Compassionate Strokes

Dark blue ocean surface seen from underwater. Abstract Fractal waves underwater and rays of sunlight shining through

My parents signed me up for swim lessons when I was starting first grade hoping I would learn to cooperate during hair washing time. I have to admit washing my hair entailed an almost bloody, ridiculously noisy battle that nobody won. I took my blood curdling screams to the pool and after a couple years of hard work on the part of my swim teacher I finally learned to willingly put my head underwater. Before that, I was convinced that people were trying to kill me. After that, you couldn’t stop me and pretty soon my parents were signing me up for swim team.


It’s easy to see in hindsight how my errant belief (people were trying to drown me) got in the way of a functional life (you need to wash your hair once in awhile!). But at the time, my suffering was real. I can remember exactly how I felt inside.  I felt terrified of dying. I felt like I was warning people about the danger I was in and nobody was listening to me, and worse nobody cared because they kept putting me in danger over and over. I felt angry, powerless and left with no option but to scream. My swim teacher won my trust through sheer patience and playfulness. My parents lost my trust by their repeated overpowering of my feelings.


With my swim teacher I felt understood and that she had compassion for my situation. She never forced me or overruled my feelings. Aware of the problem, she accepted that this was my truth and gently tried to help me experience something new so I could let go of my misguided belief and find a new understanding. Her methods worked (though it took two years) and something shifted deeply inside me. To this day, I love swimming with all my heart.


I can see now how my teacher’s kind approach was The Seven Tools in action. She did for me what I couldn’t do for myself. I often wonder how much the world would change if we could all hold space for each other in this way. If we could accept where people are and help them have compassion for their suffering.


  1. Ingrid Lawrence on May 6, 2019 at 2:16 pm

    I love this idea, Patti, and your illuminating story. In reflecting on this, I find myself wondering how trauma fits into the equation with beliefs. I tend to think of beliefs as structures of the mind and trauma as held in the body and perhaps less cerebral or conscious. (Not that this is accurate.) I’m sure the two are linked somehow, and that both are rooted in the body. I often feel like there’s a sense that changing our beliefs should be quick and easy-a quick switch of the mind and poof, all is better. But as your story shows, our beliefs can be deeply rooted and take some time and regular, respectful care to shift.

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