I'd arranged to collect my friend at 7:30pm to go to the swimming pool. As I pulled up outside her house I heard her call, "Hello, Leah, I'll be down in two ticks", from the upstairs window. A minute later the front door opened and she said, "Shall we go swimming in the river?"
I faltered, an unease creeping into my body. Did I want to go swimming in the river?
"Err, yeah?", I replied.
She sensed the uncertainty in my response and reassured me that it was fine if I just wanted to go to the pool. I thought about it some more. Actually, I really did want to go swimming in the river. I'd been telling myself for ages that wild swimming, wild camping, campfires and singing were exactly the sort of experiences I wanted to bring more of into my life.
And yet in this moment, I just wanted to go to the pool. I felt unprepared. Caught off-guard. And that's what I told my friend, that I somehow didn't feel prepared, that I didn't have what I needed with me.
"What else would you need if you were going to the river that you don't already have with you?"
Well, quite. The obvious answer was...nothing. I had my swimming costume, a towel, a bottle of water. My friend had packed a blanket and popped some sunscreen in her bag. Even if we'd agreed a week in advance to go to the river, there isn't much more I'd have done in the way of preparation.
I knew that my hesitancy was all to do with this not being in the script. We were supposed to go to the pool. That's what I'd been expecting. And this? Well, it just wasn't part of the plan. Not part of my plan, in any case.
"I do really want to go to the river, but today I'd really love just to go to the pool, if that's ok with you."
My friend didn't mind in the slightest and we set off for the pool, a five minute drive away. The car park was exceptionally quiet and looking through the big glass windows to the pool, it seemed to be completely empty. It was never very busy, but this seemed out of the ordinary. As we walked through the doors, two people at the reception desk smiled, before asking us whether we knew that they closed at 8pm this evening. They were closing a couple of hours early because it was a bank holiday Monday.
It was already 7:40pm and although my friend suggested we swim for twenty minutes, I told her, "Let's just go to the river."
We laughed as we left and got back in the car, the decision about our swimming location having now being made for us. It was a glorious evening, not a cloud in the sky and the sun still full of heat, unusual for any time of year in the North of England.
We drove for ten minutes out of town, parked in a lay-by and made our way along the cycle path before turning off down a smaller track to the river. I cannot - cannot - even begin to describe to you the beauty of the scene that met my eyes.
The water was warmer than we expected and we swam for quite a while, the lush green trees on the banks, the sun overhead and lots of little fish underfoot. I looked over at my friend, beaming. If you've been wild swimming before, you'll know that feeling of wild freedom that comes along with it. There's something so real about it, you know? A sense that this is where we belong and how we were always meant to be. The heart feels like it's come home.
As the sun went down, we drove back into town. My friend made us tea and some experimental vegan pancakes and we sat and chatted about life and love for a couple of hours until, finally, it was dark outside and I headed home.
When I walked through the door, I picked up my copy of A Course In Miracles and flicked to the lesson that had been on my mind as the evening had unfolded. Lesson twenty four: I do not perceive my own best interests.
In no situation that arises do you realise the outcome that would make you happy. Therefore, you have no guide to appropriate action, and no way of judging the result. What you do is determined by your perception of the situation, and that perception is wrong. It is inevitable, then, that you will not serve your own best interests.
[...] If you realised that you do not perceive your own best interests, you could be taught what they are. But in the presence of your conviction that you do know what they are, you cannot learn. The idea for today is a step toward opening your mind so that learning can begin.
Over and over again the same lessons present themselves until, hopefully, one day, we learn to let go and let the infinite intelligence of life itself lead the way. We are a world obsessed about asking ourselves and each other what we want and yet I'm repeatedly shown, in experiences like this, that the small-minded 'me' simply doesn't know the best route to my happiness.
It reminded me, too, of a couple of lines of a song (Lukas Nelson, Let Go of Your Plans) I'd heard driving home from a hike with a friend a couple of weeks earlier:
"Take my hand, let go of your plans."
These words say it all for me. I imagine stretching my hand out to the universe and the universe reaching out to meet me and in that moment of our joining, I'm flooded with a feeling of relief and relaxation, knowing that I am guided in every moment to the perfect people, places and experiences for my maximum growth and ultimate happiness.
The universe always has a hand outstretched towards us, patiently waiting for us to accept the invitation and to be taken into the flow. It seems to me that life becomes infinitely more beautiful when we surrender to that outstretched hand and say, "Yes."
Love and courage,