When I was a little girl I used to throw tea parties with my best friend on the bottom of the local community pool. No props were needed, we’d simply stand on our tippy toes, take the biggest 8-year-old breath imaginable, then exhale all the air out as we synchronized our way to sitting on the bottom of the pool.
The scene was always the same – legs crossed, eyes protected behind goggles, hair floating over our heads aimlessly, and pinkies raised high as we sipped tea at our very fancy party.
Life was good on the bottom of the pool. The screams from the younger kids were muffled, the reverberations from dads going off the diving board were put on mute, and we often stole a few extra moments of peace and quiet by pretending we didn’t hear our mothers yelling that it was time to get out, dry off, and go home.
While underwater tea parties might sound like nothing more than child’s play, thirty-some years later, I still use the technique to keep from losing my mind when the going gets tough.
That’s right, nothing like an imaginary underwater tea party to make all your grown-up worries go away.
I started embracing the idea of peace and quiet on the bottom of the pool after listening to a guided meditation one morning where the narrator recommended thinking of your truest self or your soul as the deepest part of the ocean—always stoic, always calm—and to imagine the circumstances of your life as the winds that rough up and blow around everything on the surface.
The point is that the winds of life will always blow your way in the form of everything from a micromanaging boss and a forgetful spouse to a failed project at work and a child struggling at school. There’s little you can do to prevent these natural disasters from coming your way, but you must know that anything sitting on the surface (like your ego or self-esteem) is going to be battered and tossed around unless you can retreat to the stillness of your true self. Because beneath all that hullabaloo, your true nature, the core of your being, is calm, cool, collected, and silent. Always has been, always will be.
Just like the bottom of the pool.
Many spiritual gurus like to use the ocean as the metaphor, but I prefer the pool. Mainly because it brings back fond and familiar feeling of tuning out the drama and chaos around me. But, it’s also because closing my eyes and imagining myself sitting on the bottom of the cold, dark, and dangerous ocean floor doesn’t exactly bring me warm and fuzzy feelings. It makes me want to freak out.
So, here’s how I put this bottom of the pool to work for me as a grown up.
The other day I received an email that elicited beyond-bonkers feelings of stress, anxiety, and just general annoyingness. Instead of getting knocked around by this storm that showed up out of nowhere, freaking out and firing off a half-baked response, I stood up from my desk, walked outside and prepared for the plunge.
Get ready: Huge inhale to fill my lungs to the max.
Let’s go: Enormous exhale that forced my mind to get beneath the surface.
With my eyes closed, I took five more deep breaths, which was the typical length of a tea party as we bounced back and forth to the surface back in the day. During this time I imagined myself deep beneath the surface, away from all the chaotic splashing, and closer to my truest self.
I reminded myself that my true nature is calm, it’s the only thing that’s real, and that I get to decide whether I get roughed up and tossed around or if I sink down into my own inner calm.
It naturally diffused the situation and came in equally handy that same afternoon when I noticed my stomach was hanging over my pants (deep breath) and that later that evening when everyone in the family hated the healthy dinner I spent an hour preparing (deep, deep breath).
I can’t recommend this technique enough. If you’re like most of the mothers I know, you won’t have to wait long to give it a whirl. When your daughter freaks out about her upcoming science test, instead of riding with her on the waves of anxiety, you can draw strength from the stability of your core and be the calm in the storm that she’s looking for you to be. And when you and your husband get into a fight, you’re better equipped to know that this too shall pass and that a small argument doesn’t have to send your mind fast-forwarding to an imaginary, fatal divorce.
My guess is you’ll be having a bottom of the pool tea party in no time flat.
Enjoy the peace and quiet while you’re down there and don’t forget that the bottom of the pool is always yours for the taking.
It never disappears or goes away.
It’s simply up to you to remember it’s there and to have the presence of mind in the heat of the moment to access it. It’s as simple as inhaling and exhaling your way there.
Party on, people.