Last summer was extremely warm in Turkey, especially in Mersin where I’m taking my summer vacation. It’s also very humid.

Part 1: The Other Side of The Pool

Last summer was extremely warm in Turkey, especially in Mersin where I’m taking my summer vacation. It’s also very humid. Thankfully, my father’s home is in a housing complex with a pool, and my daughter and I are continuously plunging into it like ducks. Of course, continuously swimming bores me, so I made up a game for myself. With a single breath, I jumped in from one side of the pool and tried to swim across lengthways before getting out at the other side. No matter how many times I tried this, however, there’s no way I could manage it. I managed to swim three-quarters of the way, but I never reached the other side. When my daughter said, “Dad, you’re going to fail again,” I set myself the goal of managing it before the end of our summer vacation. I said to myself, “You’re a lion! You’re a tiger! You can do this! Maybe your lungs will get used to it. You haven’t been exercising lately, so you’re not ready, but you will succeed.” I pumped myself up and got myself into a fervor…

Then I said to myself, “I’ll try again, but just for practice this time.” Astonishingly, I jumped into the pool and managed to climb out from the other side. I was amazed by this, and I rejoiced at my accomplishment. My daughter ran towards me and gave me a hi-five. So, what about my unfit lungs and lack of physical condition? It was all make-believe. I previously failed just because I forgot a simple—no, make that very simple—universal principle…

***
The modern world perpetually urges us to set goals for ourselves, and we struggle to reach these goals. We have been brought up with phrases like “If you have a goal, success will come. To reach your goal, you just need to work with all your might.” So, we work and work and wait with bated breath for the result. While chasing this goal, we never look around. We even forget the most important thing in life, the pleasure and joy of existence, because modern life imposes upon us the belief that we’re only worthy if we reach our goals. Of course, this means we should work hard and consume our resources, just like how I was unwittingly wasting my breath when swimming in the pool. Very few of us would manage to reach that goal, because most of us would waste our breath without ever seeing the victory I experienced. Yet the way was so simple…

***

Each time I jumped in the pool, I made the same mistake. I fixed my eyes on the other side, the point I needed to reach, but there was no way I could reach it. No matter how much I struggled, I ran out of breath. After my last jump, though, something was different. Instead of looking across the pool, I only looked at the bottom of the pool. White filter covers were arranged every few meters, and I thought, “Hey!” to myself each time I crossed one. I passed one after another. My goal was no longer to reach the other side but just to pass the next filter. I thought I couldn’t manage it in my current condition, so I just enjoyed looking at those white filters. At some point, I noticed I’d reached the other side of the pool. I climbed out with astonishment. Yes, I was at the other side of the pool, and I’d reached my goal without having to practice for my entire summer vacation.

While I’d pursued my goal during my previous attempts, I just fully enjoyed the experience that time and kept track of the white filter covers. The result then just came to me. I had a similar experience in Bhutan in the summer of 2014 while climbing up to the Tiger’s Nest Temple. During the two-mile climb, I never concerned myself with the effort and just happily climbed, taking plenty of photographs along the way. One of our friends tried his best to be the first there, and sure, he got to the peak before me, but he was exhausted and had no time to take photographs. My friend Günnur and I, however, enjoyed such a joyful climb that it was as if the temple came to us…

The most important aspect of life is this: Life is not a process of running from one goal to another—life is the voyage by itself. Well, once I made it to the other side of the pool, did anyone give me a medal? Right now, I’m not screaming “Yeah!” because I succeeded. Instead, I just think about what an enjoyable swim it was. In hindsight, it was not so important for me to complete this objective, but the pleasure and cheer on reaching the other side was also marvelous. It was just the frosting on the cake.

In short, don’t go running after goals one after another. Walk to your heart’s content and enjoy everything fully, and then, as a matter of course, you will reach your goal instinctively.

Part 2: A New Energy

I woke up in the morning and thought, “Change is not about altering the outer conditions—it’s more about developing our ability to accept whatever happens around us for what it is.” Believing there was no need to worry about this right then, I decided to see what inspiration was waiting for me that day as I headed toward the pool.

