The making of invincible summers
As 2021 dawns, my thoughts have turned to the question of how we can persevere in the face of so much anxiety. Nothing will magically change on the stroke of midnight tonight; our lives, unfortunately, will be as uncertain as ever.
You will see that rather than reach for the artworks I find so consoling, I am sharing a wonky time lapse video of me and some friends swimming yesterday morning. You might anticipate, in keeping with a UK wide trend, that I will smugly endorse the virtues of cold water swimming for our improved mental health, while ignoring the very real suffering that is everywhere.
Not quite. I am deeply worried about the pandemic, about my clients and about the impact of Covid on everyone I love. Swimming does not solve that problem. The French philosopher Albert Camus claimed that in order not to despair at the chaos of life, we need to revolt and find our freedom and passion. I think he meant that within the givens of our constrained existence, we need to rebel against our circumstances by choosing how to live and pursue the things in life that provide us with meaning. My winter dips are partly inspired by the words of Philip Roth: “In my childhood I led the life of a sage, when I grew up, I started climbing trees.” For me, swimming is playing, and in the childlike joy of whooping in the freezing shallows and the endorphin rush of plunging into the water, I satisfy (in the words of Virginia Woolf) a “hidden and inarticulate desire for something beyond the daily life.” I connect with myself, with nature and with my friends, and in this way, I engage with Camus’ call to be autonomous, free and alive.
To keep going, we need meaning and agency. We must all find this for ourselves and if you’re stuck, therapy can help. We can derive meaning from anything, from faith to politics to community, so let’s not mistake small, life-affirming acts for trivial avoidance. Making meaning will keep us going so that we can continue to serve others and strengthen ourselves. Camus wrote, “in the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
I wish you a 2021 that is full of hope, meaning and many invincible summers.