Leave the Shore: Swimming in the Dark

If we spend enough time at the edge of the water, she will consider this an invitation to splay open our souls, and we will eventually have to confront the unseen depths of our watery past.
— Eila Carrico

by Eila Kundrie Carrico

Life gifts us each with at least one moment when resistance is pointless. We spend years in the comfort of the shore, fooling ourselves with elaborate illusions of control and consistency. We find routine and false security in jobs, sidewalks, air conditioning, bills, and bank accounts, and this life feels more real (and more convenient) than the wild of the rich green forest full of biting insects, rolling thunderstorms that ruin our picnics, bitter cold nights, and prowling panthers.

When the monotony of predictability penetrates all the way into our bones, we hear the wild calling, and we drive down to the ocean, but we sit in the car and watch the sun set through the windshield. We flock to the lake, but we sunbathe on a chair and cover our bodies with sunscreen. We walk to the river, but we stay affixed to our smartphones to capture the memories. We are called by the wild, but we resist full engagement.

Full engagement came for me when I found myself in the bathroom with a little blue cross sign on a stick I had just peed on. I always wanted to write a book, and I had always thought I would just do it ... someday. I discovered someday was today on May 1, 2014. And that’s when the rushing currents stirred within me. I finally had the mother of all deadlines, and a very concrete due date. And so I began the practice of swimming in the dark.

We have an innate sense that the place where land meets water is a liminal space, a space with a personality and an agenda of her own. She acts as a gatekeeper between the surface layers of awareness and the less traversed depths of our individual psyches. It is she who chooses when and how and why to open that carefully guarded threshold. If we spend enough time at the edge of the water, she will consider this an invitation to splay open our souls, and we will eventually have to confront the unseen depths of our watery past.

There may be any number of strange, alien looking creatures down there in our subconscious, but how can we know what is there if we’ve never left the safety of the shore? We fool ourselves into believing the sand, the surface, and the sunshine is all there is, while hidden beliefs, lies we keep from ourselves, ancient memories of churning oceans, lightless caves and moonless skies are suppressed and pushed deeper and deeper into the subconscious.

But life promises this: that moment when resistance is futile will come. The fluid parts of our souls pull us into chaos, pushing us to look at all we’ve avoided, tossing us unwilling into waves of uncertainty and currents of dramatic change. Life keeps her promises. And when she calls you, you must learn to swim in the dark mystery of possibility.

Berkeley—Summer, 2014

Stars hang low in the moonless sky. A river parts the tall, looming trees on either side of her wide banks. I stand at the edge and watch as the water laps gently closer to me, and then further from me, and back again. Without meaning to do so, my feet move into the surprisingly warm water. I relax. I walk in a straight line into the water until my feet no longer feel the safety of earth beneath them—I hesitate and resist floating before I swim.

I stop with my eyes just over the water line, like an alligator. From this perspective, the land appears to float like an island moving toward me. Water droplets decorate my lashes like jewels of light, and the water's surface glistens like moonlight on an eerie luminous black snow. It is surreal; it is beautiful.

But the joy is short-lived as I feel the immensity of the liquid substance surround me. I clench my fists at the thought of the various vicious creatures that may lurk below. I feel a flash of a scaly tail brush past my calf beneath. I’m cold and tightening, but before I can turn back to the shore the water pulls me toward her center. My feet leave the sand, and I have to swim or drown. This is my death. I’m merging with a shapeless form of darkness.

As I prepare to meet my end, a panther appears in front of me. She looks back at me over her shoulder and swims ahead. I try to breathe and follow between the little waves she makes behind her, like lines on the edge of a page of parchment paper. The current resists me. I’m heavy and struggling, I lose sight of the panther and then find her again. Water jumps into my eyes and floods my nostrils, stinging. I look up and notice the stars dim as the sky lightens.

And then I am awake.

Today, with this pen in my hand, it is as if the emotions can flow easily downhill from my chest along the veins in my shoulders and past my wrists into my fingertips. The result is visible, the words appear between the lines on a piece of paper I can hold. The ink creates something tangible and lasting out of the ineffable experiences of my body. Those same emotions often refuse to flow upstream into the narrow channel of my throat to become spoken words, and even then sound vibrations dissolve in the air much more quickly than ink on the page. The lines on this page act as the banks for a river, providing structure so the words can flow.

I peek around the other side of a mass of faceless fear to find curiosity. This is the current of possibility. The intersections of inner and outer landscapes merge. I am the river, I am the sand. Articulating these grooves, these patterns of memory that criss-cross across my body and overflow through my fingers is how I learn to put down roots, to leave marks in the sand, to feel my way across a river in the dark.

Eila Kundrie Carrico

About Eila

Eila Carrico grew up in central Florida, and her curiosity led her down a meandering path of discovery from a young age. She was inspired by her studies in journalism, anthropology and religion to travel around the world and teach in Paris, Ghana, Thailand and India. She studied yoga and embodied archetypes for nine years before completing a master's degree in Engaged World Psychology and then an MFA in Creative Writing and Consciousness in San Francisco.

Eila delights in the mystery and magic of landscapes and memory. She lives in Berkeley with her partner and their baby boy where she teaches yoga and weaves stories. Eila’s first book, The Other Side of the River, will be published by Womancraft Publishing in early 2016. Visit her at EilaCarrico.com and on Facebook as Eila Kundrie Carrico.