A sign announced that the pool was closed for cleaning, but as soon as I entered the pool area, Cengiz, the attendant, said to me, “Hasan, you always complain the pool is too warm. Try it now. I just filled it.” I took a deep breath with the intention of diving in at one end and swimming underwater to the other side without taking a breath. When I jumped in, the water was ice cold. I continued under the water, but I felt short of breath halfway across the pool, so I shot up through the surface. I must admit, though, I felt great. I tried a few more times to cross the pool in one breath. After all, I’d managed it five times last week, but that day, the best I could manage was nine tenths of the pool. All manner of inspiration then suddenly came upon me…

I thought, “It’s just like diving into a new consciousness, right, Hasan? You swam across the pool five times last week, before it was cleaned. You became accustomed to the not-so-fresh water. You completed your feat, but because the water was so warm, you felt tired rather than energetic. The water didn’t fire you up, but look at yourself now!”

I really felt alive, energetic, sharp, and awake. The energy of the water was amazing that day, and the inspiration kept coming: “You know, crossing the pool from one end to the other is not what really matters. That’s just a game to you. What matters is being in the pool and experiencing the energy and vigor. You’ll surely soon adapt to this water as well, and you’ll manage to cross again, but then a new week will begin, and the pool will be refilled with fresh water once more. The difference then will be that you’ll know what a new consciousness is like, so you’ll be able to adapt more easily to the ice-cold water. Don’t get frustrated wondering why you can’t swim as easily in fresh water as you could last week. That’s just what gaining a new consciousness is like. Even if you believe you are in the same pool, even if everything looks the same, a lot has actually changed. Last Sunday, there was probably moss, some chemicals, and pH balancers in the water, but right now, there’s just the fresh water flowing in, as natural as it gets. Everything is renewed by this, including the pool. Just like during every new day, week or year of your life, go swim and enjoy…”

I left the pool with a beautiful energy as these words suddenly poured out of me.

Part 3: There Are Countless Paths to Explore

That afternoon, I let myself enjoy the cold water of the pool again, the same water that had invigorated me so much in the morning. I thought the sun would have warmed it, but it was still fairly cold. Naturally, the pool had become more crowded. I lacked the courage to try crossing the pool in one breath after the morning’s disappointment. I didn’t actually mind that much, though, because what really mattered was being in the water and enjoying it. A question then came to mind: “Why do I follow the lanes? Why do I need to know where I am?” I had previously counted the filter outlets on the pool floor, and there were 11. When I started my routine of crossing the pool underwater, I would count these filters. After a while, let’s say on the sixth one, I’d think, “Oh boy. There are still five more. I’ll never hold my breath that long!” and bolt out. This method actually helped me to cross the pool before, but it now seemed to be an obstacle. At that moment, the same question came to mind: “Why do I need to know where I am?”

The water was still ice cold, so I prepared for another difficult attempt. This time, I decided not to follow the lanes or count the filter outlets. I would instead swim by looking at the blue tiles down below, without knowing where I was in the pool. I didn’t have an ounce of hope that I would cross the pool, but I released myself to the unknown and swam and swam. The blue tiles were the only thing I looked at. I just swam, and I began to enjoy it once more. I had stopped worrying about crossing the pool, and then I suddenly found myself at the other side. I had finally managed it again and in a way that I thought would be hard for me…

*********

The next day, I was in the pool again. Based on my experience from the previous day, I again followed the tiles while swimming underwater, but I couldn’t cross completely, so I calmly swam to the other side instead. At that point, I didn’t much care about it. Swimming underwater and crossing the pool in one breath had turned into some kind of philosophical game for me. I then saw my daughter further down the pool, so I thought I’d surprise her. My plan was to approach her under the water and grab her legs. I jumped in again, and this time, I swam looking ahead. The bright sunlight looked amazing through the water. I swam and swam, and as I searched for her, my daughter had left the pool without me even noticing. I suddenly found myself at the other side of the pool again. I had managed to cross the pool by looking ahead this time. I had again accomplished what I couldn’t on my first day there, and I had done it once more in a different way.

