My Only Audience

From "The Self-Reflecting Pool," by Bonnie Tsui, The New York Times, Feb. 14, 2014:

Most days, I get into the neighborhood pool by 8:30 a.m. Even when there’s frost on the ground, the water is warm. Unless you’re the lifeguard, blowing the whistle when you want me to get out, I don’t know you exist. For 60 blessed minutes and 3,200 yards, I’m my only audience.

There’s nothing to look at, once the goggles fog over. Sound? The sloshing of water pretty much cancels out everything else. Taste and smell are largely of the chlorine and salt variety (though, at my old pool, I used to smell burgers cooking from the cafe downstairs). Despite all the tech advances of the last few years, you won’t see many swimmers wearing earphones or bone-conduction music devices: They just don’t work that well.

We enter the meditative state induced by counting laps, and observe the subtle play of light as the sun moves across the lanes. We sing songs, or make to-do lists, or fantasize about what we’re going to eat for breakfast. Submersion creates the space to be free, to stretch, without having to contend with constant external chatter. It creates internal quiet, too... 

For better or worse, the mind wanders: We are left alone with our thoughts, wherever they may take us. A lot of creative thinking happens when we’re not actively aware of it. A recent Carnegie Mellon study shows that to make good decisions, our brains need every bit of that room to meander. Other research has found that problem-solving tends to come most easily when our minds are unfocused, and while we’re exercising...

The enforced solitude is at odds with where we are as a culture. Our gyms are full of televisions tuned to SportsCenter and cable news. We’re tethered to our devices, even at bedtime. With that pervasive lack of self-control, who has the willpower to turn off technology for any meaningful period of time? I submit: Sliding into the water is the easiest way to detach from your phone.

Read the entire editorial...


See also: Creswell, J. D., Bursley, J. K., & Satpute, A. B. (January 01, 2013). Neural reactivation links unconscious thought to decision-making performance. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 8(8), 863-9. http://scan.oxfordjournals.org/content/8/8/863.short