Updated: Oct 12, 2020
“One must learn to feel everything,” Nietzsche reports. The richness of life will reveal itself through our experiences from within us and also from the world around us. From here we can move towards a relationship of inner and outer realms; the meaningful and the meaningless.
Meanwhile, in darkness, we wait. The anticipated moon is not yet on the rise so the ever-flowing river is oily-black. The branches of the tree shelter us from the unknown menace of the dark water – and from ourselves as, shivering, we try to recall when and why this seemed like a good idea…
Man strives toward reason only so that he can make rules for himself. Life itself has no rules. That is its mystery and its unknown law. What you call knowledge is an attempt to impose something comprehensible on life.
Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.
The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.
From under the Indian runner bean tree, we at last edge towards the oily broth. Dramatic? Me? It’s the dead of night and we are offering our souls to the cold waters of Father Thames – what do you expect?
Then suddenly, noises explode into the night air, their origins, in the darkness, a mystery... A screech. A howl. Much splashing. It is us. We have shattered the peace.
“Have you heard about the giant catfish near the island?”
“F--- off!” echo the banks, with communal kinship; like old sailors lost at sea.
With torches inside them, tow floats glow and bob on the water’s surface like lanterns. A small inflatable boat trails a night light for us to follow and its orange glow beams out over the water’s dark surface. It is festival of lights! A carnival of night swimmers! My heart joins the celebration with a dance and as calm returns, I turn to swim. In silhouette, the medieval stone arches appear as an entrance to another world…
Strange are these moments of letting go… I discover that night-swimming offers an opportunity to feed the darkest parts of my imagination – or I can choose to find peace in the still darkness and let this calm my chattering mind. I choose the path of peace.
Sighting is intriguing. All I can make out is the shapes of boats moored by the banks, or mass blocks of tonal shades of grey to very dark; the trees and bushes. I am grateful for the glowing orange and pink tow floats that illuminate the path to follow. As I adjust to this new view of familiar surroundings, it becomes serene and magical. Then, as the river bends, the glowing tow floats disappear. But I will stay calm. Face down in the river, feeling how I move through the water, I determine to hold onto my inner peace. My breathing is gentle and unhurried. I turn to my favourite side and breathe in; a quick sight ahead and I make out swimmers in the distance and the tow floats. Finally, I swim into the light of a full rising moon. Or not – it is nowhere to be seen!
We meet at the shallows of the river gravel beds and stand looking eastwards into the night sky, we locate the North star and constellations. The silhouette of our woodland hillside stands proudly against the night sky with the promise of a rising full moon to come. A hint, a glimmer, silvery aura from the east can been seen at last – and felt; the draw of the moon is powerful. But we must leave it there, over the woods, and swim back through medieval arches to that other world; to our home. The night swim was a challenge. But it emancipated me from the shackles of my inner worlds; from unknown shadows that, like vultures that inhabit my subconscious, would feast upon my fear. I found a sense of freedom. I never dreamed I would ever swim in skins, deep in the dark night in the river beneath the old stones of our bridge. I am so glad that I did.
As with all outdoor swimming, and especially at night:
• know your stretch of river
• have a safety boat
• work as a team, looking after the swim pod in a sense of loving kindness.
Words and photographs: Darrin Roles