As I surfaced, I thought to myself, “Well my friend, what are you doing? Are you swimming or trying to figure out the meaning of life?” I headed to the nearest corner and rested as I watched the sun. The calmer I felt, the more I was filled with inspiration. In life, there are many ways to travel from one point to another. Everyone follows their own paths, and we each proceed in a different manner. Do not repeat something just because it worked out well for you once. There are many different roads to explore. If you always swim looking at the bottom of the pool, how could you ever see the sun’s rays playing on the water. If you always need to know exactly where you are, how can you ever embrace the unknown? On our paths, we sometimes know where we stop, but sometimes, we don’t even know where we are going. Sometimes, we follow the path, while at other times, we just stare at what’s ahead of us. There’s no single valid route on this journey called life, just like there’s no definitive way to photograph a butterfly. If the butterfly opens its wings and rests, you would use one method, but if it takes flight, you would use a different method. Likewise, if the wings were shadowed, you’d frame the shot differently than if they were in full sunlight. What’s more, what if half was shadowed and half was in the light? How would you photograph that? Life is much like photographing a butterfly. Similarly, there are a million and more ways to cross the same pool, and you get to discover new ways all the time. Life is not some procedure that should be limited by what’s known, proven, and certain. Why limit yourself to so little when you are infinite…

I rested in the ice-cold water once more with all this in my mind. I wondered what else would come from this pool…

Part 4: Just Let Go

I was so furious that I had to jump in the pool to try to calm down, but even the ice-cold water wasn’t enough to diminish my anger, at least at first. I began swimming, one stroke and another and then one more stroke. They say that in the animal kingdom, every species deals with its stress in a different way. Ducks flap their wings and bears tremble to throw away their nervous energy. Unfortunately, we humans tend to store this energy until it explodes at one point. This is what we call a trauma. I started calming down as I swam one stroke at a time until the rage eventually passed, but then I thought, what if I can’t find a pool to calm myself down next time? I had to find a way to discard my stress, so that it wouldn’t develop into a trauma. All that tension accumulating creates a substantial burden at the end of the day…

As I leaned against the side of the pool, my inner voice inquired, “Did you say burden? Hmm, where are you now?” Well I was in the pool. Where else would I be?

“Oh really?” my inner voice commented, “Are you aware of that?” It was right: I wasn’t. Thousands of thoughts were constantly swirling in my head, as if there was a factory in my mind churning them out. Should I do this or that? How will it go? That person has really got me pissed.

My inner voice continued, “Where’s the person you’re angry with? Is he here right now? What about all those thoughts you linger on? Will you be able to realize all those intentions in your swimming trunks, right at this very moment? I ask again: Where are you?” I suddenly returned to my senses and looked around me. I was alone. A father and daughter played at the other end of the pool, and there were a few more kids. I wore just my swimming trunks as the afternoon sun shone from above. I was in a beautiful pool, yet I wasn’t aware of it at all…

“Do you realize that for as long as you stay angry at people, you carry them around with you? Everyone that you did not welcome into your heart—everyone that you shunned, refused forgiveness, or had problems with—is on your back everywhere you go. Do you really want to take your journey of life with them? How many people can your back carry? Plus, why do you insist on not letting go of them? Even in this beautiful pool, they are here with you. The water embraces you and supports you with its buoyancy, just like life does. Why do you like carrying around these people, even though they are rarely actually there with you? Let yourself go—free yourself. Come on—let that dead weight go. Look, the only thing you need is your swimming trunks. You don’t need the extra weight…”

I’ve been to so many beautiful places, yet I was never really there. There were so many problems in my head: “What I’m living is not real. Okay, this is nice, but I have a serious problem. How can I enjoy this beautiful place when I still have problems?” The human brain always asks for more of what it’s become accustomed to. If you keep triggering stress hormones in the body, the body will always crave more stress. It will look for tension in everything in life, and you’ll rarely need to go far to find problems. This world is already a tense place. You can race from one problem to another without realizing where you actually are. Even if you spend a lifetime in heaven, your soul can be burning in hell.

I then thanked the person who had triggered my foul mood earlier, because through him, I had realized what I was doing to myself. I released the burdens I was carrying on my back, symbolically speaking, and then gave myself to the supporting force of the water…