does it imply a dearth of ambition. In fact, with this approach the difficult and seemingly insurmountable challenges become infinitely easier. If we bring ourselves to the cutting edge of where the present meets the future, we will find that there are no longer any big or difficult things left to tackle there.
Instead they have been broken down into the simple, easy, small tasks that eventually add up to make up those difficult challenges. In this way, destination free living is a way to maximise vitality and success while minimising stress.
Spend your attention on this unfolding new moment to truly make it real and bring it to life. How close to the continually forward-moving cutting edge of where the present meets the future can you get? To practise this now, pretend that you are experiencing again for the first time and that you have no idea about anything that’s just happened or what will happen next, or even of what you will think of next. Just watch where your attention goes, stay with it and enjoy the sensations and surprises that it continually brings in.