Eighteen, working in the bush with a bunch of guys. Wild and carefree, full of crazy and adventurous energy, we worked hard and we played hard. Late one evening, following a trip to the local bar, on our way back to camp, someone suggested a swim - skinny-dipping, that would be. It was the height of summer in the interior of British Columbia, and so, despite the lateness of the hour, everyone agreed that this was a truly excellent and fine idea.
Adjacent to this town was a small lake and on it a small resort with a beach and a pier. And so, as quietly as a bunch of fairly drunken young guys could be (i.e., not very), we snuck through the resort grounds and ran (stumbled) down to the beach.
I, along with the others, dropped my clothes as I ran and then, stark naked, plunged headfirst off the end of the dock into the black and murky waters.
Believing that I had made a relatively shallow dive, I was quite sure I would return to the surface almost immediately. This proved not to be the case however, and I found myself swimming upwards, and upwards, and yet upwards, and still upwards...
Some moments passed - I really have no idea how long - and then, very quickly, panic began to set in. I was taken by an overwhelmingly frightful thought: what if I was swimming in the wrong direction? What if I was swimming downwards, instead of upwards - or even horizontally? In the total blackness of the night I had no sense of up, nor down - or any other direction. I realized that if I kept swimming I could be taking myself ever downwards to ever-darker and colder waters and ultimately, quite possibly to my death.
Then….somehow….into my cloudy mind drifted the thought that was to be my salvation: STOP! Stop swimming, stop trying, stop everything. Just STOP! My own buoyancy, my own lightness, would carry me back to the surface and life-giving air. My lungs were now already desperate for breath and I knew that, especially if I had been swimming downwards, it could take some time for me to drift back to the surface.
But I forced myself to be still, stopped the desperate and frantic clawing at the water and, after a very long time, I did eventually break out once again into the cool night and inhaled the most beautiful lungful of air I have ever tasted.
Years later I came to look back on this experience with new eyes. What a beautiful and almost perfect metaphor for those dark nights of the soul in my life. To the extent that I thrash around desperately trying to find my way out of the dark waters, there is a good chance I will remain there. I might even die. To the extent that I allow myself to be carried gently by and through such waters, I just might eventually re-surface - somehow reborn, transformed.