Around half a year ago I wrote a short essay entitled “On Crossing a River” where I discussed how I was scared of swimming across a river by myself, and how I eventually managed to convince myself to do it.
I recently went back to the river, and this time, I swam across it at night time by myself, which took things to a completely different level.
Again, I objectively knew that there weren’t too many issues. I am quite comfortable swimming up to one kilometre doing laps in a swimming pool, and I also know that there aren’t any large predators in Cambodian rivers. However, as I discovered, that didn’t mean that there wasn’t any danger.
However, as I discovered, that didn’t mean that there wasn’t any danger. This time, I didn’t get quite so lucky and could have easily died.
Jumping in wasn’t an issue, I had done that part many times before and so it was quite easy to commit to it, but as I started to leave the bank of the river, I realised that the section I was at this time was much wider than on my previous attempt, and I really began to understand what it means to have voices inside one’s head.
I had an incredibly strong urge to stop, start panicking, and start swimming back to the closet shore, but there was a part of me that really wanted to complete this task, and once I had crossed the half way point, it felt psychologically easier to keep going to the other side, even if it meant a longer return journey.
Once I reached the other side, I decided to turn around and swim back pretty quickly, although I was much calmer at this stage, and I believe that the coolness of the water played its part.
However, when I go to just before the middle of the river on my return, I noticed that there was actually quite a few boats heading my way, and I ended up being stuck in the middle of the river, completely invisible to passing boats, trying to avoid being hit or caught up in the motor.
This is perhaps one of the few times in my life where I have actually feared that I wasn’t going to make it.
That said, the relief and sense of accomplishment on reaching dry land was quite something and made me understand that I am still a long way from conquering the fear of death, or even from learning to stay calm under stressful situations.
As a final thought, I really like the idea of doing physically (and mentally) challenging actions to test my philosophical progress, because philosophy is not about being able to recite books, or understand concepts, it is about living life.
This chapter of the Enchiridion of Epictetus is quite apt:
Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it is his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor, or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned you; to choose it is another’s.