Pursuing Solace

Solace. Where do you find it?

As a kid I was shy, skinny and lived in fear way more than I’d care to admit. One of the things I particularly hated was middle school swim practice. Not only were my awkward limbs on full display in a speedo, but I had bad asthma too (I used an inhaler multiple times a day). So what would happen is during swim practice I would get slapped on my feet, sometimes even grabbed and pulled back like the counterweight in a horizontal elevator system, accelerating the puller. 

At the start of practice there were moments of free swim during which we, kids, could ostensibly have some fun. Mostly this time manifested in various creative forms of meanness. That wasn’t so memorable. But the escape from it was. 

I found great relief under the water. Here, the cacophonous harsh surface of land animals gave way to silence and grace. My racing brain could slow down and take in the moment. Bliss. Here I learned to calm myself, realizing I could stay underwater longer that way with my otherwise skimpy lung sac capacity. Though conventional wisdom says we should breathe to calm ourselves, it was actually the absence of breath that got me there. From behind my blue-tinged goggles I would see dissociated limbs from those horrible kids carving smooth shapes beneath the surface. It was great.

Today I find solace in activities that I think of as ‘deep work’ or flow activities. It still feels like going under water to me. Always. The noise of the world falls away, leaving that same serenity. It’s in these activities: writing (e.g., this post!), coding, analysis, running etc. that the magic happens. 

Having tracked this off and on for years I find that actually there is something of a dose-response curve here: the dose is hours of focused work per week, the response is emotional well being. Without a minimum dose of weekly ‘flow’ (about 12 hours/week) my emotional state suffers.

In a very real way keeping this blog is like an insurance policy towards preserving sanity. So thank you for reading!